Its curtains for Microsoft Corporation's Windows XP

Written by Pupul Dutta | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 8 2014, 17:53pm hrs
Windows XPAlso, almost 65% of organisations still have a large portion of their PC base operating on Windows XP.
Last November, Microsoft Corporation made the announcement that it will stop (service) support for its flagship professional operating system - Windows XP starting April 8. Given that theres a large transactional IT infrastructure residing on Windows XP, the arrival of this event is of significance to both the IT and business managers.

Also, almost 65% of organisations still have a large portion of their PC base operating on Windows XP. So, what happens to customers who do not wish to migrate to other OS Answers Amrish Goyal, Manager, Windows Business Group, Microsoft Corporation (India), Nothing exactly happens to these organisations who refuse to migrate to another OS, they can continue to use it. They would just not get any updates or patches and will become more vulnerable. So the next time the PC using an outdated OS logs on to internet, the risk of getting a virus attack will be higher as compared to any other PC using a latest OS.

The market till recently had adopted a mixed OS environment wherein enterprises used Windows XP the most, followed by Windows 7. Basically, almost all CIOs/ IT managers were well aware of the end of support by Microsoft toward Windows XP. Many of these organisations have started provisioning for the same by moving their mission-critical PCs onto the Windows 7 or Windows 8 platforms. However, IDC believes that a large number of enterprises have still not put a definite plan in action with stringent timelines for the migration or upgrade/replacement of their existing Windows XP systems. Based on data points gathered through multiple interactions with the enterprise market, IDC estimates that 5060% of the installed base in the enterprise market is still running Windows XP, this is despite the fact that all PCs purchased in the past year have been shipped with Windows 7/Windows 8.

So, what next

Microsoft had originally launched Windows XP in 2001, which was also its most successful operating system till date. Also after revamping security and ridding its web browser Internet Explorer (IE) of bugs, the OS had evolved into a relatively stable platform with the Service Pack 2 release.

Now from XP the next most logical upgrade for companies would be Windows 8.1. Adds Goyal, Windows 8.1 is not very different from Windows 7, rather its more efficient and modern. Basically, moving up from XP is the primary thing, and companies can do so on any OS of their choice.

However, there are companies, especially PSU banks that have still not migrated and do not wish to do so for saving some bucks. They can in that case consider desktop virtualisation or opt for paid support that Microsoft plans to offer for another year. We will be offering paid support after April but the cost will be very steep. It will be close to $300 per computer per year, informs Goyal.

Talking about desktop virtualisation which is not only cost efficient but also supports smooth transition, Girish V. Gupta, Country Manager, Citrix Consulting India explains, Migrating from Windows XP is a mission critical task for several organisations and this can snowball into a larger concern disrupting business continuity and incurring heavy expenses for maintenance. The process of migration requires a planned, phased approach along with a clear roadmap which is in sync with an organisations overall objective. To make this happen, desktop virtualisation is one of the most preferred technologies which can not only support the transition seamlessly, but endorse mobility at the workplace, among many other benefits for both, employees and employers.

Microsoft, however warns about security in case companies decide to continue to work on XP. The company has clearly stated that it will no longer offer service packs, security updates or hotfixes for Windows XP after April 8. Nonetheless, the company will provide updates for its anti-malware apps until July 14, 2015.

Fortunately, a number of vendors, including Avast, Sophos, ESET and Trend Micro will continue to support Windows XP into the foreseeable future, and as long as they do, enterprises will get an important layer of protection.

Now given Microsoft's post-April apocalyptic plans, companies should ideally look for third-party vendors who would assist them in firewall.

Migrating XP data

Given a lot of companies will be rushing to migrate to another OS in the last minute, a lot of data of those enterprises has to be taken care of so as to ensure smooth transition. As a consequence, Microsoft has partnered with Laplink Software to provide a free tool called PCmover Express for Windows XP. It transfers XP data to Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 computers.

Though we are not expecting any rush of business with the deadline coming close, we are still prepared to help enterprises have a smooth transition. In any case, according to our estimates, only 30% enterprises are remaining for upgrade, out of which 20% are expected to let their computers die before they install new infrastructure, says Goyal.

However, there are a lot of happy customers, who not only swear by the software giant's new OS, but also advice against staying on the obsolete operating system.

We migrated from Windows XP in order to have greater security for our 155 million customers database across 23 circles in India. Post the migration, we have experienced a significant improvement in overall productivity and savings in our carbon footprints. We aim to update our entire computing base to Windows 8.1 before end of first quarter this year as the utilisation of updated IT assets lowers down the security breach risks and also overcomes compatibility issues across devices, explains a content Manish Israni, Vice President, IT Infrastructure and Data Center, Vodafone India.

What it means for the banking sector

So, no matter what geeks suggest and how IT departments have planned to survive this end of support, Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) too has advised all the banks to take action asap.

In its advisory note, the security regulator of the country says, It is recommended that all the users and organisations using Windows XP OS in their environment should immediately plan for upgradation to the latest available OS according to their requirement and test software application well before April, 2014.

According to a study conducted by Ascentius Consulting, a large number of branches that rely on XP, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas may go down and therefore deny service to customers completely. In metro and urban branches, the impact is expected to be as great as 55% of customers facing an extended waiting time of up to 30 minutes for an average transaction.

The fiscal impact of this could be as much as loss of business opportunity worth Rs. 1,100 crore in a day and a loss of income of Rs. 330 crore over a period of 3 days (assuming that a major incident may take 3 days for the systems to come up to normal functioning). Non-migration may also expose customers to greater risk of identity theft and fraud, the study states.

Unfortunately, for the global banking industry, Windows XP runs the vast majority of the ATMs in the world. It is estimated to be the brains behind 80% of ATMs. However, banks say they have put in place plans to mitigate against the issue, either by upgrading or putting their own support services in place. As a result, they say they dont anticipate any problems. We will continue to use XP as not all our systems in the bank are connected to the internet. And for those that are (connected to the internet) we will be using third-party security softwares to protect against any virus attack, explains a leading PSU bank's employee on conditions of anonymity.

So what are the available options

On the face of it, there are four options available to customers still running their systems on XP. They can either update their XP systems fully between now and April 8 or limit internet access and take chances. And if none of this seems like a reliable and affordable choice, then desktop virtualisation is hardly a step away. Upgrading is definitely not the only option available for enterprises as upgradation will not be easy on company's pockets. But for big businesses with deep pockets and little options, they can probably pay Microsoft to continue to support their machines at $300 per seat.

Highlights of Ascentius research

* There is a large segment of state owned banks that have embarked on the journey to move away from Windows XP, but may still be left with approximately 20% to 30% of their base on Windows XP even after April 2014. These banks may inadvertently take up considerable risk exposure.

* From a technology risk perspective, with no new patches, hot fixes, free support options, Windows XP will become zero day forever. Cyber criminals will focus on Windows XP to identify new sources of vulnerability and are likely to focus on targets with significant monetary potential.

* CERT India has written an advisory note for Windows XP users to immediately plan for upgradation to the latest available OS according to their requirement. Leading anti-virus software companies indicated that they cannot guarantee that they will be able to prevent threat activity involving unpatched exploits from their Windows XP PCs

* The penetration of Windows XP is particularly higher in semi urban and rural branches. Lacking support at these locations, there is a non-trivial likelihood for customers to face delays, service disruptions and denial of service in conducting banking transactions.

* New business opportunities such as financial inclusion and MGNREGA payments are becoming important source of income for Banks in rural markets. Banks are likely to loose on leveraging these emerging business opportunities because Windows XP PCs are unlikely to support the current edition of biometric hardware, card encoders and software that has been written for latest technology.

* In the worst case scenario where sources of hazards impact with full force, Indian Banking industry will be exposed to loss of income to the range of Rs. 330 crores over 3 days period.

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