Microsoft promising Vista of savings for IT

When its long-awaited Windows Vista operating system (OS) is released to the enterprise market in late November, Microsoft Corp. promises IT managers will save a bundle.

Cost savings, says the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, could be as much as US$428 per seat through management tools and best practices, and up to an additional US$50 per seat annually in hydro expenses, through simplified power management.

Last month, before its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) got underway in Seattle, Microsoft gathered members of the technology media together for a Vista Reviewers Workshop and a look at the progress the company has made with its next-generation OS.

Chris Jones, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president, Windows client development group, said for the IT manager, the idea with Vista is to change from a reactive posture to a proactive posture when dealing with IT challenges, and to reduce the strain on the help desk.

Image-based setup will reduce the number of configurations being managed, and a dashboard-like central management screen will tell IT which applications are crashing more across the enterprise, which drivers are causing more blue screens, and which users are having good and bad experiences.

A reliability monitor will chart the health and performance of a system over time, highlighting application installs and configuration changes to help pinpoint events that may be degrading performance, and detect hard drive crashes before they fail. On other issues Vista will be able to make repairs automatically, or walk the user through a diagnosis and fix without calling the help desk.

“This knowledge is a powerful thing which can be used to go and lower costs,” said Jones.

Jones said one security issue for many companies has been USB ports. They’re an unsecured access point into the corporate network that companies have been unable to restrict access to with a software fix. Jones said Vista’s group management policies would allow USB ports to be locked or restricted.

“When you hear about IT departments using epoxy to glue shut USB ports…you think there may be an opportunity for software there,” said Jones.

Earlier last month, Microsoft released the hardware specs for PCs to qualify as Windows Vista-ready, offering a more basic user experience with all the IT management benefits, and Windows Vista Premium-ready, to get the full visualization benefits of Windows Aero.

For the basic experience, the minimum is at least an 800 MHz processor with 512 MB of RAM and a DirectX 9-capable GPU. For the Premium experience, users will need a minimum 1 GHz processor, 32-bit or 64-bit, one gig of RAM, 128 MB of graphics memory and 15 gigs free hard drive space.

Elliot Katz, senior product manager for Windows Client at Microsoft Canada, said Microsoft expects most enterprises will be able to run the basic experience when Vista ships, and by that time most new computers shipping will be Premium-capable.

While it’s difficult to forecast an adoption curve, Katz said Microsoft is expecting a faster upgrade cycle than with Windows XP. But he predicted organizations will take time to evaluate the platform and consider which level, basic or premium, meets their business needs.

“There’s certain things the visualization capabilities give you that are important,” said Katz. “But really, for an enterprise, what they should be thinking about foremost is the security of their PCs, the ability for their users to be able to easily find and share information, and [the IT management tools].”

Carmi Levy, a senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., said there’s a basis for the business case with the management tools in Vista, potentially automating some of the repetitive, routine, non-value-add work the IT department does today, as long as Vista delivers what is promised. “It could give some time back to IT managers to support the business instead of supporting the infrastructure that supports the business,” said Levy.

Levy cautioned that business shouldn’t speed up their hardware upgrade roadmaps to get Vista ready, but rather factor the hardware requirements into their existing planning. He added that some organizations might not need the visualization capabilities of the premium experience and Windows Aero, so each company should evaluate the business case for their business and their users, and determine if the return on investment is there. “I think you have to pick what makes the best sense for your organization and pursue that as a strategic goal,” said Levy.

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