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Decoupling Windows 7 migration and virtual desktops

Even if you're not planning for desktop virtualization right now, here's what you can do to be ready as you roll out Windows 7.

Even though desktop virtualization has a lot of benefits, installing it the right way takes time. For a few years, not much changed in the world of business desktops, so companies were able to think about their virtual desktop plans at a nice leisurely pace. But now that Windows 7 is out, enterprises are under pressure.

Many organizations are pushing ahead with Windows 7 migrations, regardless of whether their desktop virtualization plans are ready to go.

So does this represent a missed opportunity? Will you miss the boat if you don't go 100% virtual for your Windows 7 desktop rollout?

Fortunately, the answer is "No." Even if you plan to roll out Windows 7 in the traditional way, several desktop virtualization technologies can make your life easier with Windows 7 now and help you eventually move to full desktop virtualization.

Using desktop virtualization with Windows 7 now
Windows 7 has a lot of new features -- especially if you're coming to it from Windows XP. Unfortunately, you'll need to change quite a bit if you want your new desktop environment to mirror your old desktop environment.

First and foremost, a lot of Windows apps that worked in Windows XP won't run in Windows 7. This is a perfect opportunity to "virtualize" them. You can put your incompatible apps on a remote terminal server and deliver them to your Windows 7 desktops via Microsoft's RemoteApp technology. Or you could run them in a Windows XP-based virtual machine (VM) on your client device. Windows 7 actually has a built-in solution for this called "Windows XP Mode," which is essentially a Windows XP virtual machine running on Windows 7 hosts.

Windows 7 (well, Vista technically) also introduces a new user profile format that's not compatible with the user profiles used on Windows XP. So if your users will be going back and forth between operating systems for a while, you'll need a third-party profile management or user virtualization tool that can bridge the two environments.

Preparing your environment for desktop virtualization
When you decide to move your traditional desktops to a virtual desktop environment, many of the steps you take are the same regardless of the type of desktop virtualization -- terminal server, client VM, virtual desktop infrastructure -- that you're moving to.

For example, you'll still have to deal with incompatible applications in your new environment, but if you already isolated them into their own Windows XP or terminal server silos, then you're all set. There's nothing more to do there.

And if you installed a user virtualization product to help bridge the gap from Windows XP to your Windows 7 environment, you can continue to use that product to manage the users of your virtual Windows 7 environment. Of course, since you've virtualized these settings already, the actual physical-to-virtual move should be simple.

You might also want to think about virtualization for all applications in your new Windows 7 environment, not just the problem apps that need Windows XP. If you virtualize all your apps -- even for your traditional Windows 7 desktops -- then your individual desktop management becomes simple, and your migration from physical Windows 7 to virtual Windows 7 desktops becomes even easier.

And that's really the key. Even if you aren't planning to virtualize your desktops when you switch from Windows XP to Windows 7, the actual OS migration is only a small part of a physical-to-virtual migration. So you can install Windows 7 in your traditional environment now, then put in some of the virtual environment pieces, and when it's time to actually migrate, it will be a snap.

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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