Can’t we just stay?

With the imminent approach of the end of support of Windows XP (April 2014), questions on many customers’ minds include “can’t we just stay on Windows XP?” or” Can we just pay Microsoft some money to extend my support to mitigate my risks?”  Both of these questions have been asked of me in the last two weeks.  Having just had sight of the magnitude of costs involved for extending Windows XP support, let’s explore both of those questions and the extended support costs.

The move to Windows 7 or Windows 8 away from Window XP is an emotive decision for many customers. They can often feel forced to migrate and can struggle to identify the material benefit of migration. This is certainly true in terms of pure direct cost savings against the cost of transformation.  But fiscal benefit is of course completely separate to improving the experience of users and the material improvements in functionality and supportability which Windows 7 or 8 bring.  So are Microsoft unreasonable in wanting to move on and force their customer base to migrate?

Windows XP was released in September 2001 therefore By the time Windows XP becomes end of life (EOL), it will have been a supported product for 12.5 years.  Usually Microsoft only support a product for 10 years, and they would argue (with some justification) that they’ve gone the extra mile with Windows XP support already.  The main reason Microsoft remove support of a product though is because of the costs involved in having to support so many platforms and retrofit those platforms to accommodate new products and technologies.

Microsoft release new versions of products every 3 years, (a situation caused by EA agreements and software assurance rights) and so for Microsoft to have teams that support so many platforms (currently Windows XP, Vista, 7 & 8) it inevitably becomes  commercially unviable.  I also wonder (* Car Analogy Klaxon *) how many of us drive cars even 5 years old, never mind 12 years old? Yet we might consider running our business on software and technology that was developed over 10 years ago?

If you’re a customer considering staying on Windows XP, why move?  Inevitably, the eco system around Windows XP platforms will close. Your organisation will be forced to change in time.  Software vendors (for the same reasons as Microsoft), want to call time on older, legacy versions of their products too.  Hardware vendors (and it’s already happening), will not provide drivers and downgrade rights to older versions of operating systems on newer equipment.

All that new equipment you were thinking of buying in the next year or so but downgrading to Windows XP probably won’t be able to run Windows XP.  Also, it should considered that whilst it might be possible to sweat an asset for an indefinite period of time, (until it fails) at some point support and maintenance of really old equipment actually starts to cost your business more.  Effectively you’ll be paying more for support, to stay still technologically, whilst your competition embrace modern workplace working practices.

So, you’re thinking about taking a custom support agreement (Microsoft jargon for extended support)?  Well, if you’re an enterprise organisation, you’re going to be looking at 7 figures minimum per year, (and I’ve seen a customer that’s been offered 3 year extended support for an 8 figure sum).  There will be also be additional costs for customers who  request hotfixes and security patches as well.

All good things come to an end.  Windows XP has served the business world well, but inevitably technology vendors improve and enhance their technologies based on feedback and requirements from their customers.

Whilst it might be possible to put off the inevitable for a short period, the reality is that moving from Windows XP must happen at some point in time. My recommendation to any customer would be start planning to migrate off Windows XP if you haven’t already  and consider using that contingency/extended support fund you would have used to stay on Windows XP and get on with the business of migrating.  Migrating any volume of users before the EOL date of Windows XP has to be better than none.

…..and finally, if you have to make a change, make it a good one. There are many benefits and opportunities available to your business in moving to a new platform, make sure you understand what they are and communicate them. Show your user community that this change is a positive one for the business.

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