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Day One IT Integration for Mergers Using Windows To Go

 

A good friend of mine heads up IT for a successful Silicon Valley networking company. I met him for a beer recently and he looked as down as I’d seen him when his company was dealing with the Heartbleed issue. His company had just gone through a painful acquisition of a global high tech company and he was responsible for ensuring a smooth day one transition. As you know on the day of the acquisition, all the new employees need to have email access, intranet access, connections to corporate servers, VPN access, corporate wireless etc. They also need to continue accessing their existing services to make sure there is no disruption of the business. It can be an IT project management nightmare and my friend had miraculously pulled it off without a hitch.

“Why so blue, Superman?” I asked. “I hear you are the hero of IT!”

“Yeah, but guess what? We just announced another acquisition with 1000 employees, and this one closes in 6 weeks!” he replied. “Never fear, my friend. Let me buy you another beer and introduce you to my workspace in a pocket, PC on a stick,” I said with confidence.

I proceeded to lay out the following plan. Suppose you configure 1000 Windows To Go devices that provide all the applications, access tools and rules, and even personalized documents welcoming each new employee. Then on day one you welcome everyone to the new company and hand them their Windows to Go devices. They plug these into their existing work computers and, voila, they are fully operational on their new corporate systems. But they still need to access their old systems to do their day job. So, you unplug your PC on a Stick TM device to access your old system and plug it back in to access the new. Now, IT can do a step-wise conversion of groups and departments over the next weeks and months starting with the highest priority groups.

“I’m buying the beers…” he replied as a grin came to his brightened face. “This hero stuff is getting easier all the time!”

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Sochi Games and Windows To Go – BYOB — Bring Your Own Burner

With reporters just starting to show up at the Sochi Games, their horror stories are emerging on everything from yellow drinking water, poisoned dogs and roofless hotel rooms to a hacker heaven. Digital connectivity and security are going to be hot topics and major issues during the Games. The IronKey Workspace™ for Windows to Go, a PC on a Stick™, is a great solution for anyone traveling to Russia. Here’s why:

Russia has LAWFUL interception of ALL communications. There is ONE network, completely government controlled. What this means is, if you want to be online — unless you are working on a highly classified government network from your country of origin — you WILL be monitored and almost certainly hacked.

Even if you have a VPN, the Russian network will own your PC, your credentials, your certificates, etc. So you’re toast.

But you have to be connected and get work done. What do you do?

Take three things on your trip:

  • IronKey Workspace W500™ for Windows To Go, with your needed applications and public files. You can plug the Windows To Go drive into almost any computer, work solely from the USB stick and not leave a trace behind.
  • Laptop, with the hard drive either disabled or removed (just to be safe)
  • Burner cell phone – buy with cash.

The good news is you can be connected this way without digital harm. The bad news is that, while you’re in Russia, you’ll have to assume all of your communications are public and not secure.  But you can stay completely connected, be productive, and still be safe when you return home.

While in Russia, you can use Windows To Go in your laptop, do all your work with your regular applications and stay connected to home base. The Windows 8.1 operating system you load on Windows To Go must contain applications and files that are not sensitive, because once you log on to the network, you need to assume anyone can see them and know it’s you. Same thing with when you use your cell. Even burner cells can be traced and triangulated. Just ask the DEA.

Once you get home, have IT re-provision your Windows To Go device. Or do it yourself. Load up all your applications and files, including all the sensitive ones. Windows To Go can be used again, completely securely in other countries. You can use it with your regular laptop or the drive-less one you got for the trip. Destroy the cell just like in cop shows.

Bon voyage!

 

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Microsoft Interview: Windows To Go, Year One

When Microsoft launched Windows 8 in late October 2012, Windows To Go was immediately identified as a “hot” feature, designed for IT and perfect for BYOD.  The concept is both simple and powerful: your own fully manageable, corporate image installed on a bootable, certified USB drive.

As a key provider of certified drives for Windows To Go with our own IronKey Workspace solutions, we thought this would be the perfect time to ask our friends at Microsoft to reflect on the first year of Windows To Go.  The result: the following interview with Craig Ashley, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft for Windows  To Go.

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Microsoft’s Craig Ashley

How has the reaction been to Windows To Go since its introduction last year? Have there been any surprises?

I can honestly say it has been very positive. We developed Windows To Go with this idea that for customers that fall into a range of scenarios, from bring your own device to traveling light on the go, we could fit a full version of Windows on a USB drive and enable customers to have their own full version of a PC on a stick that fits in their pocket. This meant large enterprises with contingent staff or companies that had shared PCs or highly mobile staff could have a seamless PC experience regardless of the device they were on.

We have actually been surprised by how many customers are coming out with new and innovative scenarios. One of those was during the 2012 London Olympics.  Like most businesses last summer, the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust faced significant potential challenges to its ability to provide high quality care and services due to the Olympics pressure on transport networks in the city, which could prohibit staff from making it to work.  They originally thought the only solution was to provide staff new laptops.  However, Windows To Go provided a far more cost-effective and seamless solution that not only allowed their staff to successfully work remotely, but was simple to roll out.

Which vertical markets have really expressed an interest in Windows To Go?

We see interest across quite a few vertical markets. For example in healthcare and the public sector, Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust (which I previously mentioned) and the IT staff in Fairfax County, Va. see a good fit for teleworkers or remote workers who can boot Windows To Go on their own devices, as it allows them to use their device of choice and saving the companies the additional costs associated with managing a BYOD device. Another example is in manufacturing, where Boeing is currently piloting Windows To Go drives to sourced employees or contactors instead of a PC. One last example I’d like to share is in the airline industry, where Emirates, an international airline, distributed Windows To Go to use on their Windows 7 tablets for testing a new app at home before deploying the final version of the app on a Windows 8 tablet.

Other than government and regulated industries, are there any surprise industries that are testing Windows To Go?

We have seen interest across a wide range of industries. While the interest in Windows To Go is broad, the reasons for testing, piloting and deploying are similar: Windows To Go is just Windows 8.1, but on-the-go. By that I mean enterprises can manage it, deploy it, load applications on it, track it, and secure it just like they would their other Windows devices. For example, if customers use Windows To Go for contractors or remote workers, they can deploy using their existing processes.

Are you finding that most Windows To Go testers were already on the path to Windows 8 or are you finding that Windows To Go is a catalyst for Windows 8 adopters?

With Windows 8, we helped our business customers enable new scenarios for achieving everything from business efficiency to new forms of customer engagement. Some were already interested in great manageable Windows tablets. Some customers were excited by the security capabilities that Windows 8 offers. And some businesses are really seeing the value of Windows 8 through Windows To Go enabled scenarios.

With the launch of Windows 8.1, are more businesses familiar with the benefits and features of Windows To Go?

Absolutely. With any new feature or product there is always a learning curve associated with it. Windows To Go was first released last year with Windows 8, and since that time we have been continuously talking to customers, listening to feedback, and creating documentation necessary to educate users across a wide range of Windows To Go topics. One example and one that I am sure the IronKey team is very knowledgeable on is the fact that Microsoft only supports drives certified for Windows To Go. We have written blogposts and online documentation to be sure that customers understand this and many other Windows To Go requirements.

How long are prospects testing Windows To Go before they commit and what’s the size of the commitment (are they rolling it out slowly, just certain employees or across the board)?

Customer test plans and timelines vary by use case, industry, and the size of the Windows To Go deployment under consideration. Because Windows To Go is just Windows 8.1, customers are able to test and evaluate Windows To Go alongside their broader Windows 8.1 deployments.

Is Microsoft encouraging employees to adopt Windows To Go? What has your experience been like?

You bet. At Microsoft we always “dogfood” our own products. From the initial stages of launching Windows 8, Microsoft employees have had access to create Windows To Go drives. Our internal IT teams have created documentation that outlines the steps and processes for us to create and employees can use Windows To Go for a variety of reasons. I have two drives that I use on an ongoing basis, one for demoing Windows To Go and one for my day job. Many nights when I pack up to go home I simply grab my Windows To Go drive, my keys and head for the door. If I need to do work at home, I use the drive on my home office desktop, so there is no longer a need to carry my laptop and bag with me every time I leave now.

 

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IronKey Workspace for Windows To Go Review

Now that it has been certified by Microsoft, I was very excited to get my hot little hands on the IronKey Workspace W500 — the new platform from Imation for Windows To Go — and try it out for myself.

Imation's IronKey Workspace

Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of Windows 8. The implementation on the IronKey drive essentially lets you create an IT provisioned and managed PC on a Stick(tm) for work. You can use it securely on the work PC, then lock it down, unplug it, and then use it securely at home. The cool part is that when you’re using Windows To Go on an IronKey Workspace drive, everything from a data stand point is happening on the IronKey Workspace — the hard drive in the host computer is locked away from your workspace-on-a-stick.

As you can see, the IronKey Workspace looks great… a slick, simple, iconic design. The hard metal case is designed to resist damage and water, and to prevent unwanted tampering. Inside, AES 256 hardware encryption makes the data unreadable without a password, and the IronKey Cryptochip makes the encryption keys unreachable by even sophisticated bad guys.

But enough about the specs.  How does this thing work? Let’s get started.

The IronKey Workspace W500 is based on the iconic IronKey design.

In your typical enterprise, IT would use Windows To Go to either provision the drive for users, or to allow individuals to make their own Windows To Go devices on certified drives. The result is a corporate OS image on each IronKey Workspace. For this review, the IronKey Workspace had already been provisioned with a trial copy of Windows 8.0.

To get started, I plugged the drive into the USB port and pressed the power button. We immediately see something new — a Windows 8 symbol on my laptop PC — which normally runs Windows 7. If my PC hadn’t already been configured to boot from USB, I would have needed to make a quick adjustment to the Boot Options by hitting F12 during the initial boot up process.

Booting up Windows To Go

The drive opened up a preboot environment and asked for an admin password.

Entering the IronKey Workspace's preboot environment.

The IronKey unlocker explained that the drive needs to reboot. This is a security feature for the hardware encrypted drive. It ensures that no one can get near Windows or the data on the drive until they have proved who they are to the Cryptochip.  The preboot process also ensures that the IronKey Workspace connects to and accounts for the hardware configuration on the host PC — network connection, camera, sound, and more.

The IronKey Workspace reboots for extra security in Windows To Go.

And, after about 2 minutes, it was up and running on Windows 8. I spent a minute or so in the Windows 8 control panel to align the PC screen and the monitor, and I was ready to go! By the way, the next time I booted up the IronKey Workspace, because the device had already profiled the hardware on this machine, the boot process took about half the time.

Windows To Go runs the OS from the IronKey USB stick, but it let's you take advantage of the PC's hardware.

Another first time process — Windows 8 noted necessary updates to the anti-spyware and anti-virus programs. These were handled seamlessly. It also asked for a product key; as a trial copy, we didn’t need to do this.

A quick Windows 8 software update.

Now let’s put this PC on a Stick through its paces. The camera worked….

Windows To Go working seamlessly.

…as did the speakers, and the network connection. Tip: If you’re in an office don’t forget to turn down the volume before clicking on the latest from Macklemore & Lewis!

That's "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore & Lewis on Windows To Go.

One point to note: The Windows Store is not available on Windows To Go workspaces in Windows 8.0. The Store will be available on Windows To Go workspaces made with Windows 8.1 when it ships in a month or so.

Windows Store comes to Windows To Go in Windows 8.1.

Web conferencing was seamless.

Discussing our next trade show via web conference.

We don’t have Office on the Windows 8 trial, so I downloaded and installed Evernote for Windows onto the IronKey Workspace to write this review. Installation was as quick and easy as it would have been on the hard drive. In fact everything I did was fast.  Even though I was running off of the external IronKey Workspace drive, the PC performed every bit as well (and maybe even a little better) as it would if it had been running off the internal hard drive.

Working on Evernote for Windows on the IronKey Workspace for Windows To Go.

In Evernote, I was able to type at top speed with zero latency. This ability to work productively offline is a key advantage of Windows To Go over online-only solutions like VDI.

Conclusion:

Overall, as I wrote this review, checked email, participated in a web conference, listened to music and took pictures, it was easy to forget that I was running the OS and applications on a USB drive instead of the hard drive.

And for Windows To Go and the IronKey Workspace, that’s exactly what you want.