When Windows 10 first launched in July 2015, it came with a promise of manageable updates vs. major upgrades. While traditional Windows servicing included several release types—major versions (e.g., Windows 8.1, Windows 8, and Windows 7), service packs, and monthly updates—Windows 10 offered just two release types: feature updates that add new functionality twice per year, and quality updates that provide security and reliability fixes at least once a month. There are numerous advantages to this more manageable update framework, among them being, continuous quality and stability improvements, improved compatibility across devices and applications, smaller payloads, and the ability to introduce new features and services faster.
Today, every build of Windows 10 represents improvements and lessons learned, both from a servicing and deployment perspective and in the technology itself, as shown below:
We are also less than eight months away from the end of support for Windows 7—making now the perfect time to think about effective strategies for staying current, and the reasons for doing so, namely:
As your business processes have evolved to become more agile and demand greater responsiveness, a servicing strategy that operates as a continual process (vs. the old project-based approach) is a real asset. In the past, it was common to hear things like, “Our corporate standard is Windows 7 SP1.” In a process-focused approach, IT organizations focus more on points in time and not typically a single version of anything. Instead of formalizing a standard of Windows 10, version X and Office 365 Pro Plus, version Y, successful adopters I work with tell me something like this:
Wow, the environment isn’t standardized on one version? Wait, how do you manage that? In speaking with customers who have successfully changed their internal IT culture by moving from project to process, we’ve learned that one of the keys to a successful, more self-service, peer-support-driven model is to create deployment rings for Windows 10 feature updates, and the adoption and use of data driven insights and analysis, in conjunction with the deployment rings.
With deployment rings, you first want to assign a pool, or ring. of early adopters to receive new builds first (and often early) to validate services, experiences, and applications. These early adopters serve as “champions,” and are valuable assets to any IT organization as they generate data and feedback for a feature update before the update is deployed broadly across the organization.
As each ring grows successfully larger, these early adopters and feedback loops are pivotal to deployment success. Imagine this scenario: someone in your workgroup receives an update before you. They’re excited to have the latest technology, they have the inside scoop! When it’s your turn to receive the same update, suddenly you have a question. To whom do you turn? Will you call them or the help desk? Most likely, you will go to your peer first. You now have an employee who feels empowered to help, technology flowing faster across your organization, and, likely, a help desk call (and expense) avoided. This culture builds over time, just like Windows feature updates. As your deployment ring methodology matures, there’s less hand holding, devices are more secure, and users are more productive—the trifecta and the biggest reason to leverage deployment rings to build internal champions.
Before I conclude this post, I’d like to briefly touch on a few key tools and technologies that will support your ability to keep your devices up to date by streamlining the deployment and management of updates.
Anyone who has looked at modern provisioning and cloud delivery of resources has undoubtedly questioned the physics of network strain. In many Windows Autopilot conversations, this is a common concern: “We can’t give out 200 laptops and have everyone go download all of our apps at the same time. It will kill the network.” Remember the champion we created in the previous strategy? Unbeknownst to them, they just provided network relief for the person asking this question—and everyone else around them. Enter Windows 10 Delivery Optimization. Staging content through network devices in branch offices, factory locations, and other locations should be a part of every update management strategy. The bandwidth savings from Delivery Optimization are even visible in Update Compliance, where you can see bandwidth reductions by category, such as Feature Updates, Quality Updates, Office, and Drivers. As you can see from the image below, the update from our early ring has tangible benefits.
For areas where complexity still outweighs the ability to go all in on cloud-based deployment and device management, we still have Configuration Manager with peer caching, in the ConfigMgr client, designated peer sources, Branch Cache, and even tools like LEDBAT. Your ring strategies still fully apply, and you can cover all scenarios without compromising user or IT experiences, or agility. Furthermore, you can attach your existing Configuration Manager deployment to the cloud (and Microsoft Intune) with co-management, a viable strategy for bringing existing devices into the modern management fold. If you don’t have a Configuration Manager-based infrastructure yet, go all cloud, but if you do, leverage co-management so you can start taking advantage of all the cloud has to offer!
Curious how you should design your ring structure? Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I’ll shed more light on tactical considerations related to the creation and evolution of rings. From there, I’ll touch base on language packs and other top of mind modern deployment topics. In the meantime, to learn more about Windows as a service, check out the Windows as a service gateway on Docs.
Sean McLaren is a Modern Desktop Technology Specialist covering customers in the South Central United States. With over 20 years of IT experience, he works directly with Microsoft’s Enterprise Commercial customers across many industries helping them with strategy and technical guidance around modernizing client endpoint deployment, management and security. In his own words, “I have the privilege to help our customers enable their Digital Transformation goals by delivering modern devices and the latest technology to their users while lowering costs and streamlining their operations. I also get to take feedback and learnings to our engineering teams and help make our products better.”
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