A Strategic Guide to Windows Servicing

Dave Fuller | February 09, 2018 | Windows Migration
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Windows 10, with its six-month release cycles, is causing huge changes in IT organizations which have become accustomed to multi-year gaps between Windows OS upgrades.

Every IT pro knows it’s never been more important to be up to date with OS and application updates – but it’s also never been harder. Here’s what you need to know.

An overview of the Windows servicing model

Windows servicing consists of both feature updates and quality updates. Feature updates in a Windows 10 world are essentially new versions of the OS, and there will be two a year. One could compare them to service packs in previous versions of Windows.

Quality updates are published monthly. They exist for a limited period of time for any given version, and then they expire, because Microsoft assumes by then you will have moved on to the next feature update.

These are obviously big changes for IT. There was a six-year gap between Windows XP and Vista, and most organizations skipped Vista, going from XP to Windows 7 – that was an eight-year gap in all. Now, IT teams will need to prepare for and manage an OS upgrade every six months. With pilot and test times, IT teams will essentially always be in the process of upgrading.

Recent developments and changes in terminology

To align with Microsoft 365, terminology originally used to describe the different release programs for Windows 10 Feature Updates changed from Current Branch and Current Branch for Business to the Semi-Annual Channel (announced in summer 2017). The Semi-annual Channel is expected to more rigorously enforce an 18-month lifecycle for each Feature Release that has been relaxed for earlier updates.

The Long-Term Servicing Branch remains conceptually the same, but with the new name of Long-Term Servicing Channel, with reduced features and apps but support with Quality updates for 10 years instead of 18 months.

Change is constant in a Win 10 world

In the old Windows world, migrations were ‘Big Bang’ projects, and Service Pack rollouts were relatively non-intrusive. The OS lifecycle could span 8-10 years, and application rollouts were ad hoc.

In the new Windows 10 world, change is constant. OS upgrades must become a ‘process’, not a project, with IT team virtually always in the midst of an OS upgrade. OS feature updates are intrusive, ut offer improved user experience and new functionality and an OS lifecycle will rarely last more than 18 months. In this fast-paced environment, application updates are driven by OS change, the two are inextricably linked.

Windows 10 migration considerations

Still deciding when to migrate to Windows 10? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Hardware readiness: Can your existing hardware accommodate the new OS? If you’ll need to upgrade hardware, it will likely extend your migration timeline. In a game of Chutes & Ladders, not having the right hardware puts you down the Chute.
  • Application readiness: Are your most frequently used applications ready for Windows 10? If not, when will they be? This can be a gating factor.
  • Business impacts: Business-critical apps may need to be replaced before you upgrade to Windows 10 – what are the implications of that? Replacing a key supply chain or finance app, for instance, can take many months and have far-reaching effects. Check your vendors’ Windows 10 support statement.
  • Deployment process: In-place upgrade, wipe-and-load, hardware replacement – they all have their pros and cons. We’ll explore that in a separate, future article.
  • OS Image: You’ll likely have to maintain at least two at any given time – one in production, one in pilot – so think through how you’ll do that.
  • Infrastructure constraints: You need to think about constraints on your deployment infrastructure. For instance, if you’re using Config Manager, you’ll need to get onto its Current Channel and keep it updated.
  • Scheduling & logistics capacity: What else is going on for the IT team? Determining which devices are ready to upgrade, and what’s your capacity for getting it done? Automation can enable you to get more done in the time you have.

We believe that staying current is essential, especially in 2018. If you’re still unsure about your updates, check out some of these resources:

MVP Greg Shields and 1E’s Steve Camplbell Fireside Chat

MVP Kent Agerlund and 1E’s Ron Crumbaker State of the Nation Live Webinar

Play nice, 2018

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