Nov 25 2013

Why Businesses Shouldn't Wait to Start Planning a Windows Migration

With the end of support for XP approaching next year, IT workers could be risking their jobs if they fail to act in time.

IT leaders know what it means when a big vendor announces the end of support for a critical technology. They are also well aware of their department’s liability if it misses the deadline or, worse, chooses not to upgrade.

“The top IT pros at companies, especially large ones, know they’ve got a potential problem with XP,” says Al Gillen, IDC program vice president for system software. Suppose IT decides to ignore it and a hack that compromises critical business data comes out a week after extended support ends.

“It’s potentially career-ending,” Gillen says. “Microsoft has been extremely vocal about this deadline — IT heads can’t cry dumb and pretend they didn’t know.”

It wouldn’t even take an exploit to harm a career. “You can’t ignore the XP situation unless you’re planning to never upgrade any business applications,” says Ron Mathis, director of IT at Juno Lighting. “If business leaders require something and you suddenly need to upgrade, that’s pretty career-limiting.”

A Look at the Server Side

All the debate over Microsoft ending support for Windows XP has drawn a lot of attention to client-side operating systems. There’s a great deal of activity on the server side as well, of course — with SMBs running traditional dedicated physical servers and, increasingly, virtual servers for application, database, print, file, email, web and other services.

At Juno Lighting, the server side of the infrastructure is primarily Windows Server 2003 and 2008 R2, with various flavors of Microsoft SQL Server. These run such businesswide applications as the company’s comprehensive enterprise resources planning system, which handles everything from manufacturing resource planning to engineering, shop floor execution, receiving, distribution and more.

Meanwhile, at STI, the IT team is running several Microsoft Windows Server versions for various business applications, including its ERP, accounting and invoicing software. The versions of Windows Server in production — all virtualized — include Windows Server 2003, 2008 R2 and 2012. The exceptions are two servers running Windows 2000 that STI expects to retire soon.

BYOD Begs Attention

As Microsoft ushers Windows XP off the stage, bring-your-own-device programs often have already stormed the building and infiltrated every executive suite, corporate department, administrative office, warehouse and all roads leading in and out. IT guys love the freedom to use their own devices, but are less enamored when employees do this, considering they’re ultimately responsible for managing, securing and supporting user devices that tap corporate data assets.

The key to managing the BYOD barrage is equal buy-in from both IT and users. Not the kind of buy-in that’s driving all manner of device use because that doesn’t need any encouragement; rather, all parties must buy in to BYOD as a business driver that works only if everyone agrees to adhere to policies and restrictions that will keep such a program from increasing risks.

Why Windows Migration Is Pro End User

In an interesting twist, retiring XP in favor of Windows 7 has the potential to change user perceptions of IT as obstructionist to IT as an agent of empowerment — just as enabling BYOD does. By upgrading from the venerable OS and the aging machines it runs on, IT conveys its understanding that providing employees with rich interfaces, applications and fast machines not only makes them productive, but also more satisfied in their work.

Conversely, if IT doesn’t move forward with the XP upgrade, users may take matters into their own hands, just as some have done with BYOD.

“If an employee is saddled with an ineffective corporate machine running XP and they’re frustrated with IT, they’ll just upgrade it themselves,” says Al Gillen, program vice president for system software at IDC. “On the positive side, that mitigates problems with XP, but at the same time it creates a diverse environment that IT is not equipped to support if they haven’t made a conscious decision to move forward.”

Juno Lighting’s IT team, for its part, combined the two, first migrating to Windows 7 across the board and then launching an official BYOD initiative.

“After we got the migration off our plates, we rolled out policies and a subsidized plan for smartphones,” says Ron Mathis, Juno’s director of IT.

Juno offers employees a free basic smartphone and, if they qualify, pays their monthly service fees. The phone then belongs to the employee, who’s responsible for any servicing required. If, instead, a user wants something beyond the free phone, like a new model iPhone or Android device, he or she pays for the phone based on the company’s negotiated rate, through a credit card or a payroll deduction. Again, the phone belongs to the user, but Juno pays the monthly service fees.

The trade-off, Mathis says, is that employees must enroll in Juno’s mobile device management subscription service if they want to use their device to access corporate email, with the understanding that IT will wipe the device to remove any business data if they leave the company or lose the phone.

Learn more about how businesses are making the switch in our feature story, "More Companies Say Goodbye to Windows XP."