The Time Has Come to Move Beyond XP

As support for operating system ends, organizations must migrate any remaining desktop systems to avoid security risks and gain benefits.

XP

On April 8, Microsoft will end support for Windows XP and several other products, which means that security patches and other updates will no longer be available. Although the “sunset” date has been well publicized for almost six years, organizations continue to drag their feet up to the eleventh hour. The highly popular operating system still commands nearly thirty percent of the desktop OS market — a share that actually rose slightly in January.

There are a number of reasons why organizations are clinging to XP, including familiarity with the system and the potential business disruption associated with replacing it. With less than two months to go, however, organizations must move quickly to migrate any remaining XP systems to another platform.

“It is absolutely critical that organizations eliminate XP from their environments,” said Michael Stenger, IT Director, Atlantic-IT.net. “Failure to do so will leave you exposed to substantial security risks and support challenges, while also wasting budget dollars that could be put toward updating your IT environment.”

Organizations have several alternatives to consider when migrating from Windows XP. An obvious path is to upgrade to either Windows 7 or Windows 8, the more recent versions of Microsoft’s desktop OS. To date, most organizations migrating from XP have decided to go with the four-year-old Windows 7 platform, which has a similar look and feel to XP with greatly improved performance. Windows 7 now owns nearly half of the desktop OS market share, compared to about 10 percent for Windows 8, according to NetMarketShare.

“Other options include Apple platforms or a cloud Desktop-as-a-Service solution,” Stenger said. “The important thing is to develop an XP migration strategy and move forward with it as quickly as possible.”

What’s at Stake

Security is the most obvious risk facing XP users. Not only will Microsoft stop providing security patches and other updates, but security software vendors will almost certainly stop patching, updating and supporting products designed to work with XP. Many industry analysts have predicted that organized hacker and criminal groups are developing attacks in anticipation of unpatched XP systems.

Regulatory compliance also becomes a major concern. For example, regulators have warned financial institutions that they will be liable for lost or stolen credit-card data if they fail to upgrade from XP. Healthcare organizations responsible for protecting sensitive patient data and health information face similar compliance mandates.

“The newer versions of Windows mitigate these security and compliance risks. Windows 7 provides dramatic security improvements over XP with kernel patch protection, service hardening and data execution prevention,” Stenger said. “Windows 8 goes even further, adding enterprise-grade data encryption, better tools for enforcing network access policies, and Secure Boot to prevent malware from hijacking boot processes and concealing itself from the OS.”

Beyond the security risks and compliance issues, organizations maintaining an XP environment are at a competitive disadvantage. Because it is two full generations behind Microsoft’s current desktop OS technology,  XP either does not support or poorly supports features that have become commonplace on the latest PCs — including integrated wireless networking and Bluetooth adapters, more memory and faster USB performance.

“Microsoft’s newest operating systems are loaded with tools and features that save time and make workers more productive,” said Stenger. “For example, Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization technology embedded in Windows 8 Pro provides a readily available foundation for internal virtualization efforts and private-cloud initiatives.”

Rethinking Costs

Organizations that have yet to begin migration often cite costs as a reason for delaying the platform change. But Stenger says they should consider the potential for lost revenue, decreased productivity and image damage.

“The truth is that, on the whole, a move to Windows 7 or Windows 8 delivers key business improvements that have a demonstrable financial benefit in the form of investment versus cost avoidance,” he said.

Support and remediation costs for XP machines are likely to rise rapidly over the next few years, significantly increasing the total cost of ownership (TCO) for those who don’t migrate. In a recent study, Intel found that repair costs for older PCs typically exceed the purchase price of new machines. The Intel Small Business PC Refresh Study released in October 2013 found that older PCs have 50 percent more problems with 30 percent higher repair costs.

“It’s really a simple formula: a new Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC is going to be more cost-effective because it is easier to manage, it operates more efficiently and it reduces remediation costs by keeping you more secure,” said Stenger.

After a rough start when it was launched in 2001, XP eventually evolved into what most consider the most user-friendly and stable version of Windows ever produced. However, it wasn’t designed for today’s computing needs, and its continued use will bring substantial risk after April 8. Organizations can alleviate those risks and create substantial IT and business benefits by acting now to retire XP and migrate to a platform built for today’s more demanding requirements.