Partners HealthCare, an integrated healthcare system with 42,000 managed PCs, faced the end of extended support for Windows XP in 2014. The company decided to standardize on Windows 7 Professional, realizing that the latest operating system offers both a long life cycle and enhanced user productivity. To streamline image management and deployment, Partners HealthCare is using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. The company is working to ensure application compatibility through Application Compatibility Factory efforts with Avanade and a virtualized test environment based on Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. Benefits provided by the move to Windows 7 include increased user productivity, strong PC performance, streamlined compatibility testing, improved troubleshooting, and an 80 percent decrease in image management efforts.
Founded in 1994 by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners HealthCare is an integrated healthcare system that offers patients a continuum of coordinated, high-quality care. The company has about 42,000 managed PCs, most of which are running the Windows XP Professional operating system. In mid-2009, knowing that Windows XP was already in extended support, Partners HealthCare decided that the time had come for a new desktop standard.
||We now have an operating system that’s fast and reliable and that puts us on the leading edge with respect to its support life cycle.
Project Manager, Partners HealthCare
“Extended support for Windows XP will end before systems we’ve purchased recently will be due for replacement,” says Rick Aherne, Project Manager at Partners HealthCare. “We had been preparing to standardize on Windows Vista but, seeing that Windows 7 was coming soon, decided that it would be prudent to also consider the newest operating system.”
In making its decision, Partners HealthCare examined several key issues, including image management and application compatibility. “We had a single Windows XP image, but it was static—that is, it took a long time for us to update and test any changes to the image,” says Aherne. “However, because we have hundreds of third-party and custom applications, the larger issue has always been compatibility testing. Whenever a new application or software update had to be tested, it took an average of three weeks just to set up a testing environment. It was difficult to procure hardware and to ensure that the test platform had all of the latest versions and updates.”Solution
Partners HealthCare decided to standardize on Windows 7 Professional, having realized that it offers both a longer life cycle and many improvements over the Windows Vista operating system. “We had already done a good deal of work to prepare for Windows Vista, and a lot of that work was transferable to Windows 7,” says Aherne. “Given that Windows 7 is newer and offers improvements over Windows Vista in areas such as logon speeds, memory usage, and performance, our decision to go with the latest and greatest from Microsoft was an easy one. We tested the performance of Windows 7 on PCs up to three years old and saw consistently positive results.”
To get a head start on resolving potential compatibility issues, Partners HealthCare participated in two Windows 7 Application Compatibility Factory engagements. During the first engagement, business technology services provider and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Avanade helped Partners HealthCare to use the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit to catalog and prioritize the company’s applications. Avanade also led open discussions about application security under Windows 7 and testing applications for compatibility with Windows 7. The second engagement was primarily for developers, focusing on best practices and features of Windows 7. “The engagement was in-depth, with a great degree of participation,” says Aherne. “It helped us quickly establish momentum, laying a foundation that we’ve continued to build on.”
As of May 2010, Partners HealthCare was almost finished building and verifying its new image of the Windows 7 operating system, which will include the Windows Internet Explorer 8 browser, Microsoft Office Professional 2007, the Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in, Microsoft Office Visio Viewer 2007, and more than a dozen other packaged applications, in addition to custom components for internally developed applications. “The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and Key Management Service systems are in place, and the image is in the final stages of testing by analysts now,” says Aherne. “We plan to have everything ready in July 2010, at which time we’ll start promoting Windows 7 as the preferred image. We’ll deploy it on approximately 8,000 new systems each year, as well as on PCs that need to be reimaged.”
||We tested the performance of Windows 7 on PCs up to three years old and saw consistently positive results.
Project Manager, Partners HealthCare
Partners HealthCare is providing several ways for analysts to test the applications, including physical labs, a Virtual PC image, and the Windows 7 image itself—for those who choose to build their own PCs. However, most analysts are using a self-service test portal based on Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 and the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology. “Each analyst receives an e-mail message with assigned days to test and a link to a Web page,” says Aherne. “The analyst simply clicks the link, signs in, and can begin testing.”
Windows 7 isn’t the only way in which Partners HealthCare is enhancing its desktop environment. The company is starting to deploy Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, which will replace Altiris for the deployment of desktop software. Also noteworthy is the company’s “Any Application, Anywhere” initiative, in which Partners HealthCare is using Microsoft Application Virtualization (part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack) to pilot-test a virtualized desktop infrastructure that will give doctors uninterrupted access to applications and data as they move between hospitals, offices, and other locations in the healthcare system.Benefits
By deploying Windows 7, Partners HealthCare is meeting the needs of both end users and IT professionals. Benefits resulting from the company’s decision to use the latest desktop operating system from Microsoft will include:
Increased user productivity. Users will benefit from many productivity-boosting aids in Windows 7, which make it easier to navigate and find information. “Compared to Windows Vista, Windows 7 offers improved search capabilities, an improved user interface, and faster startup and logon times, all of which will help boost user productivity,” says Aherne. “Users can pin commonly used applications to the Windows Taskbar and can use the new Jump Lists on the Start menu and Taskbar to quickly get to the files they want.”
Streamlined application compatibility testing. The Application Compatibility Factory engagement helped Partners HealthCare to understand the process of gathering current applications, prioritizing them for testing, checking against public certification status, and managing feedback as testers went through the applications and then moved the applications on to developer remediation. The test portal based on System Center Virtual Machine Manager and Hyper-V allows testers and analysts to use a self-service Web page to request images to test on. No special hardware is required, and the image management team can keep images up-to-date in a single location.
Improved image management. The adoption of Windows 7 will significantly reduce the company’s image management workload. “With Windows 7 and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, it’s not only easier to maintain the image, but also easier to keep track of what’s in the image,” says Aherne. “We expect to realize an 80 percent reduction in the effort required for image management. Also, in the past, only one person knew how to maintain the image. Today, anyone on the team can use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to create an image.”
New troubleshooting tools. As a result of migrating to Windows 7, Partners HealthCare will have additional troubleshooting aids at its disposal. “We really like the new Problem Steps Recorder in Windows 7, which will enable our support desk to better understand and resolve issues experienced by end users,” says Aherne. “The .psr files are small and can easily be attached to an e-mail message or trouble ticket.
The deployment of Windows 7 is scheduled to start in July 2010, and projects such as Any Application, Anywhere and the use of System Center Configuration Manager are under way, all of which indicate that Partners HealthCare is making large strides in transforming its desktop environment. What’s more, the company is getting strong support from Microsoft in assisting with those efforts. “Our experience with both Windows 7 and our Microsoft account team has been great, giving us the confidence that we need to move forward,” says Aherne. ”We now have an operating system that’s fast and reliable and that puts us on the leading edge with respect to its support life cycle.”
Works the way you want: Windows 7 will help your organization use information technology to gain a competitive advantage in today’s new world of work. Your people will be able to be more productive anywhere. You will be able to support your mobile workforce with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And your IT staff will have better tools and technologies to help enhance corporate IT security, protect data, and efficiently deploy and manage systems.
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