September 26, 2018

Microsoft and WaaS conundrum

In a previous Post, we discussed the many advantages of Microsoft’s staggered approach to Windows upgrades – (referred to as Windows as a service or WaaS – see link) and the many advantages it brings to users.  Unfortunately, WaaS creates a unique challenge to MLE’s (Medium and Large enterprises) – since they have large application estates for which retesting for compatibility every feature update is a slow and expensive process – we describe this as “The WaaS Conundrum”.

Microsoft offers several tools to mitigate the effects of the WaaS conundrum: Firstly, It offers Windows Telemetry. Windows telemetry is a Windows component that collects information on performance and usage on a Windows machine, effectively running an agent on each device.  Microsoft uses the telemetry data to identify security and reliability issues, to analyze and fix windows problems, and identify improvements.   Crucially for our discussion, it uses data collected to maintain a publically available compatibility database, which identifies known compatibility issues (Link).    The problem with Windows Telemetry is that many users, particularly in MLE’s disable the telemetry feature due to privacy concerns.  Another problem is that it is impossible for Microsoft to predict every possible configuration out there, so while an application, may, in general, be compatible, it may not actually be compatible for a specific organization or configuration. : This is especially true for in-house applications – often a major pain-point.

Microsoft also offers Upgrade Readiness ( Link).  Part of the Windows Analytics suite, Upgrade readiness is specifically designed to assist organizations with the migration process by providing a controlled process that takes into account the number users and devices involved, hardware and known application compatibility issues – gleaned from Windows Telemetry.  How an individual application compatibility is detected and handled in advance of any deployment remains, however, an open issue.

Recently, Microsoft unveiled a new, upcoming Desktop Analytics package. (Link).  Although details are still sketchy, what this appears to do is to allow enterprise customers to manage the compliance of their own application estate through a convenient portal, track their usage and deployment status, create pilot groups and making informed decisions on upgrades.

None of these tools solve the basic problem of how to reliably identify problematic applications in advance of any deployment.  Therefore, when some of these applications are business critical, Users still have no options other than manual testing.