Despite enterprise affinity for the sturdy and reliable Windows XP, it's all but inevitable that Windows 7, shipping next week, on Oct. 22, will see significant business adoption in 2010. That's due to both Windows XP's age and the timing of PC hardware upgrade cycles. Analysts at research firm Gartner expect corporate demand for Windows 7 to gain full momentum by the end of 2010.
Consequently, Gartner recommends strongly that businesses start testing for Windows 7 now, citing that mainstream support for Windows XP ended in April and any support for XP from ISVs (independent software vendors) will dry up toward the end of 2011. In other words, if you stall, you will end up in a support crunch, Gartner says.
Microsoft is providing free tools to help with Windows 7 migrations. Still, planning for an OS upgrade remains a giant undertaking full of compatibility testing and budgetary strains. Gartner estimates that migration costs could be $1,035 to $1,930 per user to move from Windows XP to Windows 7.
But a Windows 7 migration also presents a golden opportunity to clean house and become a more efficient business, says Christine Ewing, a director of product marketing at security tools provider Symantec.
Here are four steps you need to take as you plan for your business to migrate to Windows 7.
Figure out What Needs to Migrate and What Doesn't
Migrating to Windows 7 is so much more than installing an OS on computers and tranferring people over. It's a clean slate, says Symantec's Ewing, and a chance to look at where you are spending money and where you can save money.
"Many businesses have applications that they don't use but they are still paying license [costs] for," she says. "One of the pitfalls of an OS upgrade is migrating things you don't need anymore."
Ewing recommends forming a task force made up of an IT people and procurement people to take stock of the value of a company's hardware and applications.
"This is good time to do an inventory of the apps that don't need to be compatible with Windows 7. You can get rid of a good load of apps and save money on where you are unnecessarily spending on licenses."
Migrate What's Compatible First
One of the top barriers to deploying Windows 7 is application compatibility.
Organizations need to prioritize migrations according to which applications in their environment are Windows 7 certified and which are not, says Ewing.
For example, marketing or accounting departments use common apps such as Word and Excel that do not have compatibility conflicts, and such users should be migrated first.
There are bound to be more application compatibility issues in the engineering and development groups of a business, says Ewing. In this case, more planning is needed such as whether to use features like XP Mode in Windows 7 to access older XP-only apps through a virtual machine.
Consolidate Security Products
A Windows 7 migration is also an opportune time to look at the number of security vendors you've been using and decide whether to consolidate.
Ewing says that many of Symantec's customers have one vendor for their firewall, another vendor for endpoint protection, a vendor encryption technology, and another for intrusion prevention. This equals lots of overhead, license costs, and finger pointing when things go wrong. (Of course, Symantec has a point of view here, and many IT pros like the "best of breed" approach to security tools.)
Because Windows 7 is a clean slate for the OS, it should also be a clean slate for the security technology going on inside machines, she says.
"It's a way to get started on the right foot when Windows 7 is deployed and make sure data is secure and systems are protected."
Re-evaluate Data Backup Strategy
There is an inherent risk when doing an OS migration that you may lose data, says Ewing.
As businesses plan to migrate to Windows 7, they can also assess whether they have the protection mechanism in place to back up data and make sure it's available if something goes wrong.
Ewing says companies can hopefully create a risk-free backup plan as they migrate to Windows 7 and take what they learn and apply it to their long-term backup and disaster recovery strategy when Windows 7 is fully deployed.
Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill.