Windows XP has been the enterprise operating system of choice for close to a decade, but Microsoft will end support for it in 2014. That leaves IT departments just two years to migrate to a newer version.
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One thing is for sure, though: The PC isn't dead, no matter how much Apple wants it to be.
Different from years past, Windows migrations now involve a number of external technology trends -- such as bring your own device, or BYOD, IT consumerization and cloud computing -- all of which affect application and data delivery.
"Does IT care about the OS or the device? Yes, but they should care more about data and apps and how [employees] safely access those two things," said Jeff Kaplan, founder and CEO at Breakthrough Technology Group, an IT solutions provider based in Morganville, N.J. "With this migration, businesses get the opportunity to lay a foundation that puts the apps and data into an environment that works for employees regardless of device or OS."
There's more complexity and choice when it comes to client devices, applications and data delivery, but "the traditional PC is still the bread and butter of devices," said Mark Margevicius, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
Cloud computing and mobile devices, such as the iPad, might become priorities for PC-based enterprises, but not until they migrate off Windows XP, Margevicius said. "Traditional mainstream migrations that involve physical PCs will still be the choice" for most enterprises, he said. "As boring as it sounds, dollars always trump innovation."
Enterprises delay Windows upgrades
Migrations don't happen overnight, and the time to migrate off XP is now, said Dave Sobel, director of Partner Community at Level Platforms Inc., an IT service provider based in Ottawa.
Enterprises are upgrading, albeit slowly.
Windows 7 was launched in October 2009, but it still accounts for less than 50% of enterprise operating systems. As of June 2012, Windows XP accounted for 44% of the enterprise desktop OS market, down from 56% a year ago and 64% two years ago, according to the latest figures from Net Applications, an applications vendor and research firm based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Windows 7 accounted for 42% of the enterprise desktop OS market, and it's expected to pass XP adoption rates by the end of the third quarter of 2012.
"The days of a new OS being released and everyone in the company gets migrated, is not what happens at all anymore," said Aaron Suzuki, CEO at SmartDeploy, a Seattle-based desktop migration vendor. The reality for enterprises is a "logroll" approach where the latest technologies -- cloud, Software-as-a-Service applications, virtual desktops, Identity-as-a-Service tools, or the latest Windows OS -- are slowly folded into an organization in small batches, he said.
The trick -- and it's a complicated one -- is for IT to figure out how desktops, consumerization and mobility augment one another, then implement the technology to empower end users, all within a set budget. "Businesses don't operate in the same technology sphere as when XP was first released," Suzuki said. "One thing is for sure, though: The PC isn't dead, no matter how much Apple wants it to be. It's too practical in business," he added.
Nevertheless, organizations that don't accommodate the various ways employees want to work will be at a huge disadvantage, Kaplan said.
App-V, Office 15, Windows Azure -- looking beyond Windows 7
Now IT admins are exploring migration tools to help them modernize their desktop environments.
"App-V, [Office 15], [Internet Explorer] 10, Azure hosted services ... are a ginormous change in the world of migration," said Shayne Higdon, general manager for Quest Software Inc.'s Workspace suite of migration tools. Quest delivered a features update in June, just before it was acquired by Dell, to provide IT with more automation tools for migrations.
Other vendors continue to update migration tools to meet the demands of the evolving technology landscape.
This week, Flexera Software LLC updated AdminStudio Suite, an application migration assessment tool. It includes Windows 8, application and desktop virtualization, cloud computing, and Windows Server App-V compatibility tests.
RES Software released an update to its Workspace Manager product at the end of June to support more devices. Workspace Manager enables IT to support virtual desktops and different OSes as they migrate from old platforms to newer ones.