With support for Windows XP officially closed since April 8th 2014, businesses still running the 13 year old operating system now face significant security risks. For organisations handling sensitive consumer or financial data, it is no longer feasible to continue running XP – even though Microsoft have extended support to large customers at a premium cost. The Guardian recently reported that many smaller businesses are reluctant to upgrade, with 55% citing lack of budget, 39% citing lack of time and 31% lack of resources. However, upgrading doesn’t necessarily have to be costly and for companies lacking time and resources, choosing a qualified implementation partner is highly advisable. An implementation partner can help businesses to:
Assess network security issues
Windows XP lacks the modern attack-prevention capabilities that are built into newer versions of Windows, hence the reason why it is imperative for businesses still using XP devices to assess their IT infrastructure. For larger organisations, it’s advisable to run an Nmap OS Detection scan to identify all network devices running XP, then use Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit v4.0 to improve on security. Smaller businesses can protect themselves by regulating their use of software and ensuring storage and buffer overflow protection is enabled to help protect against malicious exploitation.
Identify and test upgrade options
Choosing to upgrade to Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or even to a rival OS developer such as Apple, Google or Linux will largely be determined by your assessment of your current hardware, your software requirements and your end user’s needs. For the majority of businesses an upgrade to Windows 7 is probably the least risky and most user-friendly approach. Drastic User-Interface changes on Windows 8 could also lead to extensive internal training and user orientation, which is less likely to be required with a Windows 7 upgrade. In addition, a higher percentage of older devices are compatible with Windows 7 compared to Windows 8, reducing the likelihood of full hardware replacement for all machines running XP. With your choice of upgrade confirmed, it’s important to test your upgrade on a sample of network desktops.
Assess your current hardware inventory
The process of testing your upgrade on sample devices should also be used as an opportunity to assess your current hardware inventory and identify machines that are unable to run legacy programs and applications. Many older, unsupported software programs which run perfectly on Windows XP, stubbornly refuse to work on Windows 7 & 8. You’ll need to ensure that any problematic hardware is identified prior to your migration and consider if a full hardware refresh is required. Alternatively, Application Virtualisation tools such as Microsoft App-V, will enable you to run legacy programs without compromising on security. Be aware, however, that running new operating systems on old machines is likely to slow down your network.
Create a backup plan
Before you switch from Windows XP to Windows 7 (or your preferred choice of OS), ensure that you back up all information. A clean install of a new operating system means it’s highly probable that information can be lost. Use disk imaging software to create a full back-up of Windows XP, which enables you to troubleshoot issues in the event of data loss.
Communicate protocol for migration date
With employees using network devices at all hours of the day and night, it’s imperative to have a clear protocol and schedule in line and communicated clearly to employees prior to the implementation of your upgrade. Be sure to backup in an agreed downtime window to ensure no data gets lost when the upgrade is deployed.
Deliver sufficient training and support for end users
The success of your upgrade is also very much dependant on how well supported your employees feel with the new systems being implemented. Staff can be resistant to change, so you need to consider some element of training and orientation prior to deployment.
Use mass deployment tool to implement migration
Businesses with 20 or more devices shouldn’t install the Windows upgrade individually, as this could potentially take many tens or even hundreds of hours. A mass deployment tool will enable you to upgrade 100s of machines in the space of a few hours.
Assessing security and hardware, testing, deploying and training are all key considerations for businesses looking to upgrade from Windows XP. If you have yet to start the process, it would be highly advisable to consider doing so – especially if your business stores valuable consumer, business or financial information.