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Windows 7: Migration Magic

There are several tools and techniques that can help you smoothly migrate users, files and settings over to Windows 7.

Jorge Orchilles

Adapted from “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” (Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier)

When moving to Windows 7, you’ll face a combination of new installations, as well as migrations from existing platforms. Windows Easy Transfer provides a convenient way for users to save their files and settings to transfer them from their old computer to a new one.

This Windows 7 tool is very effective for individual migrations. It is not, however, very robust in performing migrating tasks for a high volume of computers. When it comes to preparing a migration strategy within your Windows 7 deployment plans, there are other resources available that will make the task of preserving multiple user’s settings and files much more manageable.

User State Migration Tool

The User State Migration Tool (USMT) is included in Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) 2.0. After downloading and installing Windows AIK, the USMT source files will be located in C:\Program Files\ Windows AIK\Tools\USMT\Platform (where Platform is either x64 or x86). There are a few files included with the USMT with which you should become familiar:

  • Scanstate.exe: This tool scans, collects and uploads user-state data during a migration.
  • Loadstate.exe: This tool imports collected user-state data into user profiles on the new computer.
  • Usmtutil.exe: This tool deletes Hard Link migration data once the import is complete.
  • MigApps.xml: This file defines the location for user-specific data for common programs for the source and destination computers.
  • MigUser.xml: This file defines the location for user-specific profile data for the source and destination computers.
  • MigDocs.xml: This file defines the location for document-specific data for common programs for the source and destination computers.
  • Config.xml: This is a custom XML file you can create to specify what data gets transferred, perform domain migrations, and create custom error codes and behaviors.

You’ll use the USMT on computers for which you wish to preserve the user state and their existing files and settings. The volume of information needing preservation will vary.

If you’ve used network storage to redirect the user’s My Documents folder and have enforced this setting with Group Policy, you may have to use less space and time to migrate settings. If you’re migrating settings to new hardware, the USMT can use a remote storage location to temporarily store the user state while the OS is installed.

You can also run the USMT on a machine on which you intend to perform a refresh computer installation (in-place migration). For example, this could be a Windows XP computer migrating to Windows 7 on the same hardware. In this scenario, the USMT can use Hard-Link Migration to maintain the data on the same volume while the OS image is applied to the computer. The preserved user state will subsequently be imported to the new OS from the local computer.

You can stage the USMT directly on each client computer or on a network share. If you’re using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010, it can install the USMT in deployment shares automatically. MDT 2010 already contains logic for using the USMT to save and restore user-state data on each computer. You use the USMT in a number of ways: on a network share, Windows PE media, an MDT 2010 deployment share or with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.

A Hard-Link Migration store lets you perform an in-place migration where all user state is maintained on the computer while the old OS is removed and the new OS is installed. This is best suited for the refresh computer scenario. Using a Hard-Link Migration store for a refresh computer scenario drastically improves migration performance and significantly reduces hard-disk utilization and deployment costs. This enables entirely new migration scenarios.

You can use a Hard-Link Migration store when your planned migration meets either of the following criteria:

  • You’re upgrading the OS on existing hardware rather than migrating to new computers.
  • You’re upgrading the OS on the same volume of the computer.

You can’t use a Hard-Link Migration store if your planned migration includes any of the following:

  • Migrating data from one computer to a second computer.
  • Migrating data from one volume on a computer to another volume, for example from C: to D:
  • Formatting or repartitioning the disk outside of Windows Setup, or specifying a disk format or repartition during Windows Setup that will remove the migration store.

You create the Hard-Link Migration store using the command-line option /hardlink. It’s equivalent to other migration-store types. However, it differs in that it uses hard links to keep files stored on the source computer during the migration.

Keeping the files in place on the source computer eliminates the redundant work of duplicating files. It also enables the performance benefits and reduction in disk utilization that are the primary benefits of this scenario.

Jorge Orchilles

Jorge Orchilles began his networking career as a network administrator for the small private school he attended. He’s currently a security operating center analyst, and recently completed his Master of Science degree in management information systems at Florida International University.

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” by Jorge Orchilles. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit