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Letting Windows XP support go: Why it's time to start OS migration

This is your one-year warning to get off Windows XP -- a process that presents some challenges for desktop and virtualization administrators alike.

Microsoft waves the white flag this week, signaling the final lap of Windows XP support. For some of us, it's going to be a hard year, especially if you just

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started your OS migration. If you're ahead of the game, all you have to do is tie up loose ends.

There is no reason cost should be an issue.

This warning applies no matter your desktop deployment mechanism (VDI, client hypervisor, physical, etc.). There are tough challenges ahead that encompass application strategies, hardware refreshes, new technologies, new skillsets and, of course, money.

In this two-part series about XP end of life, you'll learn why some people are keeping Windows XP support, when you need to leave the OS behind and how the move will affect your environment.

What will it cost to continue XP support?

Information about what it would cost for a Windows XP support contract after April 8, 2014, is hard to come by. I have, however, heard unofficially from some people that you will pay through the nose, mouth, eyes and both ear holes if you want to keep XP going forward.

The most recent numbers I saw are for an organization with 8,000 desktops. For this company, the cost to simply enter the Custom Support program was $1.6 million per year. That works out to about $200 per desktop (per year), but I don't know if that pricing is linear. I'm told it's based on your Enterprise Agreement, so it could be that smaller companies or deployments will be charged much more on a per-desktop basis. After the Custom Support program, any hot fixes will cost $50,000 each.

Last-minute XP migration advice

Keep these five things in mind as Windows XP end of life approaches.

Why is it so expensive? Microsoft wants you to get off Windows XP. If you plan to keep it around, the best approach is to simply pull the network cable out of it or isolate it on the network and try your hardest to keep it safe. If you simply must have XP, be prepared to pay.

Why are people avoiding an OS migration?

Most people that are planning to keep XP do it for one of three reasons:

  • Scientific or specialized equipment will not run on newer PCs or Windows 7 or 8.
  • Government regulations certify that a system has to operate for X number of years.
  • They don't want to spend the money.

Many people point to scientific equipment as the reason they need to keep XP support. In these situations, they're using machines that cost several hundred thousand dollars, do their jobs perfectly well, and are not compatible with Windows 7. An OS migration would mean replacing the entire machine.

More OS migration considerations

Windows 7 simplifies PC upgrades

The future of Windows desktops

OS migration checklist: Windows XP to 7

In some of these instances, the machine does not need to be network-connected, so they can simply unplug the network cable. Others that need some connection can be isolated from the rest of the network and, even more important, the Internet. If you feel comfortable with your abilities to isolate the machines and are willing to accept a certain amount of risk, these solutions could work for you. If those systems require full connectivity, you should seriously consider a Custom Support Agreement or at least weigh its cost against replacing the equipment.

The government regulations scenario stems from government contractors that develop systems for various agencies or arms of the military. These systems must be certified to operate for an extended period of time (I've heard up to 30 years!).

Even if the contractor or government purchases Custom Support for XP, these companies would still have problems with hardware support because finding hardware that XP will run on is getting more difficult. These companies are bound to a contract with unreasonable terms, based on hardware that's designed to run for three to five years with an OS that has already exceeded its life span. I suggest paying for Custom Support and stockpiling hardware off eBay because, in the end, it might be the only way.

By now, the third reason should be 100% resolved. Even if you have to re-architect a VDI environment based on Windows XP, it clearly costs more money to enter into a Custom Support Agreement than it would to upgrade to Windows 7, so there is no reason cost should be an issue. Some companies, however, think they'll continue to run Windows XP in an unsupported manner, trying to hack in patches as needed or relying on antivirus or malware programs to help them. To those companies, I want to direct your attention to what will happen April 9, 2014.

Check in next week for more on how losing Windows XP will affect your applications.

This was first published in April 2013

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Expert Discussion

If you're still on Windows XP at all, when do you plan to migrate off?

Gabe Knuth
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