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17th of December 2018

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Why that last 20 per cent of Windows 10 upgrades is 80 per cent of the problem

Mount Everest is 8,848 meters high. Getting to the 8,000-meter level is hard certainly, but, barring weather, most expeditions do make it this far.

But that last 800 meters is another story. Known as the 'death zone' - it is so high, and the air so thin, that even with oxygen, humans struggle to survive. Climbing - and descending - the death zone has claimed many lives. It is a sobering experience to scroll through the list of fatalities in Wikipedia and see just how many have perished when they had, to all intents and purposes, almost reached their goal.

It is easy to make the mistake of seeing progress as a linear progression, a steady ticking off of milestones towards a certain well-defined completion point. But, as with mountain climbing, it's often the last part of the journey where the most hazards lurk.

Fundamentally, this example exemplifies Pareto’s Law, which states that roughly 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes. Beyond treacherous mountain trekking, this law was first used in economics to observe the inequality around population and wealth.

Now it seems that Pareto’s Law has hit Windows 10 migration; this is important as it’s very likely that it could cause complications during your company’s mitigation away from Windows 7, wherein 80 per cent of your effort will go into that final 20 per cent of your PCs.

Like any large-scale migration, such as moving your estate to Windows 10, 80 per cent of your devices will update just fine. But that last 20 per cent will confound you with a long tail of seemingly endless problems. Each failed device will present a different issue. Remediation becomes increasingly time-consuming and overall progress slows from a gallop to a crawl.

But why is this? Like Everest, migration ruthlessly exposes any flaw and defect in your plans and equipment. Devices that function perfectly suddenly turn out to have subtle hardware issues that weren't stressed by the previous OS version, such as a bad block of memory previously unused by the old OS. One or more subsystems, not previously critical, turn out to be malfunctioning and prevent upgrades from completing. Storage devices have undetected file corruption or run out of space. Supposedly identical hardware turns out to have a slightly different model of network card than its peers and loses connectivity due to the wrong driver being loaded. And so on…

A challenging exercise

And because these are the 'long tail' outliers, each device is likely to present a fresh set of challenges. One by one, you painfully overcome them, only to be faced with a fresh tranche of new issues the following day on the next cohort to be migrated.

And every day you are also dealing with angry phone calls from users unable to log on after their device failed to upgrade and did not roll back automatically. Now you have to fix the problems under enormous time pressure, meaning that you have no time to coordinate and plan how you are going to deal with tomorrow's problems proactively.

You realise, belatedly, that had you been able to interrogate your estate remotely, to determine inventory and configurations, test subsystems, run diagnostics and generally pre-stress your candidate devices, you might well have been able to anticipate, mitigate or remediate the issues that - too late - became apparent at the most critical time.

Historically, managing an estate at scale and obtaining the kind of forensic information on device status you need for a reliable migration, was a challenging exercise. But with the advent of modern, scalable management platforms, it is possible to probe, diagnose, mitigate and remediate tens or even hundreds of thousands of endpoints in real time. With these kinds of superpowers, you can easily test endpoints for weaknesses, compare them against a reference standard to pick up anomalies, and then remediate and mitigate problems before they stop your migration in its tracks.

Not only that, but you can ensure that critical rollback storage is properly populated, so that a failed update immediately rolls back to a known good state, and that all user data is safely backed up throughout the migration. Leading vendors of these estate management software products often have considerable expertise in migration and can help guide you through the strategies you need to ensure success.

Automating migrations

Lastly, there are options for automating the migrations of those hard-to-reach remote and home workers, ensuring their applications are updated and that they too reach a properly secure Windows 10 (wherever they happen to be working).

It is simple, the deadline to move to Windows 10 is quickly encroaching. Aside from Windows 7 support ending in January 2020, there are also clear sound security benefits that should push any company to make the switch; for example, Windows 10 has over 20 new security features, each designed to mitigate against common attacks.

But while the gains are obvious, making the move is far easier said than done. But the time to be proactive is over; there is much to do to ensure your company is fully migrated before the cut off, including issues around:

Wipe and loadRemote and home workersApplication migrationBIOS to secure UEFI, password and firmware settingsMachine replacementContent distribution and remote serversInternet-based PCs

While some of these issues may be at the top of your initial “red flags” list more so than others, each has the possibility to slow or even halt your Windows 10 migration.

So before you start climbing, think about that last few per cent. Have a plan and process in place, such as automation, for how you will overcome these issue and ensure you have enough time to execute. With the aid of your guide, you will be able to scan, analyse, categorise and prioritise to ensure that your journey to the summit is smooth and uninterrupted. Then stand there and admire the view.

To find out more about how organisations can prevent their migration to Windows 10 being impeded by upgrade challenges (the 20 per cent of Pareto’s Law), please visit this link.

Andy Mayo, Tachyon Engineering Team Lead at 1EPhoto credit: Anton Watman / Shutterstock

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