How To Successfully Implement a Windows as a Service (WaaS)

How To Successfully Implement a Windows as a Service (WaaS)

Introduction

Everyone is talking about Windows as a Service, but how are organizations actually implementing it?

Working as a consultant, I see that most organizations do not have a clear method on how to implement Windows as a Service or any other evergreen IT project for that matter.

In this blog post, I explain how you can successfully manage a Windows as a Service implementation.

The blog post will not cover the technical implementation, but rather the processes around it.

What is Windows as a Service?

how to implement windows as a service
https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/uspartner_learning/2017/01/24/windows-as-a-service/

Windows as a Service is Microsoft’s evergreen approach for its Windows operating system.

As Microsoft has previously stated, Windows 10 will be the last Windows that they receive.

There is a caveat to this though, Windows 10 will still be updated with new user features and security patches. This means that we will over time see new versions of Windows, but not with a new name.

For a more detailed explanation about what evergreen IT is, please refer to my other blog post.

Why is it important to implement Windows as a Service?

https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/uspartner_learning/2017/01/24/windows-as-a-service/

Most IT organizations are used to major upgrade projects when upgrading from one version of an operating system to another, i.e. Windows 7 to Windows 10.

As I mentioned before, we will (most likely) not see Windows 11, but rather receive continuous updates to Windows 10.

The current setup for Windows as a Service is that new Feature Updates are released twice a year, and for each of these Feature Updates, there are different channels.

Microsoft has previously provided three different channels for the releases, called Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted), Semi-Annual Channel, and Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC).

Most likely due to the complexity of this approach, Microsoft changed to only releasing one channel per Feature Update, the Semi-Annual Channel.

The problem I see is that organizations focus on the technical implementation of Windows as a Service (WaaS).

In most cases, the difficult part is not the technical implementation, such as the deployment of the new Feature Update through SCCM, but rather the organizational challenges.

Why can’t I just use the Long-Term Servicing Channel?

At first glance, the Long-Term Servicing Channel, or LTSC, may seem like a reasonable approach, since it is only released every 3-4 years, similar to that of the old Windows client versions.

A huge caveat to this is that any hardware released after the release of the LTSC version will not be supported.

Currently, LTSC should only be used in environments where there should never be any changes. Office workstations are not such a scenario.

What are the challenges with Windows as a Service?

As mentioned above, the main challenge with Windows as a Service is the organizational challenges. These include, but not limited to:

  • Outdated project management techniques
  • Limited DevOps experience
  • Application compatibility
  • Hardware compatibility
  • Time constraints
  • A general interest

Outdated project management techniques

Traditional project management techniques can be difficult to use in the implementation of Windows as a Service in your organization.

The modern, evergreen approach is heavily dependent on leveraging an agile mindset.

My experience is that many organizations are now forced to moving to an agile mindset, but have limited experience or knowledge about techniques, such as the SCRUM framework.

Limited DevOps experience

To continuously be able to update the Windows 10 platform, DevOps will most likely need to be utilized. In short, DevOps means that development is carried out as part of operations, instead of having a separate project for each new release of Windows 10.

Application compatibility

Most applications will most likely work with the new feature update of Windows 10. From experience, the applications that may cause issues are applications that are close to the hardware such as applications relying on drivers or security software.

Some examples of applications that usually cause issues include:

  • 3rd part antivirus software (McAfee, Symantec, etc.)
  • Displaylink (included in most USB hubs)

Hardware compatibility

For each new feature update, I would recommend to re-certify your hardware and evaluate which models to include in the new release.

As part of the DevOps mindset, drivers should continuously be updated as part of operations, leveraging some form of Drivers as a Service approach.

If drivers have not previously been updated, they should be updated with the new Feature Update.

Time constraints

Implementing Windows as a Service process can be time-consuming and your organization might not have the resources for it. That is one of the reasons that it is currently one of my most popular consulting requests.

A general interest

Since Windows 10, and IT products, in general, are evolving at such a high pace, it is crucial to follow-up on the latest news on a daily basis. If you don’t have this interest in your organization, you will run into issues, or you will need to pay for external consultants.

Conclusion

Successful implementation of Windows as a Service is in many cases difficult due to concerns mentioned in this blog post.

You can simplify your life by leveraging Desktop Analytics, which is Microsoft’s cloud service, gathering information about your machines in your environment from Windows 10 telemetry.

In addition to Desktop Analytics, I recommend using an agile project method, with tools such as Kanban Board or Planner to simplify the process.

Also, make sure that you only target the new update to machines that can actually be upgraded. If not, you will run into many failures. If you deploy the feature update using SCCM, you can refer to my blog post on how to create baselines for each new release.,

Have you implemented Windows as a Service yet? If so, what were the challenges? Please leave a comment below!

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