Kiwi firms warned as D-Day for XP approaches

As end of support for the platform nears, analysts and Microsoft offer recommendations on ways companies can make a smoother transition to a modern OS.

New Zealand firms need to carefully plan and manage their operating system upgrades, particularly as many organisations seek to move off Windows XP before support from Microsoft ends in April 2014.

“Since an operating system upgrade affects every single user in a business, any change has the capacity to inflict severe delay, cost, or in the case of finance or compliance applications, introduce a very high level of risk for a business”, says Angela Nash, Qual IT’s GM in Auckland.

Dean Edwards, Windows client business group manager at Microsoft NZ tells ComputerWorld NZ that about 25 per cent of PCs in enterprises within NZ are still running on Windows XP.

“The number is slightly lower for SMBs; that would be around 21 per cent to 22 per cent of PCs running XP. Overall, we estimate that around 250,000 business PCs are still running Windows XP,” he says.

Globally, analyst firm Gartner estimates more than 15 per cent of midsize and large enterprises will still have Windows XP running on at least 10 per cent of their PCs after Microsoft support ends next year.

“There are a number of key risks of which firms need to be aware of, from understanding your own XP customisation over the years, to which software applications will and won’t work with a new operating system, or which PCs in the business are used for business critical transactions every day,” says Nash.

While agreeing that there are multiple risks to sticking to the Windows XP platform, including security, compatibility and compliance issues, Edwards says that one of the main challenges in moving to an OS would be the number of applications that would need to be tested in the new platform.

“Even the physical process of locating the right media to rebuild apps in a new environment can be demanding for an organisation. We would recommend though that organisations don’t delay the process and get going on it. They should identify the key apps for the firm and move them over slowly. Don’t start by testing all of your apps. Move over a few key apps and start building from there.

“Another thing to keep in mind is that deployments might take longer than expected, depending on the size of the organisation and the apps that need to be moved. It could take from three to nine months, or longer based on factors. By global standards, some deployments in NZ are not too big, but there are already success stories in the country of large organisations migrating successfully off XP,” says Edwards.

Nash says organisations need to be confident security software will work straight away, and group policies and access levels are clearly understood and documented.

“As much as there are considerable risks of these issues impacting system availability after an upgrade, there are also real opportunities to rationalise software and licences to make considerable savings.”

As companies consider the move out of Windows XP, it might be worth their while to consider a hardware refresh as well, according to Edwards. Windows 7 currently has the lion’s share of the NZ market at around 60 per cent, while Windows 8 and Vista have smaller shares each.

“We are not crying wolf about the end of support for Windows XP in April 2014. We are not going to suddenly extend support. Organisations should have started the migration process already. Many of those in the process of moving are deploying the Windows 7 platform. If they have not yet started the migration, and are looking to start the process, I would recommend they choose the Windows 8.1 platform. That platform affords better support for highly mobile and touch-based scenarios,” says Edwards.

He points out that Windows 8.1 should be available for the public before the end of October, and urges firms with a largely mobile workforce to seriously consider the OS. He also states that Microsoft has enabled offers for customers and partners to help in either upgrading an existing PC to run Windows 8 or to assist with the purchasing of new PCs.

Recommendations for the move

Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Steve Kleynhans have three recommendations for organisations to ensure they will either be off these products or have considered the risks of continuing to run them.

• Understand the risks involved

Not having support means PCs could be vulnerable to attack. New vulnerabilities are always being found, and new vulnerabilities that are found in more current products could affect Windows XP and Office 2003. Any unpatched device can be vulnerable to attack. Even if a device is only a private network and has no Internet access, another device, even one running a supported product, can be infected with malware outside the private network and can bring it onto the private network, infecting other devices.

Many applications will no longer be supported while running on Windows XP. Organisations may be on their own to resolve issues and problems, which could result in system downtime.

• Assess position

Organisations that are not almost or completely finished migrating away from Windows XP and/or Office 2003 should review their project plans and ensure they are on target to meet the deadline. Those that believe they're unlikely to complete their migration projects by April 2014 should prioritise their applications and users and reduce the risks by addressing critical resources first.

• Classify applications and users — work on critical ones first

Most organisations have far too many applications. Organisations where users are administrators typically have one application for every 10 users, with about half of these requiring Windows to run. Gartner defines a critical application (or the user of critical applications) as one where if the application fails or the user can't do his or her job, there could be financial or legal consequences. Organisations must conduct several analyses on their application portfolios to help safeguard the organisation after XP support ends, and in preparation for Windows 7 or 8 migrations.

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