Not Dead…Yet: Accepting the end of Windows XP

Not Dead…Yet: Accepting the end of Windows XP 

Windows XP has been a dominant operating system in the enterprise for over a decade. Finally, though, it’s time to say goodbye.

In April 2014, Microsoft is ending its extended support for Windows XP, which means enterprises that haven’t migrated to a new platform by then will be immediately exposed to a plethora of zero-day exploits. While most businesses are taking steps toward more modern operating systems, such as Windows 7 and 8, they need to be making far greater strides.

Not Ready to Let Go?

Our recent audit of nearly half a million corporate PC devices, featured in our recent Shadow IT in the Enterprise study, found that 58 percent of those devices are still running Windows XP. This is just a 10 percent improvement from a year ago.

The slowest to react are mostly large enterprises with tens of thousands of PC devices in their IT environment and some small businesses whose owners are likely unaware of the risk involved. The next time you’re in your doctor’s office, or some type of small business, take a look at their computers. More likely than not, you’ll see that classic Windows XP Start button in the bottom left corner.

While the XP end of life is more than four months away, this slow year-over-year transition is nevertheless alarming. Microsoft estimates that a full OS transition can take anywhere from 18 to 32 months, which means plenty of organizations will not succeed in migrating all of their necessary devices at their current pace.

Slow March Forward

There are two major deterrents to enterprise Windows OS migration: legacy applications and hardware upgrade cycles. Many organizations, especially those in niche industries, rely on specialized applications that have either been developed internally, or haven’t been updated in years. Either way, they won’t work on a new Windows OS. As a result, organizations are faced with the equally difficult propositions of becoming exposed to a number of security vulnerabilities, or making the rough transition to a new business application.

Other organizations, particularly the large ones, are gradually replacing their OSs as they replace and upgrade their desktops and laptops. This strategy, however, is unlikely to work in time for all businesses.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these issues. Engaging consultation from an experienced technology solutions provider can help IT staff manage the complexities that come with compatibility, security, and custom imaging for major enterprise rollouts.

Testing Modern Systems

Given the poor reception of Windows Vista, organizations have shown reluctance in the past to upgrading to a new operating system. However, virtually all businesses, some 95 percent, have some sort of Windows 7 or 8 presence in their IT environment.

In fact, despite the uncertainty surrounding Windows 8, 41 percent of organizations have deployed Windows 8 on at least a few devices, a likely sign they are testing its capabilities.   This trial period signals that adoption may accelerate in the near future as businesses integrate their applications for the modern operating systems.

XPocalypse?

Does a failure to fully transition away from Windows XP translate to immediate disaster? While a business may not be attacked on day one, their level of vulnerability dramatically increases as soon as Windows ceases to supply security patches and updates.

Most organizations, and certainly most IT managers, are aware of this looming deadline and their options on how to address it. However, the data from our audit of PC devices shows that many are not taking this threat as seriously as they should. While 95 percent of organizations have started the race to a new operating system, just 7 percent have crossed the finish line, having 100 percent completed migration from XP. A promising 25 percent of organizations have achieved 90 percent or higher migration, but still must make the effort to address any remaining gaps in security.

While you might not have April 9, 2014 circled on your calendar, those who would look to exploit you certainly do. Think of it this way… if the burglars in your neighborhood knew that a particular home security system was permanently going offline on a certain day, wouldn’t you spring into action before then to protect your home?

How ready is your organization for the Windows XP end of life?

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About Keith Groom

Keith is Softchoice’s Director of Microsoft Solutions.