To date, Maverick Solutions has advocated that most of its clients continue using Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, despite the release of later versions of both client and server operating systems. However, in the coming year or two, we need to begin to reconsider this position.
The biggest reason we have recommended the continued use of a legacy operating system is that we don’t think the return-on-investment for most of our clients warrants the upfront costs. If we asked you why you need a computer, you could doubtlessly rattle off a dozen reasons without a second thought, but if we asked you why you need Windows 7, you probably haven’t a clue.
Why, then, are we now reconsidering our recommendation to our clients to keep using Windows XP and Windows Server 2003? Microsoft intends to completely terminate its support for Windows XP on April 8th, 2014, just two years hence. After that point, they will issue no more Windows updates of bug fixes, new drivers, or security patches. Of course, people may continue to use those operating systems indefinitely, but this end-of-support cutoff by Microsoft is a harbinger of the approaching obsolescence of the operating system. Hard drives, cooling fans, and other moving parts will wear out with increasing frequency as they approach their Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), and it will become less economically and psychologically reasonable to continue to invest in repairing legacy technology as it falls farther behind users who want the benefits of the latest features.
We’re not suggesting that our clients rush into a new operating system immediately, but since this is likely going to be a costly and extensive upgrade, we recommend that you begin discussing, planning, and budgeting for it. It’s unreasonable to believe that businesses might still be satisfactorily running Windows XP in another 4-5 years, and the transition will go much smoother if it is anticipated and diligently planned.
As you are probably aware, Windows Vista encountered significant market resistance and was promptly succeeded by Windows 7. Windows 8 is now in the late stages of development for release. As you may or may not know, Windows Server 2003 R2 was succeeded by Windows Server 2008, and a later “R2″ edition of it was released, as well.
Windows Vista’s hardware resource requirements were a significant increase over Windows XP’s, and even though the hardware demands were slightly scaled back in Windows 7, in most cases, newer operating systems won’t run satisfactorily-well on hardware designed for Windows XP. Effectively, that means that every upgrade to Windows 7 probably necessitates a hardware upgrade, as well, and frequently, especially if the processor is too slow or the integrated video card is unsupported, it is more economical to simply replace the entire computer.
Recognizing the enormity of cost to upgrade an enterprises’ entire computing infrastructure at once, one might propose to upgrade a portion of the computers at a time, over some period of years. In fact, why not upgrade the servers one at a time, too, either before or after the workstation upgrades? We initially suggested that strategy for some of the upgrade projects we were facing at the time when these operating systems were first released, and the resulting mixed environments created unexpected headaches. The largest one for most of our academic clients is that operating systems after Windows XP and Server 2003 utilize a different user profile hierarchy, and since the majority of our school clients utilize “roaming profiles” which follow users wherever they log on, this means that configuration settings, favorites, and desktop items from Windows XP don’t follow users when they log on to Windows 7, and vice versa.
So how can this massive upgrade be accomplished economically? Fortunately, the ubiquity of laptops, smart phones, netbooks, tablet PCs, and even network-ready e-book readers has changed many of the paradigms we follow when laying out client networks. Sharing filtered Internet access, network printers, and a repository of common files is still almost universally necessary, but “roaming” user profiles may not be. Whereas previously students and even teachers may have shared computers in a computer lab, library, or faculty lounge, the latest trend is for each user to own or be issued his/her own computing device. That being so, roaming user profiles configured on existing networks may be able to be discontinued. Without roaming user profiles, the prospect of upgrading some fraction at a time of a business’ computers to a newer version of Windows becomes easier to consider.
In fact, this could even be taken a step further, with users responsible for their own information storage on external USB drives or in some incarnation of “the cloud.” Of course, it’s still possible for selected individual users, such as office workers who frequent the same desktop PC and work with mission-critical data files, to utilize server-based file storage rather than USB drives. This option facilitates higher data security and simplifies automated data backup solutions.
We are frequently asked how long to expect a purchased computer system to last, and we typically answer that the IRS’ depreciation period of five years is a good guideline to consider. Windows XP first came out ten years ago, in 2002, so any of us still using it – even late adopters – have most certainly gotten our money’s worth. It’s time to start thinking about upgrading.
We can’t imagine any scenario where we would recommend Windows Vista, but because of the timing of this transition, some clients may consider holding out for the general release of Windows 8, rather than start with a new operating system which is already a few years old, itself. Alternately, less-expensive used and refurbished Windows 7 systems should start coming available as businesses at the leading edge of technology begin their upgrade cycles to Windows 8.
As a first step, we recommend that all businesses move away from using roaming user profiles. Schools should consider doing this soon, so that users can begin learning the nuances of the new paradigm and the bugs can be worked out before the end of this school year. If you’re ready to take this first step, let us know, and we can make the required configuration changes for you.
The next step is to decide whether or not to continue offering server-based storage space for users’ “My Documents.” If shifting away from network storage, users will need time to obtain or be issued USB drives and to relocate their documents and other files to such external storage. This can be implemented immediately or over summer recess. Users will need to be informed of the new policy if they’re to acquire their own external storage devices before implementation. Schools and other businesses may also take advantage of the opportunity to order quantities of logo-imprinted USB drives to issue or sell to employees and students. We’d be happy to help with all phases of determining size(s) of USB drives required, buying USB drives, transferring existing data or creating instructions for users to do so themselves, and reconfiguring networks to discontinue availability of server-based storage of users’ files.
The ubiquity of wireless computers and devices which I previously mentioned presents one final issue that demands consideration: wireless infrastructure. If you may be considering some or all of your new computers to be wireless devices, it may be necessary to upgrade your wireless infrastructure. Old cinderblock and poured concrete school buildings are notoriously good at blocking wireless signals – in the worst cases, access points may need to be installed in each and every room that will cater to the use of wireless devices. For networks that already have wired access in every room, it shouldn’t require more than the installation and configuration of new wireless access points on those existing cable drops. However, if 30 students’ wireless devices may now share a cable drop that previously only served one teacher’s desktop PC, additional back-end infrastructure improvements may also be necessary. We can help with the capacity and infrastructure upgrade planning.
Once these preliminary considerations are addressed and adjustments are made, phased-in workstation and server upgrades can now be planned.
Don’t be caught unprepared for the coming tide. Now is the time to begin discussing, considering, planning, and budgeting for what will certainly be a large and costly project for many schools and other businesses. Call or email us today to get started.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Blum is the founder, president, and chief consultant at Maverick Solutions IT, Inc, and although he still loves Windows XP, he’s warming up to the idea of upgrading. Maverick Solutions helps schools, NFPs, and SO/HOs get more value from their technology budgets. Visit our Website to learn about the services we offer.