April has always been a favorite month for procrastinators: Tax day gives adrenalin junkies the chance to run their tax forms to post offices at the stroke of midnight or hit send on their e-version to meet the deadline or incur painful fines.
In 2014, some serial stragglers will have the opportunity for an added dose of excitement. On April 8, IT organizations must complete their migrations from the venerable Microsoft Windows XP operating system to either Windows 7 or Windows 8. If not, they’ll face the costs and risks that arise once Microsoft no longer provides security patches or updates for the aged OS.
The looming deadline may look daunting to organizations still running this workhorse OS. After all, Gartner and others estimate that it typically requires a year or more of preparation and testing for an organization to make the move to a new Windows version.
“IT managers can get caught off guard if they think this is just an operating system upgrade, with only some hardware devices to update,” says Kathi Grumke, a solutions manager at CDW. "Addressing application compatibility is the most time-consuming aspect.”
Fortunately, there’s good news for IT managers feeling the migration heat. Many organizations still have an excellent shot at hitting the April deadline—while reducing risks and cashing in on important business benefits of a more modern OS. The key is to develop a comprehensive, step-by-step migration strategy and to capitalize on the advantages of outside expertise.
Procrastination Time Is Over
For many organizations, procrastination isn’t the main reason they still rely on Windows XP. In its day, this classic OS set the standard for reliability and productivity, which made it a solid foundation for mission-critical applications. But that time has passed for a number of reasons, ranging from essential new capabilities available from new Windows versions to the security problems that can arise from the use of outdated technology.
“Staying with Windows XP is like driving a car that you can’t buy parts for anymore,” says Jay Paulus, Microsoft’s director of Windows product marketing. “The car won’t stop running immediately, but if you have a problem, you won’t get the help you need.”
Need a further incentive? Consider the impending end-of-life for Microsoft Office 2003, which Microsoft also will officially stop supporting in April.
The Upside of a Windows Refresh
Many organizations are already gaining competitive advantages from embracing the newer OS platforms. Windows 7 usurped XP as the most widely adopted OS two years ago, and it currently claims more than 46 percent of the total OS market. But Windows 8 is steadily gaining ground.
A wide range of benefits are fueling these migrations, including these four chief returns on investment:
- Enhanced Security and Compliance Capabilities: Windows 7 is better than its predecessors at protecting data and keeping unwanted applications from corporate networks and security-obsessed industries are taking notice. A majority of IT decision-makers in banking and financial services point to Windows 7’s security features — which include kernel patch protection, service hardening and data execution prevention — as top migration drivers.
Windows 8 bolsters security even further.
Other important Windows 8 security additions include an enterprise-grade version of BitLocker data encryption and DirectAccess, a tool that helps secure remote users by letting IT managers enforce network-access policies.
According to Microsoft, a Windows 8 PC is 21 times less likely to be infected by malware than an XP machine because of security improvements engineered into the OS. Secure Boot is one example. It uses the Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) technology to prevent attackers from installing malware on machines as components of the OS and antivirus programs load during startup.
- Cost Savings: A move to a new OS is good for the bottom line. “There’s an inflection point where it’s more difficult to support an older operating system than it is to migrate to a newer one,” says Anil Desai, an independent IT consultant. “The cost of migrating is small compared to the human resource costs associated with ongoing support for outdated platforms.”
Recent research by IDC bears this out. For its study, Mitigating Risk: Why Sticking with Windows XP Is a Bad Idea, IDC determined that supporting a single Windows XP PC costs about $870 per year, significantly more than the estimated $168 for a PC running Windows 7.
Similarly, IDC found that security-related downtime and other problems with older XP machines also could drive up expenses. For example, productivity costs per PC each year nearly doubled from $177 in Year 2 to $324 in Year 5, IDC reports. The combination of both IT expenses and user productivity costs is a sobering 73 percent higher for these machines in Year 5 versus Year 2, IDC adds.
How does this translate into ROI? IDC found that the payback for new Windows 7 deployments comes within 12 months, with a three-year ROI of 137 percent.
- Productivity Gains: Having a single Windows platform that spans desktop PCs, notebooks, tablets and smartphones gives users access to the same applications and files using a familiar interface — no matter the form factor.
“Information is synchronized across each of those devices,” Paulus says. “And if I get a new notebook, for example, I can be up and running in minutes with all my apps, data, photos and email settings.”
- Virtualization and Cloud Support: With Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization technology embedded in Windows 8 Pro, organizations have a readily available foundation for internal virtualization efforts and private-cloud initiatives.
“If you are expanding your cloud infrastructure, there’s so much more in the latest versions of Windows than in XP,” Desai says. “This reason alone may be enough for some organizations to justify a move to the newer operating systems.”
There’s one other important reason to migrate as soon as possible: Running a newer OS shows that an organization is serious about delivering high-quality services to its clients and constituents.
“You don’t want to be in a position where when you send a file to a client you have to ask, ‘Can you convert it to an Office 2003 format?’ ” Desai says. “They are likely to say, ‘Yes, we can, but why isn’t your organization keeping up with the latest software?’ ”