Mar 13 2024

Time Flies When You’re Planning a Windows 11 Deployment

Although the end of support for Windows 10 isn’t until late 2025, it’s best to start assessing infrastructure and arranging pilots now.

Deadlines are never as far away as you think. A year and a half can pass by pretty quickly, and if your agency doesn’t begin planning for the transition to Windows 11 now, you could miss one.

Oct. 14, 2025, is that deadline; that’s when support for Windows 10 ends. Granted, Microsoft will probably extend some support past that date, but it’s better, safer and cheaper to transition to Windows 11 as soon as possible — and this is the best time to start the nitty-gritty of planning.

If your agency hasn’t already begun working toward Windows 11, the first thing to do is understand the lay of the land. Get a reintroduction to your infrastructure; assess and inventory your assets so you know what you’re working with. Optimally, this would have been done by now, but it’s not too late to compile this information.

Once you know what your infrastructure contains, it’s time for compatibility testing. Windows 11 comes with some significant hardware requirements. In particular, mobile devices that are a few years old may not be able to run the new OS.

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Get the Details on Windows 11 Requirements Before Deployment

Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 in January 2020 — coincidentally, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Since then, many workers have gone remote and rely on equipment that is not tied to a desktop.

Those devices, some issued as long as four years ago, may not work with Windows 11’s more intensive graphics requirements or built-in Trusted Platform Module 2.0 technology.

For Windows 11, graphics cards on devices must be compatible with DirectX 12 or later, with the WDDM 2.0 driver, and the display must be 720p, high-definition, and larger than 9 inches diagonally with at least 8 bits per color channel. If your screen size is any smaller, according to Microsoft, “the intended user interface of Windows may not be fully visible.”

Security — in the current zero-trust, high-risk environment — is also key. TPM 2.0 is required to run some of the newer Microsoft security features, such as BitLocker and Windows Hello. The company says that most PCs sold in the past five years are able to run TPM 2.0, but not all of them are set up to do so; they should be, in order to operate Windows 11 properly.

The security of an operating system is only as good as the people using and managing it. While the OS itself may be secure, any changes, adaptations or extra applications can create unnoticed gaps that a hacker could exploit.

DIVE DEEPER: How does Windows 11 provide security for federal agencies?

Training and Budgeting Must Also Be Considered in Windows 11 Planning

There are other considerations: What other requirements must your current devices meet? What applications are they using? What identity and access management measures are in place? How will you handle deployment to remote workers? How many people will need new devices?

It’s easy to acquire Windows 11 — that entails just purchasing the licenses and downloading the software — but getting new hardware could be a constraint, depending on the vendor, supply chain issues or your agency’s budget.

If your rollout is dependent on proper budgeting, and that hasn’t happened yet, the transition could get dicey. Given that you may not know when you’re going to get your funding (because federal budgets aren’t always passed in the standard fiscal year time frame), you should have some idea of possible expenditures as soon as possible.

At the same time, begin planning for pilot testing. You don’t want to roll out a new operating system to an entire organization at once without a trial run; it’s best to roll it out to a select group of users and devices so you can evaluate performance and compatibility.

READ MORE: Get additional tips on how to ace your Windows 11 migration.

Don’t Forget Post-Migration Support for New Windows 11 Users

From your pilot groups, you can get an idea of how to tailor training to the entire agency. Windows 11 may look similar to Windows 10, but it’s not the same. The menu structure is slightly different, and the map of the operating system isn’t identical. Applications run a little differently on Windows 11 than they do on Windows 10.

People will be able to figure out how to work with Windows 11 on their own, but without training, they won’t know what functions are new or different. They won’t get the full benefit of the upgrade if they don’t know what’s available.

These pilot programs will also provide guidance as to what kind of post-deployment support will be necessary. No deployment is ever perfect — you’ll have technical problems, updates that fail, mobile device management systems that don’t talk to each other or that block necessary patches. Ongoing support is absolutely necessary.

And that support can come from outside parties who are well-versed in the technology and the deployment in ways that in-house team members may not be. These third-party teams are already know how to run through assessments, inventories, compatibility testing and more, and they already have a methodical process to walk through all aspects of a deployment.

Get that help quickly, though. The longer you wait to bring in third-party assistance, the longer it will take for that team to figure out what your problems are and how they began. And if you wait into 2025, the demand for outside help will have expanded, and you may not be able to get that assistance when you want it.

Finally, try to get all of the feedback from your pilot testers before the end of this fiscal year. It should be possible to begin testing a proof of concept and some limited deployment by this October. With all of this advance work completed, you can spend 2025 deploying the new operating system.

This article is part of FedTech’s CapITal blog series.

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Image courtesy of Microsoft

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