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Time to move off Windows XP

On 8 April 2014, Microsoft will be withdrawing support for Windows XP. With no security or technical updates or bug fixes, any Windows XP device will be far more vulnerable to security threats, including hackers and viruses.

While the majority of organisations will have at least started migration, many still underestimate the time and work necessary to complete their migration project: recent research in the UK found that only a third (35%) of organisations are extremely confident they will be able to migrate in time for the deadline.

Of the few who have already completed their migration (a mere 6% of organisations in the UK), it had taken them between a year and 18 months to do so. Speaking to customers locally, the numbers here in South Africa are not dissimilar.

‚”There’s no single reason why organisations have delayed migration. Many are concerned about the disruption it would cause to the business, while over a third are concerned it will be too expensive to migrate,‚” says Ian Jansen Van Rensburg, senior systems engineering manager at VMware Southern Africa.

‚”And yet paying for additional ‚’custom support’ from Microsoft for Windows XP past the cutoff date, or even providing internal support, could prove to be very expensive. It has been proven that organisations can expect to spend 17% of their IT budget running Windows XP after April 2014 and Microsoft will charge $200 per desktop for ongoing additional support in the first year, which is set to double for every subsequent year.‚”

Outsourcing all the support functions for Windows XP to an IT Services company is unlikely to offer a viable alternative, as the service provider will be charged the same escalating fees and will need to pass these on, plus extra cost to reflect their additional risks, to their customers.

‚”The stark realisation for the majority of organisations is that ultimately, there is no choice. It’s not a viable option to stay with Windows XP,‚” adds Jansen Van Rensburg.

‚”Operating system migration is a complex task that encompasses a range of different activities, with testing and application remediation the necessary first step. Many of the organisations that began late are still caught up in the compatibility evaluations required to make sure their applications and end-user capabilities can be delivered in Windows 7 or Windows 8. Others have completed the testing, but have yet to begin deployment,‚” he adds.

Alongside this, Jansen Van Rensburg says user data must be backed up, the new operating system installed cleanly, applications re-installed and then all user data/settings restored. Done manually, this can typically take around four hours for each PC that’s half a day of IT effort and half a day of lost productivity for the user.

As Roy Illsley, Principal Analyst at Ovum explains: ‚”The challenges of migrating all applications off Windows XP has proved to be either too difficult or not a high enough priority as research suggests that many organiSations have still to undertake this exercise.

‚”Ovum believes that virtualiSing the desktop represents the best option available at this late stage for those that have not started the migration project. However, the wholesale replacement of old applications remains an alternative that could still ensure organisations are not put at risk by continuing to use an unsupported operating system.‚”

For those who have not migrated yet, but intend to do so by the end-of-support date, or as soon as possible after it, they will need to take on a centralised and fully-automated approach. One that requires zero-touch at the device, irrespective of its location on a network or configuration.

‚”Using a centralised image management solution, such as VMware Horizon Mirage, to manage the migration process, ensures that Windows 7 can be deployed centrally across virtual and remote desktops without added infrastructure cost. It will ensure that applications and personal data are backed-up while minimising user downtime. Ultimately, the time spent on manual migration tasks is greatly reduced, accelerating the migration project, while reducing IT costs,‚” adds Jansen Van Rensburg.

Another hurdle is managing all the business critical apps that, for many organisations, can only be run on Windows XP. According to research by VMware, organisations still have an average of 24 business-critical applications in this category, including finance (58%), ERP (39%) and CRM (26%) applications. Many of these applications will have been written or modified in house, making them even more critical and even harder to change. Disruption to these applications can affect ongoing operations, revenues, the bottom line and potentially damage the reputation of organisations.

Most commercial applications running under Windows XP either run unchanged under later versions of Windows or are available in newer versions that do organisations simply need to upgrade. For those mission-critical applications that this won’t work for, or for in-house developed applications, then the vast majority of these can be virtualised, meaning they can also be carried forward to Windows 7 or whichever operating system they chose.

Perhaps more importantly, this centralised and ‚’modular’ type of approach to migration will also allow more sophisticated management and delivery of PC images through their life-time of deployment, augmenting and improving existing management approaches as well as providing fully automated disaster recovery across multiple devices.

‚”With a more centralised approach to PC image management, organisations can focus on delivering a secure, easy-to-manage and consistent virtual workspace to users, irrespective of the PC they are using,” says Jansen Van Rensburg. “”By combining this approach with desktop virtualisation, they can extend that focus to almost any type of device.‚””

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