Gartner: Migrate Off of Windows XP Now

Most IT pros have thought about moving away from aging Windows XP, but the ones that haven't are "really, really late." That's the view of Michael A. Silver, vice president and distinguished analyst at the Gartner analyst and consulting firm, who spoke on that topic at a May 8 Gartner Webinar.

The issue is still a big IT concern, even though the general message, coming from Microsoft, that extended support for Windows XP will end on April 8, 2014, appears to been heard by very few IT pros. Silver said that only "about five to ten percent of the industry" is still not thinking about these migration issues.

The decade-old Windows XP has been a "workhorse" for organizations, constituting more than 80 percent of the install base as of last year, Silver said. The XP install base continues to decline, and, by early 2013, it will be under 5 percent, he said. Silver added that Gartner doesn't believe that Microsoft will further extend support for Windows XP, which will end in less than 23 months. At that point, Microsoft won't issue any no-cost security patches, leaving system vulnerabilities unplugged.

The clock is ticking for IT organizations still using Windows XP, as it generally takes six to 12 months to complete an OS migration, according to Silver.

One alternative is to pay Microsoft for custom support of Windows XP, but that can be expensive.

"If you don't get Windows XP out by 2014, you'll have to pay custom support to Microsoft," Silver said. "Custom support is generally $200,000 for the first year if you do have Software Assurance, and it's $500,000 if you don't have Software Assurance."

While it's possible to sustain Windows XP by running apps on a terminal server, the downside is that such architectures will depend on using Windows Server 2003, which also is losing support. Using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has some advantages, though. Silver said that if an organization has 1,000 users that need to be on Windows XP, and if the users don't need to run their apps simultaneously, then maybe an organization could get away with deploying 100 VDI images.

It's also possible to install Windows XP in a virtual machine running on top of Windows 7. However, that virtualized desktop is still vulnerable to attacks, which means that IT pros will have to double their desktop maintenance for both the host and guest OSes.

Get Off Windows XP
The pressure to get off Windows XP isn't just coming from Microsoft. Software vendors increasingly won't support it.

"By 2013, 60 percent of ISVs will have a new release not supported by Windows XP," Silver explained.

Another consideration for IT pros is Internet Explorer 6-based Web apps, which often are tied to Windows XP use. The migration will cause some compatibility issues since many of those Web applications won't make the transition over to a newer Windows version. Silver said that Gartner has seen 40 percent failure rates on IE 6-based browser apps that try to move to Internet Explorer 8.

The action plan for organizations, according to Gartner, should be to get off Windows XP if using it. If organizations are using Windows Vista (which Silver described as a "failure" for Microsoft), then they should plan to shift to Windows 7, especially for new PCs. Deployments of Windows 7 should aim for completion sometime in 2013.

Silver had positive things to say about Windows 7, with Gartner expecting it to be "really successful." He added that Windows 7 is mature and deployable, and that organizations should quantify the benefits of moving to it. The best practice is to perform app compatibility testing and inventorying before moving to Windows 7, as those are the biggest problem areas for organizations, Silver said. Those things need to be addressed before starting a deployment. The best thing to do is to fix the app as anything else is just a band-aid approach. The shims that Microsoft provides as a workaround will make the app think it's running on Windows XP, but app vendors won't support such implementations, he explained.

As for which Windows 7 version to use -- either 32 bit or 64 bit -- Silver said that most organizations are leaning toward 64-bit. The 64-bit version doesn't offer a lot of differences to organizations, and there is still some future proofing to do before deploying it. On the other hand, the 32-bit version represents the safer one to deploy.

"I don't think that if you deployed 32-bit, you'd have to redeploy," Silver explained.

Support for Windows 7 will last for a while. Silver said that January 2020 is when Windows 7 security support will end.

Orgs May Choose To Skip Windows 8
Gartner expects that most organizations will move to Windows 7 and they will just skip Windows 8. He recommended that organizations limit their time with the forthcoming Windows 8 (still at beta stage) until Windows 7 gets deployed. Microsoft has suggested that Windows 8 may appear on the market by sometime this fall.

One reason organizations may bypass Windows 8 is that they will already be suffering from Windows XP migration fatigue, Silver suggested. By early 2015, people will be looking at Windows 8, but by that time, Windows 9 start to come into the picture, he said.

Silver described Windows 8 as "a polishing release" because it offers not much new for the desktop. Windows 8 has two personalities: a legacy desktop interface and a new Metro app model. It has a new start menu, and while Microsoft tries to downplay it, Gartner thinks that will be "a big shift" for users. "It's like Microsoft phasing out DOS," Silver said.

"We think Windows 8 is fulfilling Bill Gates' vision of 20 years ago of Windows everywhere," Silver explained. He added that eventually, in 2014, the phone operations will start to converge with the desktop operations.

Office 2003 Migrations
Office 2003 is yet another workhorse for organizations, but it probably fell out of majority use this year, according to Gartner. Microsoft's extended support for Office 2003 will end on April 8, 2014, meaning a loss of free security patch support for the product. Moreover, for those using that productivity suite, compatibility is starting to become a factor, Silver said.

If an organization wants to move from Office 2003 to Office 2010, it can take nine months of piloting, according to Silver. The whole migration maybe could be done in six months to a year. Organizations should consider skipping Office 2007 unless they own the licensing on it, according to Gartner. Silver said that if an organization doesn't have Software Assurance on Office, they should be testing Office 2010 now.

Silver didn't offer encouragement for those organizations using Office 2003 and hoping to skip to "Office 15," which is Microsoft's code name for its next-generation productivity suite. He said that's not really a viable strategy. Office 15 may ship in the fourth quarter of this year, but it could ship next year, he explained.

With regard to using an open source productivity suite instead of Microsoft Office, Silver offered a cautionary note. He said that organizations will not find it possible to move all of their users to an open source Office-like user interface.

Microsoft also offers Office Professional Plus as part of its Office 365 umbrella brand of software-as-a-service subscriber offerings. However Office Professional Plus is installed on the customer's premises and is not hosted and maintained by Microsoft. Using Office Professional Plus puts an organization on a nonperpetual licensing model, which represents a big change in licensing for organizations. Microsoft also offers Office Web Apps as a service, which are hosted by Microsoft from their cloud.

In general, Silver said that it's sometimes the case that not enough resources are devoted to such migration projects. He recommended having at least one person to serve as the project manager and one person to act as the technical lead. Most orgs probably can't do zero-touch migrations. A lot of the migration work is typically done at night or on weekends, he said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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