Firms discuss a move to Vista

Some detailed reviews of Windows Vista have concluded that Microsoft’s new operating system — while clearly better than Windows XP — lacks any single “gotta-have-it feature or functionality.”

But for two of Microsoft’s big Canadian customers even the nice to have features are reason enough to upgrade to the new OS.

One of these customers is Prime Restaurants of Canada Inc. which operates 157 casual dining establishments across the country under three main brands: East Side Mario’s, Casey’s and Fionn MacCool’s.

At November’s business launch of Microsoft Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Windows Enterprise Server 2007 in Toronto, Prime Restaurants’ director of IT, Eric Lee, shared why his organization opted to upgrade to all three Microsoft products.

A key driver behind the Vista upgrade, he suggested, was the strong security capabilities offered by the new OS.

Lee said 70 per cent of his organization’s employees are laptop users, and as “laptops have a way of walking away”, Vista features such as BitLocker Drive Encryption and User Account Control (UAC) come in very handy.

BitLocker is a data protection feature that’s integrated into the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista. It provides encryption for the entire OS volume. UAC, another Vista security feature, seeks user confirmation before it allows various programs to be opened.

While many find it useful, UAC is the probably the most controversial security feature in Windows Vista. Those averse to it say the range of processes that require your confirmation is excessive, and that being constantly confronted by UAC dialogs can be very annoying.

Lee also cited features of the Office 2007 system that benefit his restaurant chain. One of these is SharePoint Server that supports intranet, extranet, and Web applications across the enterprise on one system.

The size and scope of his company’s operations, he said, make such a capability very attractive.

Prime Restaurants dining establishments are spread across four time zones and collectively have more than 10,000 employees. “We created a point of information access [based on SharePoint],” said Lee. “That way we can control versions and content integrity.”

This consolidation of data access is also supported by the Outlook Web Access (OWA), a capability within Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

According to Lee, this Web-based e-mail system completes the picture, by providing “a single point of access to information and communication throughout the organization.”

He said all three products — Vista 2007, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 — form part of a single solution at his organization. “We don’t look at them individually.”

He may not, but many other experts do.

In fact some industry insiders emphasize the separateness of the three products. They note that Office 2007 runs perfectly on Windows XP and that Exchange Server 2007 and Vista are discrete and unrelated products, and purchasing decisions involving each of them should be made separately.

Another large Canadian customer of Exchange Server 2007 was also reportedly drawn to the product by the OWA feature. The customer — Niagara Health Systems — operates eight hospitals in the Niagara region.

The organizations had selected Toronto-based CMS Consulting Inc., a Microsoft-certified systems integrator, to help them resolve some of their communications challenges.

“We talked to [Niagara Health] about Exchange Server 2007, but it’s when we mentioned the OWA feature that we really piqued their interest,” said Brian Bourne, president of CMS Consulting.

One main reason for this, he said, is because Niagara hospitals collectively have thrice as many users as workstations.

“They have more than 6,000 users in their eight hospitals covering the region and less than 2,000 workstations. Right away that tells you they are not able to set up Outlook on a workstation for each user. There’s a driver right there.”

Bourne said the benefits of Exchange Server 2007 will be felt both by the organization’s IT department and by end users.

“There’s a big impact for the IT department, as when Niagara Health fully moves over, they will have half the number of servers for Exchange as they do today. That’s a huge saving.” And with “recover” features, from the IT department’s standpoint, if anything does go wrong, they’re going to be able to get things back to where they were, he said.

From the end users’ perspective, the feedback on network Web access has been very positive, said Bourne. “A doctor or nurse can walk up to any machine, work on their e-mail or whatever else, and then log out and get back to their primary business, which is providing healthcare.”

A recent survey by research firm Walker Information Inc. in Indianapolis suggests that among organizations that have opted to upgrade to Vista, enhanced security and performance were key drivers.

At the Canadian launch, Microsoft executives also emphasized other motivators. For instance, Vista features that help information workers be more productive are a big draw, Jill Schoolenberg, general manager, Windows, Microsoft Canada told IT World Canada.

One of these, she said, is the new Search capability in Vista. “It’s one of the best enhancements in the product. A simple Search bar in the Start menu enables you to search for anything in the operating system, your Files, everything on your desktop.”

Microsoft Canada president, Phil Sorgen highlighted features within Vista, Office 2007, and Enterprise Server 2007 that support organizations’ quest to become more transparent.

“The technologies we’re bringing to market today can help compliance performance,” Sorgen said. For instance, he said customers would now be able to protect their data with full drive encryption, and use Office and SharePoint Designer to apply security, retention and compliance policies on content and communication.

“Likewise, organizations can maintain complete confidentiality and integrity of their e-mail with things like digital rights management, without any additional software.”


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