Windows XP support from Microsoft ends on April 8: How to migrate safely

Updated: Mar 24 2014, 20:55pm hrs
Windoows XpEnterprises need to devise a migration strategy at the earliest to circumvent the future losses resulting from security and compliance risks
April 8, 2014 is touted to be the next Y2K for IT teams across organisationsafter all, it is the day when Microsoft pulls off support for Windows XP systems. Estimates suggest that Microsofts PC install base for large enterprises in India is about 4 million units, of which 16% have not yet migrated from Windows XP. Since Microsoft will stop releasing XP updates and support, the operating system will become vulnerable to malware, viruses and hackers. Hence organisations need to devise a migration strategy at the earliest to circumvent the future losses resulting from security and compliance risks and the lack of availability of applications and peripherals compatible with Windows XP.

While migrating to new operating systems from Windows XP, the strategy should be done in a planned and phased manner, without disrupting any business process, so that there is no loss or leakage of corporate data. According to research firm IDC, the cost of maintaining a PC that runs on Windows XP OS after April 8, could run up to $300 per PC per year, as against the present cost of $75-100.

For organisations yet to address Windows XP end-of-life, migrating off the platform is now a mission-critical need, and there are many available methods to enable this transition. Many organisations opt for traditional operating system upgrade without realising the aftermath and challenges associated with it. For OS migration, manual methods are proven to be extremely time consuming, error prone, and unrealistic for a larger workforce using an expanding range of devices. Additionally, there are concerns of application compatibility that could cause unanticipated extensions in the migration timeline.

For a seamless experience and smoother transition, desktop virtualidation is a powerful technology that overcomes migration challenges posed by a traditional desktop architecture. Desktop virtualidation decouples the client operating system, applications and data from the underlying hardware, and therefore a single upgrade of the operating system centrally at the datacentre, gets replicated at each end point device, without disrupting business continuity.

In addition, it is possible for an organisation to continue running Windows XP side by side with Windows 7/8.1 for a period of time to ease the transition. For those organisations that need to accelerate the adoption of Windows 7/8.1 or that are considering purchasing new laptops and desktops, it is an ideal opportunity to upgrade to Windows 7/8.1 and revise their desktop paradigm at the same time.

Windows XP migration calls for a planned, phased approach along with a clear roadmap to address the most common challenges, such as:

w User profiling: A users profile plays a critical role in determining how successful the user experience is within a new operating system. Post an operating system migration, it might be frustrating and time consuming, if the users need to set preference and customise applications as per their need. The IT team need to ensure a smooth transition to a newer operating system without losing user profiling and preference. Microsoft Windows operating system offers various user profile solutions, whereof each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore it is necessary to understand the functional requirements of the users as well as the technical and architectural demands of the customer infrastructure, to be able to choose the optimal user profile strategy.

w Inventory check: It is critical to identify machines that are approaching refresh cycle, or will not be able to run latest version of business applications due to hardware limitation. Besides that, as per the changing needs of customers and business ecosystem, the IT team needs to devise a strategy for desktop transformation enabling users to remotely access work applications and data, without compromising security. Its also essential to maintain focus and make progress on key strategic initiatives such as enterprise mobility, which should be aligned with the business goal of the organisation.

w User segmentation: An organisation consists of diverse workforce and their requirements and functionality varies as per their roles. The IT needs to categorise employees as per the different use case requirements keeping account of mobile and stationary work styles. The segmentation of users based on their work habits and overall requirements, typically entails task workers, guest workers, remote workers, LAN-based workers, WAN-based workers and mobile workers. Each group can then be aligned with the most appropriate desktop configuration to meet their needs during OS migration.

w Data retention: Organisations need to study which data should be retained and what can be archived during the migration. This will have a tremendous impact on the business continuity post the completion of migration. One of the preferred options should be usage of collaborative tools which stores data in cloud during the transition, enabling employees to have secure access from any device, any time.

w Application compatibility: A large number of organisations are still using legacy apps and they need to check if these apps will be compatible in the latest operating system that they are migrating to. Migration using technologies such as desktop virtualisation offers a simple and viable option, where an organisation can run both operating system side by side. However, it is recommended to use an automated application testing software before approaching OS migration.

w Cost reduction: The migration to newer OS need not be an expensive affair if the IT team selects the right method which is in sync with long term business objective. To avoid any capex investment, an organisation can opt for cloud delivery model of desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) where desktops are delivered to the user from cloud on demand. This is a pay-as-you-go model and saves cost of building and maintaining a new infrastructure for running virtual desktops.

Girish V Gupta

The writer is country manager, Citrix Consulting India