Microsoft Surface deployment and management HOLs

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Surface is Microsoft’s awesome line of computers that can change from full-fledged laptops to lightweight tablets almost instantly. In addition, they’re super-powerful, as we proved time and again during this lab series. They’re also a pure joy to use.

However, after releasing Windows 10, Microsoft had a small problem: Most Surface devices were running Windows 8.1, and the Surface Pro 3 was still being sold with Windows 8.1 on it. To help solve this problem, Microsoft asked us to teach IT pros how to move these devices to Windows 10 as quickly and painlessly as possible.

We did just that and more. We delivered a series of hands-on labs (HOLs) that taught IT pros how to deploy and manage Surface devices by using tools like the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and System Center Configuration Manager. These labs also integrated Microsoft Office 365, Intune, and Azure Active Directory into their lessons.

A HOL solution

This massive project was a complete turnkey solution for our customer. We built the HOL images, wrote the lab guides, and created all the supporting collateral. Everything went through our copyeditors and testers to make sure it was spot on.

If preparing all the material wasn’t enough, we also handled all the logistics. For each event, we prepared and shipped all the devices. Our advance team was at each event to set up the lab workstations, decorate the lab area, and integrate the labs with the event’s identity and evaluation systems.

During the event, we staffed the HOL area to provide support for attendees. We greeted every attendee who sat down at one of our lab stations and explained the content and purpose of each lab. In fact, we often provided support that far exceeded our labs, such as helping attendees solve problems with their own environments.

After the event, we tore down the lab stations and handled all the logistics of returning the equipment to our office for storage. We also carefully tracked device inventory and took care to maintain the devices (e.g., firmware updates). We used the time between events to update the lab environment, guides, and any supporting collateral to current versions.

Two years around the world

This project wasn’t a one-off event. For two years, we ran these events in the Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Events we worked include:

Microsoft Ready​

Ready is a global education and networking event for Microsoft employees. It has combined several internal events, like TechReady, MGX, and S4.

Microsoft Ignite​

Formerly known as TechEd, Ignite is a global education and networking event that’s open to public. It’s similar to Ready in many ways but far bigger.

Technical airlifts

Usually around key product launches, Microsoft invites field employees from around the world to attend technical airlifts in Seattle. The explicit purpose of these airlifts is to train attendees.

Our job was to leave attendees with an overwhelmingly positive experience and the confidence that they could go back to work and repeat the process.

—Jerry Honeycutt, Founder

Surface Pro 3 to Surface Pro 4 and Book

We started the series by using Surface Pro 3 devices because these devices were still running Windows 8.1 when Microsoft released Windows 10. Therefore, the series initially included three labs:

  • Deploying Windows 10 to Surface Pro 3 devices in a replace scenario
  • Upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 on a Surface Pro 3 by using MDT
  • Configuring the UEFI on a Surface Pro 3 by using Windows PowerShell and MDT

However, when Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book devices hit the streets, the initial reason for the HOLs was mute. Regardless, Microsoft found the HOLs valuable enough to keep them going. So, we transitioned the series to the new device lineup and added four new labs:

  • Managing Surface devices by using Microsoft Intune
  • Managing Lumia smartphones by using Microsoft Intune
  • Troubleshooting common issues with Surface devices
  • Using the UEFI configurator tool for Surface Pro 4 and Book