Death of Windows 7: Remote Office OSD Deployments

Hopefully everyone is aware that Microsoft will be ending support for Windows 7 in 2020. There are many blog articles and press releases pushing this point. Organizations have had a couple years of extended support, thus paying additional fees to Microsoft for security updates, but come January 14, 2020 this will no longer be an option.  

In a recent surveys, most organizations claim they have already started their migrations to Windows 10. Many companies are already using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) to manage their endpoints, so utilizing ConfigMgr’s OSD capabilities to migrate to Windows 10 is the most supported and best documented strategy.

IT groups may have started their Windows 10 migration plan by first upgrading their home and regional offices because of strong IT presence, and fast connectivity to local ConfigMgr distribution points. But what about remote edge locations? Organizations with many small locations with few clients such as banks, retail stores, or small government offices may find it challenging to deploy Windows 10 to the edge. The challenges of deploying Windows 10 to these locations may include:

Poor Connectivity – small locations with less than 20 clients may not warrant fast network connection for day to day operationsTransferring gigabytes of content to these locations for operating system images, driver packages, and even monthly patches can put a heavy strain on the network and cause a negative impact to the business.

Cost – as the amount of data being delivered to remote locations is significant, IT organizations may have to spend more on connectivity when normal daily operations require less bandwidth. If it is decided that installing ConfigMgr distribution points would reduce the network impact, companies have to weigh the cost benefits of server licensing, hardware, and continual monitoring and maintenance of those DPs. If there are hundreds or even thousands of locations to support, it may not be worth it. 

Lack of Local IT Staff – some small locations such as retail outlets may not have access to a dedicated IT staff. Scheduling visits to do deployments can be expensive and difficult to coordinate. Although Configuration Manager can fully automate a Windows 10 deployment, to avoid downtime, the OSD process must be foolproof. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a foolproof OSD scenario as hardware failures may occur. 

Considering those challenges, what options does an organization have to speed up the deployment of Windows 10 to these small remote offices? 

Hardware Refreshes – as computing hardware gets close to end of life, they will need to be swapped out. Windows 10 can be loaded on the new hardware and shipped to the remote office. This option does reduce the technical challenges of doing OSD in the field, but IT presence may still be required to provision the new equipment.

Sneakernet – companies can deploy field IT, but to facilitate the OSD process they will have to travel with a removable drive to manually execute Windows 10 task sequences on individual systems. This is another high touch option that likely requires additional planning to update the removable drives when needed as well as  dealing with the travel logistics of visiting each location. This is a relatively high cost solution depending on how many locations need to be serviced, and how many field IT representatives are available. 

ConfigMgr Distribution Points  it can be expensive providing OSD services to remote locations. OSD content can be delivered over the network once to a local distribution point in which the clients would not need to download large files over the network. Realistically, many IT organizations choose not to deploy distribution points to small offices. The costs associated with maintaining a large amount of distribution points at hundreds or thousands of remote sites can be very expensive. Add to that, the licensing costs for Windows Server and hardware costs that include maintenance of those physical devices. Administrative costs are subtler but still daunting as each content distribution has to be executed and monitored, and if there are sites which are on the other end of high latency connections, there will likely be failures which will cause delays and potentially impact the deployment schedule.  

PeertoPeer Technology – aIT organization may decide to forego the implementation of hundreds of additional distribution points and implement a peertopeer solution. Not all peering options are the same. Microsoft’s native Configuration Manager Peer Cache solution does solve the problem of delivering the content to a remote location once, but it requires additional administrative overhead. The most obvious issue is that an administrator would have to effectively pre-seed the task sequence content to the remote location, but this would be required for any peer-to-peer OSD delivery.  

The real pain is continuing to maintain boundaries and boundary groups. Configuration Manager uses boundary groups to determine who to peer with, so the network topology needs to be continually maintained for optimal peering. Kollective for ConfigMgr cloud based peer-to-peer solution doesn’t use boundary groups or any other network topology mapping to determine the best peers. Kollective’s mesh based peering technology uses real time network mapping to automatically determine the best peers and refines the topology over time. Since ConfigMgr content is stored in the cloud, remote edge locations with only Internet connections can retrieve content quickly, transferring the content only once, regardless of how many clients are requesting it at a given time. 

Regardless what type of business you run, or how your network is defined, it is vital that you protect your business with the most updated OS and that you have a plan in place to manage the reoccurring updates that come with WaaS. I hope this article helps you understand the challenges of deploying Windows 10 to remote offices and provides some options to help you optimize deployment.

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THE DEATH OF WINDOWS 7 REPORT

How today's enterprises are preparing for tomorrow's security disaster

Microsoft will officially end support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020, yet 43% of enterprises are still running the outdated platform. Learn how far enterprise businesses are in their migrations to Windows 10, the challenges they are facing and why IT leaders need a software distribution strategy to prepare for WaaS.

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