Jun 2016

Windows 10 in-place upgrade. Is this the best option?

I’ve recently seen numerous articles and blogs discussing the viability and benefits of utilising a Windows 10 in-place upgrade over the traditional wipe and load approaches.  But is this a realistic option?

I recall building an in-place SOE upgrade for a Windows XP to 7 migration roughly 10 years ago.  In the end we had to scrap the upgrade because it was too painful.  So what’s changed with Windows 10?

One significant change is the focus from Microsoft, to the point where an in-place upgrade is now recommended as the first choice for corporate customers when migrating to the new client operating system.

While the focus may have changed, I still wanted to see this in action before I started recommending it to customers.  I got together with our technical team and asked them to create the appropriate task sequences and start deploying it within our organisation.  After 2 days, they had a working SOE and we commenced a staggered deployment to roughly 60 staff.  While there were some minor issues, the process went reasonably well, and it was pleasing most staff had only limited issues.

What did I observe with the Windows 10 in-place migration?

The first thing we noticed was the roll-back process had improved dramatically and didn’t require intervention from our IT resources when issues occurred during the build. This was significant.  It meant any user whose device didn’t receive the upgrade overnight came in the next morning and continued to work without issue, rather than being faced with a build process at 50%.  It also meant IT people could investigate the issue at their own pace without the pressure of someone looking over their shoulder, waiting to get back on their device and start working.

We also observed the majority of applications operated without issue, and all applications and personal settings were still present.  I kind of expected all the application and personal settings to be there but was really surprised they all worked seamlessly and no re-installs were required.

What makes this process different in Windows 10?

After my positive personal experience, I decided to do a bit more investigation on what has changed with the in-place upgrade methodology for Windows 10, and this is what I discovered:

  1. The in-place upgrade doesn’t overwrite the old Windows installation with Windows 10. It actually applies a completely new configuration.
  2. The upgrade process conducts an extensive evaluation and inventory of the computer particularly in regards to applications. This explains why our migration was so successful.
  3. Rather than just copying to app registry settings, it utilises a database to verify the compatibility of each application against Windows 10. The database also includes information on how to make the application operate on Windows 10. This is significant given the majority of issues I’ve seen with Windows 10 deployments relate to application sociability and I’m sure that’s no different for you.
What are the pre-requisites for a successful in-place upgrade?

I also asked my technical team what pre-requisites they considered for a successful upgrade and this is what they came up with:

  1. Firstly, you need to utilise the install.wim image that’s provided with the Windows 10 source media rather than any custom image you may have.
  2. Secondly, you need the appropriate deployment infrastructure in-place. If you already have System Centre Configuration Manager in your environment, they recommend upgrading to 1602 to unlock all the new features in Windows 10.  If that’s too significant, staying on 2012 R2 will be fine. If you don’t have System Centre Configuration Manager in your environment, utilising the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2013 Update 1 is also an option.
  3. Lastly, you should also consider Internet Explorer 11. We recommend our customers deploy this as the first step on their existing client operating system.  Once you’ve upgraded to IE11, and ironed out any  compatibility issues, you are essentially over the biggest hurdle.
Is an in-place upgrade ever not appropriate?

Despite the obvious benefits of in-place upgrades for Windows 10, this may not always be the most appropriate methodology.  Here’s the list of instances I came up with:

  1. When migrating from 32 bit to 64 bit
  2. If you have plans to repartition drives
  3. When migrating from Windows XP
  4. If you plan to utilise UEFI
  5. When you plan to upgrade to a higher version of the client operating system
  6. If your drives are encrypted by a 3rd party not on the supported list

So, in conclusion, while the in-place upgrade method may not be for everyone, I definitely feel it is now an option that should be considered when embarking on any Windows 10 deployment, regardless of organisation size.

While you may still need to adopt the wipe and load approach a for a majority of devices, by utilising this methodology for a subset of devices you may dramatically reduce your project schedule and improve the overall Windows 10 experience for your end users.

It’s certainly worthwhile considering.

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