In less than a year's time, Microsoft ceases its extended support for Windows XP and many businesses, unless they have migrated to a new Operating System (OS), are wilfully putting their systems at risk without a comprehensive migration plan, and heading towards inflated custom support costs if they end up having to retain Windows XP beyond 8 April 2014 – a decision that will undoubtedly cause serious budget issues for many businesses. Already at the beginning of 2013, many hardware vendors have discontinued support for Windows XP.
Organisations are facing three options: migrate to Windows 7 or Windows 8 as soon as possible; run Windows XP 'at their own risk'; or alternatively, pay large fees for an extended custom support package. And, with time ticking away IT departments now find themselves in what top analysts call the migration 'danger zone', with little or no time left to complete the process before they would have to accept eye-wateringly expensive support costs. However many organisations have been at a loss as to how to achieve migration to the new OS cost-effectively and efficiently before the scheduled end date.
Organisations that are not yet off the starting blocks, or only a little way down the track, are highly unlikely to complete before the Microsoft deadline. Whether the delay is because they misunderstood the sheer scale of the project, or that they are coming across myriad technical hurdles – from application reinstallation to 'gotchas' around device drivers – which they never encountered before, it means they cannot confidently predict when they will finish the project or how much it will cost them. Ultimately, the challenge of such a project is that few IT teams will have ever experienced such a complex migration.
According to a report written by David K. Johnson of Forrester Research, Inc., "Touchless," automated OS deployments and upgrades require third-party tools. A key strategy for many firms trying to gain efficiencies in their PC management processes is to fully automate the provisioning and recovery of a wide range of hardware and PC personalities, with a minimum of maintenance and manual labour. Combined with automated, self-service Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations, this level of automation is seen as a holy grail of sorts by the industry.
When IT teams look to handle the project themselves, no single 'unknown' will be massively complex, but each represents a hurdle to be overcome and they shouldn't be duped into thinking that they are nearing completion just because they've cleared one jump. The reality is they still won't know how far they are from finishing the migration. Projects become long, slow and complex and risk extending beyond the April 2014 deadline.
The alternative: automation, automation, automation
Instead of just persevering with labour-intensive, increasingly lengthy manual migration projects, organisations need to look for newer, less painful, solutions.
With the right preparation, companies can approach an OS migration project with confidence: from rationalising and mapping applications, to optimising content distribution and – most crucially – empowering users to reinstall applications and initiate their own deployments. This business-driven migration attitude ensures that projects are carried out at a time that is most convenient for the business, in the most automated and efficient manner.
Additionally, using automation to upgrade computers from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 will free up the engineering resource to train users on how to use the new OS and make the whole employee experience much more positive.
The traditional approach is to build a desk side visit into every upgrade, even if there is automation included to cover some repetitive tasks. This means that an engineer would take over a user's computer for a few hours while they would have to do something (or nothing) else – in fact, this can affect productivity for even longer periods, resulting in the user unable to use their PC for the best part of a day.
A better scenario is to focus on fully automating the process across as many machines as possible rather than partially automating the process for every machine. This might sound like a trivial difference, but it leads to 80 to 90 percent reduction in desk-side visits. In fact, it is critical because coordinating desk side visits is a massive logistical challenge that slows everything down. By using this totally automated approach, organisations can deploy literally thousands of machines per day – completely hands free. Ultimately it is the only way to get migrated within the available time.