Windows 8 in a Business Environment
The question on most IT administrators’ minds relating to client operating system upgrades is, “is it worth upgrading my whole infrastructure to Windows 8?”.
In this article, I hope to help you make this decision with some facts on the pros and cons about Windows 8 before rolling it out in your organization.
This is a two part article. Here I discuss what you need to check before considering an upgrade, in my second article, I deal with what you need to do after you have rolled it out. This second article also provides some tips on controlling the environment so that users don’t bring down your network with all the new fun Microsoft goodies. As we all know, Windows 8 is a wonderful operating system for personal use, full of social media and games, but almost that fact alone has demotivated the rollout of Windows 8 for many IT administrators.
By following this guide, you might find that you can roll out Windows 8 and still control your environment.
Is your company infrastructure ready for Windows 8?
To get the most out of Windows 8, the network needs to be performing optimally. This means Gigabit switches from top to bottom. 10mbps or 100mbps connections on Windows 8 pc’s or on any switches will dramatically reduce the Windows 8 experience and you certainly will not see any of the benefits relating to network features.
Because Windows 8 utilizes Skydrive for online storage and other Cloud based services, including social media networks, it ends up using more bandwidth and data than any other Microsoft client operating system. This can certainly be monitored and blocked by firewalls and content filters, but if you are giving your users free range to use all aspects of Windows 8, an uncapped internet line is advised.
Getting an extra internet line for all Microsoft, Skydrive and social network traffic or upgrading your existing line will aid in keeping the internet speed stable. For a company of 10 users or more, minimum of a 4MB line would be recommended.
Considering Windows 8 is a good time to re-evaluate your ISP accounts and check if there are more suitable packages and alternatives out there. This market space is changing rapidly and new packages are regularly being offered.
Will my Line of Business applications work on Windows 8?
A good way to test this is to run the upgrade option on the Windows 8 disc from a test pc with all the line of business applications already installed. During the upgrade process, the program compatibility wizard runs to ensure all applications are compatible. I would however recommend, even if the wizard passes all applications as compatible, for you to still thoroughly test all aspects of the applications once Windows 8 has been installed on the workstation.
Minimum specifications for Windows 8 workstations
Running a full audit of all workstations in the organization is necessary before rolling out Windows 8 to ensure all hardware is compatible. According to Microsoft, any pc that currently runs Windows 7, will run Windows 8 with ease.
Here are the more important of the minimum requirements
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device or higher
Some recommended extras for utilizing the full set of features Windows 8 has available, include the following:
- Touchscreen devices for easy navigation on the Metro Style interface.
- An active internet connection is needed for Store downloads as well as a screen resolution of 1024×768.
- Snapping applications to the screen needs a resolution of 1366×768, which most screens these days support.
Do I really need Windows 8?
Iyogiinsights conducted a survey on 175 SME companies and they came up with the following statistics:
33% of respondents are considering upgrading to the Windows 8 platform.
28% of respondents are also considering upgrading to MS Office 2013 along with Windows 8.
34% of respondents are planning to integrate tablets into their company network.
56% of respondents already use tablets.
10% of respondents already use Windows 7 tablets.
38% of those respondents using iPads are considering migrating to Windows 8 tablets.
45% of respondents currently using Android tablets are considering migrating to Windows 8 tablets.
29% of overall respondents are considering only Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT tablets.
So only an estimated 33% of companies will be upgrading to Windows 8, whilst the rest of the companies will either stay with the version they have or wait for the 1st Service pack to be released.
Here are the benefits, particularly for IT Administrators, of finding the budget to upgrade the company’s pcs.
Windows 8 features benefiting the business
(Features marked with * may require Server 2012 for management and automation)
Simple PC restores
Never reload pc’s again with a Windows disc onsite!
Windows 8 has two amazing restore features called PC Refresh and PC Reset.
PC Refresh reloads your OS, keeping all documents and settings, including Metro apps.
All non-metro apps (apps that open from the desktop) will be removed.
A link will be placed on the desktop with a list of all the removed applications.
This option is perfect for when a pc became infected or has system file corruption.
PC Reset will completely reload the OS to its original state it was in after the 1st boot, removing all files and settings.
This function will commonly be used when a new user gets a workstation or when the workstation is being sold or donated. It can also be used if PC Refresh does not resolve a certain issue.
These options alone should go a long way to convincing administrators to deploy Windows 8.
*Supports Claims and classification based Access control lists.
AD Resources can now be access controlled according to a user’s Active Directory Attributes instead of using Security Groups. For instance, a Folder on a file server can be set to only allow read access to users in the AD Resource.Department=Sales attribute. This will greatly simplify Access Control lists and management in AD when the whole network consists of Windows 8 OS’s.
Native NIC Teaming
Windows 8 and Server 2012 support out of the box NIC teaming for failover redundancy. No special network cards are needed and they don’t even have to be the same model with specific drivers. This feature is completely managed by the operating system. More specifics on this can be found in this Microsoft whitepaper.
Virtualization is available for clients as an installable feature from Add/Remove Windows Features. Virtual machines can be created and managed with the Hyper-V management console, this feature also includes the powerful Virtual Switch Manager for managing virtual NIC’s.
Windows To Go
Windows To Go allows you to create a Windows 8 operating system that runs from a flash drive. This flashdrive can be booted from any Windows 8 capable pc. Upon bootup the OS will detect and install any drivers and function as if it is a hard drive inside the computer. One can also use some utilities like SCCM to customise the OS to have all the LOB (line of business) applications already installed. This bootable OS can be made subject to Group Policies for security purposes.
This feature will come in handy when a user’s pc has crashed and they need to be online as soon as possible. Plugging in and booting from the flash will allow the user to log in and have access to their network resources. Even better, if they are using a Windows Live account to log in, their Skydrive documents and settings will be available immediately upon login.
Some things to be aware of when using Windows To Go according to Microsoft.
Better Troubleshooting and tools
When a pc is struggling to boot up, the user is presented with this relatively intuitive screen seen below, instead of the old “Safe Mode” or “Normal Mode” prompts. The automatic repair can fix most of the common start-up problems by itself without involving a system admin. If Automatic repair cannot resolve the problem, a system admin can guide a user over the phone with the next steps. If the problem cannot be resolved, the user can then select the System Refresh option and when the pc boots up – after about 10-20minutes – a system admin can remotely log into the pc and load any applications needed by the user.
When the metered network is enabled on a 3G or WiFi connection, Windows updates and other similar options are not automatically downloaded over these connections. This helps to conserve data plans so that they are more cost effective. This can easily be enabled by right clicking the connection that is currently connected and selecting “metered connection”.
Increases boot times, this will be even better when used with solid state drives. The new bios cuts boot time in half, getting the OS up and ready for login in 10-30 seconds from pressing the power button. This also increases productivity and removes a lot of the frustration from older OS boot times that used to take 1-2 minutes. This graph shows a comparison of boot times against Windows 7 and Windows 8 workstations.
Can remove harmful applications from boot, before they enter the OS and cause more problems.
Network Usage statistics
When different networks are used for connectivity, the user can track their usage on that network by enabling usage statistics for that specific network. For instance, when connecting to a wireless network at a coffee shop, network statistics can be enabled which will in real time show the current usage on that network. This is also true for any other network types.
Is dramatically improved and optimized out of the box. One of the steps I take after reloading an OS is setting the power options to be on full power when plugged in and only use bare minimum resources when working on the battery. With Windows 7, there were lots of tweaks needed, but with Windows 8, all these settings are already in place, exactly as I would have set them.
Is also simplified and also supports native and universal printer drivers.
- Bitlocker: can now encrypt data faster by only encrypting used space.
- *Applocker: can control packaged apps and packaged application installers.
- *Direct Access and *BranchCache: are now easier to deploy to Windows 8 workstations.
A recent study showed that Windows 8 pc’s on average crashed 55% less than Windows 7 pc’s. One of the reasons behind this is that Windows has become strict with the variety of drivers that are installed from 3rd party vendors. Most of the drivers installed on Windows 8 have been digitally signed by Microsoft. This means that the drivers have been thoroughly tested by Microsoft to be compatible with the OS. This was initiated in the previous operating system, but has been greatly improved in Windows 8. The GUI is also a lot more stable.
Downsides of upgrading to Windows 8
Despite the advantages, there are a few downsides one should consider.
For example, the classic start button has been removed, resulting in some users needing some form of training to become familiar with the new interface. Other user questions are often about how to shut down the pc, or open settings to customize the desktop, etc.
The only valid downside to upgrading to Windows 8 for a very productivity focused company is the personal aspects of Windows 8 interfering with day to day tasks. I will address these aspects, and how to control them, in my next article, so remember to check in again next week.
I hope this has helped you see some of the positive aspects of upgrading to Windows 8 and that the benefits of Windows 8 FAR outweigh the negatives? What are you sentiments on this topic? Please leave your comments below. Also, don’t forget to read the next article “Windows 8 in a business environment – Part 2“.