Royal Mail’s Users Help Deliver Windows Upgrade
Royal Mail Group, a government-owned postal service in the U.K., is working with CSC to update its 27,000 desktop and laptop computers in a way that is cost-conscious, streamlined and automated.
The two have worked together for a decade, with CSC managing Royal Mail Group’s data center, desktops and applications. So when RMG management realized their end-user computers were in need of a system upgrade, they naturally turned to CSC.
The upgrade in question involves a wholesale move from Microsoft’s aging Windows XP operating system to the current version, Windows 7.
“We had some level of automation,” says Karl Snowden, RMG’s infrastructure manager for desktop and networks, “but we knew there was an opportunity for improvement in how we update software and deploy operating systems.”
Together, CSC and RMG also implemented a private cloud storage system for RMG’s data storage and backups. This solution should reduce RMG’s desktop-support costs by 20% while increasing its IT efficiency and security, and improving user satisfaction. “Basically, this extends the network so that users are always in a secure environment,” says Alistair Doran, a CSC solution director who is the lead designer and has overseen much of the RMG project.
Self-service Windows 7 upgrade
The core of the project is an automated system for upgrading the operating systems of RMG’s desktop and laptop computers. Until late 2012, all RMG computers were still running Microsoft Windows XP. First introduced 11 years ago, Windows XP is now two releases behind the current Windows 7, and Microsoft has said it will terminate all XP support by April 2014. So an upgrade was clearly needed.
CSC wanted to not only upgrade all of RMG’s 27,000 computers to Windows 7, but also perform the upgrades in a way that was extremely cost-conscious and gave excellent user experience. CSC’s solution: a self-service portal.
Here’s how the self-service upgrade works. When an RMG end user is eligible for an upgrade, he or she receives what Doran calls a T-Minus-46-Days migration notification. This electronic message sends the user to the new self-service portal. There the users review and confirm vital information about their systems, including applications in use, current hardware configuration, OS version and types of storage devices used. The portal also offers users online training in both Office 2010 and Windows 7.
Next, the user must pick a date for the upgrade within a given time period. Once the date is set, the countdown begins. As the date approaches, the system automatically sends the user regular reminders and updates. Finally, on the day of the scheduled upgrade, a splash page pops up on the user’s screen, reminding him or her of their appointment. Most upgrades are scheduled to be completed within a mere one to two hours. “You can go off and have a coffee, come back, and your machine will be upgraded,” Doran says.
As of autumn 2012, 4,000 of RMG’s 27,000 desktop and laptop computers have already been upgraded to Windows 7 via the self-service portal. According to CSC plans, all the RMG computers will be upgraded by March 2013, and all final tweaks and adjustments will be completed by the following July. Early customer-satisfaction ratings are averaging more than 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. “In the U.K., 7 out of 10 is considered very good,” Doran says. If the scores drop below 6, he adds, the project would stop, giving CSC a chance to analyze the issues. But so far, that hasn’t been an issue.
Another piece of the CSC project involves a private-cloud storage solution that eases the backup process for end users while also making RMG’s data more secure. Previously, laptop-computer users at RMG were responsible for backing up their own data. But now, with the CSC solution, as long as the users’ computers are connected to the Internet, their data will be backed up every 15 minutes.
In an approach Doran calls “seamless remote backup,” as soon as RMG end users switch on their laptops and connect to the Internet, their machines are automatically connected to the RMG network. Even if the users have not logged on, their machines can be updated with the latest policies, patches, antivirus updates and more.
RMG has also implemented Microsoft’s Windows BitLocker drive encryption. If a laptop is lost or stolen, BitLocker safeguards the data, allowing users to restore their most recent backup. Doran recounts that during user testing, one end user’s system suffered a disk failure. While the disk was rendered completely useless and had to be replaced, the user in the pilot test lost updates to only two documents. Once the system’s disk was replaced and its operating system restored, the user was able to easily synchronize data, restore settings and applications, and resume work.
RMG’s implementation of another Microsoft solution, System Center, received a boost from CSC, too. System Center helps IT departments optimize their public and private cloud-computing environments, in large part by allowing them to manage different hypervisors — software that controls virtualized servers — from a “single pane of glass.”
CSC participates in the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for System Center 2012 on behalf of RMG, and through the program it explored the new features of System Center. Ultimately, the team focused on two components: Configuration Manager to manage RMG’s desktop environment, and Operations Manager to flexibly monitor RMG’s IT infrastructure.
CSC is also helping RMG increase its IT architecture efficiency with another Microsoft solution, Hyper-V. It’s a Microsoft hypervisor-based server virtualization product designed to help IT managers consolidate workloads, improve server-utilization rates and lower costs. In fact, this project will allow CSC to consolidate 348 physical servers at RMG’s 116 remote locations to just one server per location.
With CSC’s help, RMG is also using Hyper-V to consolidate servers in its main data center. First, RMG will migrate 36 application servers to Hyper-V by the end of 2012. Then RMG will consider all new service requests and existing server hardware as candidates for additional virtualization. “By reducing our reliance on physical server hardware,” Snowden says, “we could potentially save 33% of our hardware costs.”