Managing a late migration

A Windows 10 Pro box lying on top of a Windows 7 Ultimate box, which is sitting on a table
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Okay, I confess: Just this morning, I moved my final Windows 7 installation to Windows 10. Yes, I know, this article should be called Jon is a Bad Boy, and I should have done this years ago. My only excuse, if there is one, is that this is Windows 7 in a virtual machine, it’s only fired up once a month for about five minutes and it runs a specific piece of software.

I guess I should give some back story: In our lab, we have a full door control access system. This means that there’s a door tag reader on both sides of every door. You need to use an RFID token to open the door and the doors close automatically. While this is somewhat overkill in our small company, it’s what corporate and government visitors expect to see. On the outside of the front door is a PIN pad and each member of staff has their own PIN number to gain access, along with the appropriate security keys and alarm fobs.

The door controllers are embedded deep in the bowels of the lab. In simple terms, each door controller maintains a list of door tag RFID codes, along with the times and dates when they’re valid for that door. These controllers trundle along by themselves and don’t need oversight. The only time you need to talk to the door controllers is if you want to reprogramme them – add a member of staff, issue a new token, change someone’s working hours or access times.

This is done with a piece of software called Net2 from Paxton, a company well known in this space. Net2 consists of an old-fashioned-looking Windows application and a database engine for the back-end. This polls the door controllers and picks up all the movements, door entries and so forth. It’s all very clever: if you have a reception desk in your organisation then this can create a door tag for the day for a visitor, and assign them access to the doors they need.

In that example, you’d need the software running all the time, but in our case we only need to fire Net2 up when we make changes. I originally installed it many years ago into a Windows 7 VM, and every year or so I call up our alarm system company to get a download of the latest version of the software, to which I upgrade. Like much of the professional services software market, we can only access the mothership by going through our reseller.

To be honest, I just left sleeping dogs lie. It worked, I used it for a few minutes every month to download the logs and to check the system was still happy. At least it would be obvious if the doors didn’t work, so there wasn’t much scope for things going wrong. The door controllers themselves hold data for many weeks, so I wasn’t losing information by doing this.

This morning, I decided that I really had to do something about it. I fired up the Windows 10 media creation tool from the Microsoft site, told it to upgrade, keeping the existing software and accounts in place, and then sat back. I’d like to say it was a seamless process, but the Windows installer got a little upset about the apparent desktop size in the Parallels virtual machine. Still, after about 15 minutes of installation, updating and other fiddling, I was up and running.

The beauty of using a VM for this was that I could take an entire snapshot and copy before starting, in the unlikely event that the Net2 installation exploded on finding itself on Windows 10. It’s listed on its site as being supported, so I wasn’t expecting issues. But having a VM that you can copy is just so much more convenient than having a Windows installation running on a real computer, where recovery would be a major pain.

The downside of a virtual machine hosting an old OS and app that you rarely use is that it isn’t there looking at you with a withering glance every time you walk past the computer. Out of sight, out of mind, out of upgrade, for month after month. It’s so easy just to fire up what you need, decide that time is short and you’ll deal with it next time.

However, I’m happy to report that all Windows 7 has been expunged, except for a few VMs that I keep for test purposes. All I can do is ask for your forgiveness.