Where next with Windows?

Support for Windows XP will cease in April next year, although the OS still accounts for as much as one quarter of all desktop PC operating systems.

Tags: Arkoon (www.arkoon.net)Citrix Systems IncorporationGartner IncorporationMicrosoft CorporationSUSE (www.suse.com/)
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Where next with Windows? Many companies have still to move off of Windows XP, but will need to make a decision before end of support.
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By  Keri Allan Published  January 8, 2014

Support for Windows XP will cease in April next year, although the OS still accounts for as much as one quarter of all desktop PC operating systems. At the same time, Microsoft has released an upgrade to Windows 8, in part to make it more suited to desktop use. But what options are on the table for companies that are facing an operating systems upgrade?

ith Microsoft recently releasing its Windows 8.1 update and the impending end of XP support coming into play next April, many IT managers and CTOs are considering their options when it comes to enterprise desktop migration. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that by the end of Q3 2013, 233 million PCs were running Windows 8 (both business and consumer) globally, which represents around 17% of the worldwide PC install base.

“However, the majority of users are either consumers or small business users, with the proportion of Windows 8 PCs within medium and large enterprises being below five to seven percent and predominantly used on tablets or new form factors,” says Gartner research director Annette Jump. “The majority of businesses appear to have comfortably continued to work on XP, and currently many organisations are either in the process of, or have just finished, deploying Windows 7.”

Jump explains that this is because larger organisations prefer to manage the deployment of new versions of Windows, and may even choose to skip a software generation/version to manage resources, cost and training. Even so, she highlights that many are gearing up for user generated Windows 8 needs and are open to exploring the potential fit and issues that may arise.

But for those enterprises still running XP it’s now fairly pressing that they put plans into place, as Microsoft will be discontinuing all support, patch and security update services for Windows XP on 8th April 2014. Those that don’t migrate to another platform are exposing themselves to ever increasing security threats. According to statistics based on web browser data, as of October, Windows XP still accounts for anywhere between 20% to 30% of all PCs connecting the web.

Tim Rains, director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, recently highlighted that the Windows XP infection rate may jump by 66% after support comes to an end.

“Attackers will have an advantage over defenders who continue to run Windows XP. After April, when we release monthly security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will try and reverse engineer them to identify any vulnerabilities that also exist in Windows XP. If they succeed, they will have the capability to develop exploit code to take advantage of them,” he wrote on a Microsoft blog.

To mitigate the risk of cyber threats and protect IT infrastructure it is strongly recommended that businesses migrate away from Windows XP, but for the few that choose to stay put there are some options.

For example Arkoon is offering a lifeline to those still using Windows XP. Working with its distributor Matrix Global Partners, it offers ExtendedXP (EXP) support service to organisations that can’t or won’t migrate before April’s cut off date, acting as either ongoing protection or a bridge until they complete migration to another platform.

In addition to real-time identifying and stopping attacks against Microsoft flaws, EXP’s service component will monitor the overall XP threat environment worldwide and share that information back to all of EXP clients along with best practices to use StormShield to stop the new identified attacks and address the flaws that are discovered.

But what are the options available to those who want to migrate? Of course Microsoft wants users to move to their latest operating system (OS) Windows 8, and the company believes it has the perfect solution for today’s enterprises, as Faith Murray, business group lead Windows, Microsoft Gulf highlights.

“The new enterprise operating system brings together everything that a business would need on a day-to-day basis, including new mobile apps to promote efficiency, Office productivity tools, searching and browsing, and the ability to access data from anywhere, helping to facilitate the increasing mobility of today’s work force,” she notes. “The Windows 8 experience is supported across all devices, including tablets, notebooks and high-performance workstations,” she adds.

Even so, many organisations have been reticent to make the move to Windows 8 and there have been mixed views. Those that tried it out liked the aesthetics and potential to integrate better with existing Windows enterprise management tools. Many, however, disliked the higher hardware costs, dual UI and felt it had no merits without touch devices.

Gartner noted that there were several concerns that put people off migrating including a lack of Start button, security concerns regarding mobile devices and the limited number of apps available.

Microsoft’s response was to release the Windows 8.1 upgrade, as well as improve mobile support and the Windows Store experience, and increase the number of apps.

“With the new Windows 8.1 enterprise solution, it is now possible to manage personal devices in an organisation, utilise investments in the enterprise infrastructure, and enhance the security of the IT environment… it is even further personalised to ensure that organisations, and individuals, can ensure the system works for them in the most efficient way,” Murray notes.

There is another migration option for those that want a change from Windows however: switching to a virtualised desktop infrastructure. Instead of automatically going ahead with a Windows 7 or 8 upgrade, businesses could conserve IT budgets through virtualised desktops and applications, which can cut administration costs and centralise control.

“Transition presents several possible challenges if businesses take the traditional upgrade route: it can take many months to load new software onto thousands of individual endpoints as organisations spend time and resources to test, integrate and install the new OS. Many user PCs may need to be upgraded or replaced to support new requirements for memory and processing power. Finally, many organisations, such as those in the financial services industry, have a host of legacy applications that may prove to be incompatible with a new operating system — yet vital to particular job roles,” highlights Johnny Karam, regional vice president, Middle East and Africa, Citrix.

“Desktop and application virtualisation are obvious strategies to overcome these challenges. Instead of working through hundreds or thousands of individual PCs, IT simply installs a single image in the data centre, and then uses that across the organisation. Patches and updates benefit similarly from the single, centralised image. And because the operating system runs in the data centre rather than on the endpoint, there is no need to upgrade user hardware; the same machine used to run Vista, or even Windows XP, will be more than adequate,” he notes.

“The cost of using a centralised desktop virtualisation solution to migrate users to Windows 8 can save organisations up to 40% of costs associated with migration. Simplifying ongoing desktop management and updates can lower the total cost of ownership by about 50%.”

In EMEA, companies such as SUSE are seeing a growing adoption of open source desktop solutions as another alternative to using Windows.

“A way out of this vendor lock-in can be found in an open source-based desktop solution,” says Gerald Pfeifer, senior director of Product Management and Operations, SUSE Technology and Products. “Designed for mixed IT environments, Linux-based solutions like SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop provide companies with the security, manageability and efficiency of Linux, with a high level of interoperability, as the solution coexists with Windows, Mac, UNIX and other operating systems, so companies can get more from their IT investments.

“Furthermore, ongoing development by the worldwide open source community ensures high-level security and state-of-the-art technology. In addition, the SUSE desktop comes bundled with dozens of leading applications at no extra cost and with a full office productivity suite, including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and database applications, which are compatible with Microsoft Office files,” he notes.

The industry decides

ACN spoke with several IT management professionals in the region to find out what’s going on at ground level. For many the plan is to migrate to, or stick with Windows 7. Many feel that there’s currently no real benefit to making the move to Windows 8, plus they want to keep costs down.

At Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group, IT director Thameem Rizvon has no plans to migrate to Windows 8. Although he’s trialled Windows 8 on several of his systems, the company’s reaction was that the OS best suited tablets and the decision was made not to migrate, as their hardware would require RAM upgrades in order to make the most of the new OS.

“Our plan is to stay on Windows 7 for now,” he says. “We use Windows 7 Professional and also Windows XP Professional in some of our outlets. Our plan is to migrate them gradually to Windows 7 when the systems are brought in for maintenance.”

It’s a similar story at Oman Insurance Company, where head of Enterprise Technology and executive VP Ian R Cook has decided to stick with a mix of Windows 7 and virtualised solutions. “At the moment there doesn’t appear to be a compelling business case to move the organisation to Windows 8,” he explains.

For many choosing Windows 7 over 8 is a matter of choosing a secure, well-established option that is more likely to run smoothly.

“Windows 7 will remain there for some time as Microsoft still provides support for this platform,” says Lijeesh Rajan, director of centralised IT Services, Dubai and Northern Emirates, Rotana Hotel Management Corporation. “We relied on XP for a long time due to its stability. The same goes for the matured Windows 7 platform now.”

Of the four companies ACN spoke with, there was one now testing the waters of Windows 8. Currently running Windows XP and 7, Emirates Flight Catering is starting a gradual migration to Windows 8.

“Windows 8 represents the biggest change to Microsoft’s OS and I like it’s modern UI style,” says Ziad Sababa, head of IT Infrastructure and operations. “To start with we’re procuring computers with Windows 8 starting next year and we have to test the impact of the new OS on our business applications,” he notes.

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