Windows 8 for IBM i and AIX IT Administration

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Windows 8 offers opportunities for serious Endpoint Management.

 

The new Windows 8 operating system from Microsoft is entering our organizations as a new baseline for personal computers. For our users, the learning curve for the new OS will undoubtedly be challenging at first, but for IT administrators the addition of Windows 8particularly for IBM i and AIX administratorsunravels an annoying support issue for the organization's infrastructure.

"My Other Brother Darryl"

Consider that as of February of 2013, Microsoft's predominance in OS implementation on desktops is at 92%, but that dominance is divided between nine versions of the Windows operating system. So it's a bit like repeating that old Bob Newhart joke: "This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl." Windows implementations are replete with similarities and differences that give IT administrators premature gray hair and long nights of after-hours configuration nightmares.

 

Windows 98

0.01%

Windows NT

0.06%

Windows 2000

0.06%

Windows XP

38.99%

Windows Vista

5.17%

Windows 7

44.55%

Windows 8

2.67%

Windows 8 RT Touch

0.02%

Windows 8 Touch

0.10%

Prospects for Windows 8 Adoption

Windows 8 itself (all versions) today occupies less than 3% of desktops, but it was only released in October of last year, and that percentage is destined to grow as new hardware enters the infrastructure. At the same time, desktop use will continue to be supplanted by Windows 8 laptops and tablets, each with their own requirements for administration, security, and management.

 

Finally, the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trends will lead users to request support for a variety of hardware and software that strain the limits (and the patience) of IT. Moreover, the seemingly simple tasks of bringing the infrastructure up to date have been made harder by Microsoft's insistence on removing support for older versions of Windows.

The Coming XP Nightmare

What does the moving target of support look like? Take a look at the coming cataclysm of Windows XP as a prime example. Twelve-year-old Windows XPwith all its security limitationsstill represents the second-most-implemented Microsoft OS out there, representing nearly 39% of existing desktops. Yet Microsoft will end XP support in April of 2014, just a year away. This means that patches for the OS stop, and security (already an issue for XP) will continue to collapse.

 

So XP users need to upgrade. But the problem is thateven if some XP PC hardware may be compatible with the new OSMicrosoft offers only a very limited upgrade path between XP and Windows 8. The path lets users keep the old XP files, but no XP desktop settings, and no XP device drivers. The options for IT administrators are rapidly diminishing.

Windows 7 Support

Meanwhile, the Windows 7 lifecycle is planned to end in 2020. That may seem like plenty of time, but at some point in the next seven years, Microsoft will stop vendors from selling PCs with the Windows 7 OS pre-installed, and most vendors already require special ordering to obtain the OS.

 

The point is that IT is on a treadmill of OS upgrades, and as the number of devices continues to grow in the organization, the upgrade headachesfor OS migrations, software patches, security fixes, and user trainingwill continue to dominate the budgets of IT administrators into the foreseeable future.

Other OS Platform Options

Of course, there's always a clamor to "upgrade" to completely different non-Microsoft operating systems, such as Linux or Mac OS X. The argument is that, if you've got to re-train the users anyway, why not move to a more "user-friendly" platform like the Mac? Better yet, why not standardize on an open OS like one of the variations of Linux?

 

But these arguments have been made unsuccessfully in the past, and it's important to note that today Linux still only represents less than 2% of desktop platforms, and OS X considerably less than 8 %.

 

The bottom line is simple: The cost of negotiating new software licenses, repurchasing applications, implementing the upgrades, etc. eliminates any cost savings for large or medium-sized organizations. In other words, instead of offering a support solution, these ideas merely add one more level of complexity to an already daunting task of managing PCs in the infrastructure.

The Universal PC Platform Fades to Myth

The truth is that any dream of a comprehensive organization-wide PC platform standard is directly opposed to the existing realities of IT administration. The problem facing IT PC administration is that there are already too many operating systems (eight versions of Windows alone, four versions of Mac OS X, and untold variations of Linux). And when one throws in the myriad devices that management says it wants to support (cell phones, tablets, etc.)each with its own unique support profilesthere are just too many different devices to even pretend there might be one, single standard.

 

Heterogeneous computing is the trend, especially today with the growing emphasis on BYOD. The problem is not simply OS platform support, but the entire raft of problems: upgrades, training, security, asset accounting, software fixes, software lifecycle timelines, and more.

Endpoint Management Solutions

This realities in the workplace have forced serious industry analysts to reach a new conclusion: If IT administration is going to provide any reasonable level of supportfor Windows 8 or any new platformsit needs significantly stronger tools to manage the devices of today, tomorrow, and the future. In their opinion, if your organization is managing dozens of devices, then it's time to start considering an Endpoint Management (EPM) solution.

 

Endpoint Management allows desktop and server administrators to manage networked desktop, mobile, and server computers. 

 

Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Tivoli Endpoint Manager (TEM) are two such management systems that are widely implemented, though their applicability and functionality vary significantly.

 

Microsoft's SCCM is focused primarily on handling Windows-based PCs and cell phone devices. SCCM solution has evolved since 1994 from its Systems Manager Server software to include cell phone devices andwith the advent of Windows 8 RTthe new Windows 8 phone and tablets. The current version is System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.

 

By comparison, IBM's TEM provides a much broader range of devices, including Microsoft-centric, Linux, and Mac OS X platforms as well as cell and tablet devices, and IBM IBM i and AIX servers. TEM is based on IBM's procurement of BigFix in 2010. BigFix took a more generic approach to Endpoint Management, writing agents that discretely reside on the devices being managed.

What Endpoint Management Offers

The general goals of Endpoint Management include, but are not limited to, hardware asset management, application and patch management, software updates, power management, remote functionality, software distribution, and OS deployment. Both TEM and SCCM have proven track records, and both are available with Software as a Service (SaaS) licenses or as in-house standalone servers. Each solution has its own TCO scenarios and ROI arguments, but if your company is rapidly growing or already managing large numbers (hundreds or thousands) of PCs or other devices, an Endpoint Management solution may represent precisely the kind of remedy to the issues IT administrators are facing with the advent of yet another Windows upgrade.

Windows 8 Opportunity of IBM i and AIX IT Administrators

The entrance of Windows 8 into our organizations opens a challenging time for IT, with its new user interface, its numerous version incarnations, its device diversity, and its rigorous demands.

 

Yet IBM i and AIX IT administrators can use this addition of yet another Windows PC platform as an opportunity to press management for a more sane and rational approach to IT management as a whole. It's time to stop treating the symptoms of a heterogeneous infrastructure and start seeking real solutions. Instead of throwing untold man hours and resources at the configuration and maintenance problems of a heterogeneous infrastructure, the time has come to look for a more robust approach to managing our organizations' devices.

 

Endpoint Management systems is one such approach, and one that every medium and large-sized organization should be seriously considering.

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