End of Windows XP support brings IT to a fork in the road

Diana Hwang

Microsoft finally ended Windows XP support this week, putting to rest one of its most stable operating systems ever while delivering the Windows 8.1 Update.

How IT shops get to the newer version of Windows depends on their needs, but one thing is certain: They don't have to do a traditional PC upgrade. In fact, the "same old, same old" may hold companies back.

People are really waiting for the last minute.

Bernard Cubizolles,
global market development manager, GE Intelligent Platforms

Companies that plan to migrate soon are considering technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or Desktop as a Service (DaaS).

DaaS offers a way to migrate end users off of Windows XP and update to a newer OS via a cloud service provider. With this approach, IT can deliver Windows desktops and applications to end users on any device, providing more flexibility than traditional PCs.

VMware Inc. recently launched a DaaS platform, as did Amazon Web Services with WorkSpaces. Microsoft also is expected to enter the DaaS fray with Project Mohoro, though the company has not commented on its plans.

Automated Business Designs (ABD), a software development company in Rosemont, Ill., is considering DaaS.

The company has migrated from Windows XP but still keeps some Windows XP computers available for troubleshooting purposes for its customers. However, ABD will soon end support for the outdated operating system, said Ignacio Pruneda, director of managed services at ABD.

ABD uses cloud services provided by dinCloud, a DaaS provider in Gardena, Calif., and it may deploy its DaaS offering to gain flexibility, he said. ABD's clients are also considering DaaS in their environments as part of their Windows 7 upgrades. Since IT shops still on Windows XP typically have servers that are outdated too, they would need to buy new server hardware as part of the upgrade, Pruneda said.

DaaS may reduce the cost of migrating from Windows XP by reducing hardware upgrade costs, since cloud desktops can be accessed from any user device or from thin clients, which cost less than PCs or laptops. But organizations still need to pay for a Windows client license.

Businesses can also virtualize their Windows and Microsoft applications using on-premises VDI, though this approach often requires infrastructure upgrades to deliver and support virtual desktops. Options include offerings from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, Dell and others.

Citrix, for example, offers XenDesktop and XenApp to virtualize desktops and applications, manage them centrally, and deliver them to remote end users. Microsoft also enables desktop administrators to use VDI and deploy and manage end user apps using Remote Desktop Services.

Windows XP stalwarts raise security concerns

Despite there being a number of OS upgrade paths, about 28% of desktop operating systems still run on Windows XP, according to NetMarketShare's March 2014 survey.

Desktop OS breakdown

About 28% of desktop operating systems still run on Windows XP. Nearly half run Windows 7, while 11% run Windows 8 and 8.1. Mac OS X, Linux, Windows Vista and other operating systems make up the rest, according to NetMarketShare's March 2014 survey.

The vast number of devices still running some flavor of Windows XP is a concern for companies such as Charlottesville, Va.-based GE Intelligent Platforms, which fears its customers will encounter security breaches.

"Seventy-five percent of water utilities still use Windows XP," said Matthew Wells, general manager of the automation software group at GE. This affects not only water utilities, but also other industries as well, he noted.

It's a struggle for companies like GE Intelligent Platforms to motivate customers to absorb the Windows XP migration costs. The company's vertical market clients do not have the same culture as an enterprise IT department, which may be more in tune with the consequences of relying on an aging operating system.

"The process takes time, and this industry is not the IT world," said Bernard Cubizolles, global market development manager for GE Intelligent Platforms' automation software group. "People are really waiting for the last minute."

Microsoft said in a statement that it will provide custom support for Windows XP as a temporary measure to help companies through their migration process.

The company's anti-malware software will continue to be supported until 2015, giving IT professionals time to migrate to a newer OS. Microsoft issued its final security patches for Windows XP this week.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: Assembling a Windows 8 migration toolbox or view the full guide: Surveying options after the Windows XP end of support

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