Mitigating the risks of not migrating from Windows XP: Derisking your wait for Windows 8

A common question and concern of CxOs is: “Why do my IT infrastructure people want us to migrate to Windows 7 when Windows 8 is just around the corner?”

IT’s response to the question most of the time is to restate Microsoft’s statement regarding the date Windows XP will cease to be supported by Microsoft.  Almost everyone now knows this date which is documented as 08 April, 2014.

The above response would have been rated as satisfactory and perhaps excellent 9 months ago, when the question from CxOs was: “Why do my IT infrastructure people want us to migrate to Windows 7 now?” Now with the potential release of Windows 8 (currently rumoured and unconfirmed as August 2012), and the support of Windows XP not ending until 08 April, 2014, IT needs a different answer to the question being posed by those that sign the cheque.

The purpose of this whitepaper as depicted by the subject “Mitigating the risks of not migrating from Windows XP: Derisking your wait for Windows 8” is to objectively answer the question without any form of bias.

For the ardent and meticulous students of the English grammar, you may have come across the absence of the word “derisk” in most lexicons and you may be wondering about the origins of the word. The word “derisk” exists in the Cambridge lexicon and it is described as:  “To make something safer by reducing the possibility that something bad will happen and money will be lost”.

Introduction

It is now 11 years since Window XP was released and it has indeed been the desktop operating system of choice in most enterprises during those periods.  Windows Vista never gained the traction required for enterprise adoption, hence the very few installed seats which was caused by the numerous documented problems. Windows XP will be out of extended support on April 8, 2014 and that alone had been a veritable business case to justify the investment in the migration to Windows 7.

However, the release of Windows 8 for consumer preview on 29 February 2012 has got some CxOs thinking along the lines of:  “Why do my IT infrastructure people want us to migrate to Windows 7 when Windows 8 is just around the corner?” The bunch of CxOs falling into this category are the ones who are yet to commence a Windows 7 migration and they think with a consumer preview already out in February 2012, a Release To Manufacturing will be out well before the end of 2012. This is indeed a risky approach especially when there is no clearly defined roadmap from Microsoft indicating when the product will eventually be released.  Even in cases where there have been publicly available release dates, some product releases have experienced slippages. CxOs are also keen to ensure their investment in a new operating system can last as long as possible; the end of extended support for Windows 7 ends on January 14, 2020 which implies that extended support for Windows 8 will not expire until sometimes in 2023 thereby giving CxOs another 10 years on the new operating system assuming implementation is completed before the end of 2013.

The CxOs’ position is further complicated by the typical length of time required to migrate to Windows 7 being 18 months and the IT’s reservation about implementing new Windows operating systems without Service Pack 1. The CxOs’ case is further strengthened by the financial and budgetary constraints being imposed at the board level due to the cost-cutting at all levels of the organization imposed by the economic uncertainties.

This whitepaper will explore the risks of waiting for Windows 8 and provide mitigation strategies that can be used to reduce the risks for organisations that intend to wait for the release of Windows 8.

“Can Wait” Attitude

The CXOs’ position of waiting is reflective of the estimated and general consensus of Windows 8 being potentially available before the end of 2012.

The problems with this approach are:

  • The vendor is not making any commitments whatsoever to making the product available before the end of 2012. The general consensus is a mere guess and waiting for a product which has no known release date is fraught with danger.
  • The industry consensus for a typical Windows 7 migration is 18 months. A release date of December 2012 may not give IT personnel sufficient time to implement and deploy Windows 8, if the assumption of an 18 month migration for a typical Windows 7 migration is extrapolated to a Windows 8 migration.
  • IT has a “justifiable” reservation for not implementing new Microsoft operating systems until the release of the first service pack.

 

Risks & Countermeasures

The identifiable risks and countermeasures are presented in the Table below:

You can download the rest of the whitepaper from here.

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Windows To Go: The Poll

Following my earlier blog discussing the potential use cases of the Windows To Go feature of Windows 8 which continues to generate a lot of emails, both in support and disagreement of the use cases I had mentioned, it is important feedbacks from the industry is gathered, hence the polls below:

Windows 8: To Go or Not To Go?

Windows To Go is a new feature in Windows 8 that allows you to run fully functional instances of Windows 8 directly from external USB drives. Although this is the first time this capability is being supported and available in Windows, it is not entirely a new capability of Operating Systems as some Linux distributions have had this feature for quite some time. However, what makes it interesting is Microsoft’s statement that says “Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview”.

Yes, it is a nice to have feature but can this be really categorized as an enterprise feature?  What are the potential use cases in enterprises? Will “consumers” benefit from this feature?

Some of the identifiable use cases are presented  below:

1. Application Testing (User Acceptance Testing): The testing of applications by end users in organisations is preferably done in environments isolated from the users’ day-to-day operating environment. This is mainly done to reduce the risk of interference with the users’ business operations especially when new modules, functions, patch and upgrades to applications are being introduced.

With the advent of virtual machines, the test environments can be rapidly provisioned in a matter of minutes. However, not all organizations have readily available virtual test environments. In cases where virtual test environments that can be readily provisioned are available, due to performance reasons, user dislike to having to initiate remote connections to the test environment etc., testing applications remotely may not be feasible.

There are also organizations that have dedicated physical machines in dedicated offices that can be used for testing, but there are times users cannot just go to a dedicated test room for application testing and the scheduling of appointments for test purposes, especially in places where there are a “finite” number of test machines may not be suitable for users.

With Windows To Go, the applications can be installed in the Windows instance running on the USB drive and taken to the user.

2. Temporary / Contractor Workers: Providing physical machines for some temporary / contractor workers may not be feasible in organizations. In addition, using the machines of workers who may be away from the office may not be acceptable, making the Windows To Go solution an effective one in such scenarios.

3. Bring Your Own Device / Bring Your Own Computer: With the rapid adoption and growth of  “BYOC / BYOD” in organizations which in its current state implies that organisations have to provide some form of Server Based Computing and variants in order to allow the “BYOC / BYOD” brigades access enterprise applications. With Windows To Go, the applications the “BYOC / BYOD” brigade need can be installed on the Windows instance running on the USB.

4. Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity: Windows To Go USBs can be rapidly provisioned during disasters for high priority employees, who have to continue working.

5. Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology: There will be tremendous benefit to using Windows To Go in cases where PoC / PoT are being undertaken, instead of having to provision physical machines for such purposes and then having to rebuild after the PoC / PoT.

6. Education: Schools may find it more cost-effective to give their students USBs with custom applications which they can use anytime, anywhere especially if the school is not willing to allow remote access.

7. Home User: Windows To Go is billed as an enterprise feature but “savvy” home users may find some use for the feature e.g. Parents providing customized Operating System environment for kids; secure online banking / shopping environment where all functions are locked down thereby reducing the attack surface etc.

Despite the potential use cases and safe guards to ensure a secure end-point with tools like Bit Locker, there are other challenges that have to be taken into consideration. Some of these challenges are:

1. Roaming: If the USB will be used in a roaming scenario, then applications that are hardware dependent or have licenses tied to hardware may not function.

2. Managing Offline Devices: One of the greatest bugbears of system administrators is managing mobile devices. Managing a device that will spend most of its life offline is makes managing mobile devices a breeze in the park. Organisations must have standards and policies in place that will ensure the manageability of these USB devices.

3. Licensing: Will licenses be incurred for creating a Windows To Go USB drive or will a license only apply at the point of use? Microsoft is yet to clarify her position on licensing!

Breaking through the strongholds of virtualizing Internet Explorer

Redmond seems to have tuned to the channels hosting the constant complaints by IT administrators who want to virtualise Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). The statement below culled from Microsoft’s website had always been an obstacle to the legitimate use of a virtualised version of Internet Explorer:

“Running multiple versions of Internet Explorer on a single instance of Windows is an unsupported solution.  Microsoft strongly discourages the usage of such solutions that repackage the executable components of Internet Explorer into a separate installation.  Executing multiple versions of Internet Explorer from such packages on a single instance of Windows will result in an unsupportable configuration by Microsoft Customer Support Services.”

Some application virtualisation products e.g. VMware ThinApp, Install Bridge etc. introduced the capability to virtualise Microsoft Internet Explorer but such usage did not comply with Microsoft’s licensing laws. The recommendation by Microsoft was to use a virtual machine type solution e.g. Terminal Services, Med-V, XP Mode in Windows 7 etc. but the infrastructure cost and overhead on endpoint devices in order to run such services did not make these solutions attractive.

The recent news by Microsoft that Windows 8 will include a Hyper-V Client with support for Internet Explorer virtualisation is indeed a step in the right direction. The Hyper-V Client will run pre-configured virtual machines hosting earlier versions of Internet Explorer with lightweight versions of the Windows OS.  As plausible as this sounds, there will still be an overhead on system resources. Apart from the Hyper-V Client in Windows 8, UniBrows by Browsium still seems to be the only product in the market place which does not contravene Microsoft’s EULA. However, UniBrows capability is making IE6 applications compatible with IE8 & IE9.

Microsoft needs to review the EULA for Internet Explorer in order to allow the virtualisation of IE.

Windows 8: A quick peep

Microsoft seems to have struck back at the competition with a vengeance with Windows 8. The preview of the product showed a sleek and cool UI. In fact the UI is as “cool”, if not “cooler”, than anything out there including Apple iOS (I own an iPad with iOS 4.3.1 and a MacBook Pro running MAC OS X 10.6.7). This article is a quick peep into the exciting features of the new OS:

1. Touch screen capability: The touch screen capability is as sleek as anything out there. The OS will also allow for the use of the mouse and the keyboard. Has anyone tried using the external (physical) keyboard with the iPad? Yes. it is  nightmare. I bought one for the iPad but abandoned it.

2. Tiles: This is the same as the UI in the Windows Phone 7.  With Tiles, each application is displayed on your home page (Start Page) showing the application “personality” i.e. basic information about the application.

3. Same OS, different form factors: The OS is capable of being deployed to different form factors i.e. tablets or slates, desktops, laptops and netbooks (if still alive in 2012). This is a bit worrying because previous desktop OS never seem to work well on low spec. machines. Anyway. Windows 8 seems to have been designed from the ground up, so Microsoft must be working hard on this to ensure the necessary support and compatibility.

4. Support for HTML 5 / JavaScript applications: This looks like the scripting language of choice for the Microsoft “Application Store”.

5. Application Store: Similar to the  commercially successful Apple “App Store”which is now also available on MacBook Pro.

6. Ergonomic Virtual Keyboard: In touch screen mode, the keyboard can be split into left hand and right hand views to make typing more enjoyable.

7. SNAP: You can use this to choose the size of or move  an application window.

8. IE10 (with a touch first user interface):IE10 is designed for a touch first interface but will also work with your mouse and keyboard.

9. Compatibility with existing applications e.g. Office 2010: Your existing Windows 7 applications will continue to function.

10. Inbuilt PDF reader (why did it take so long! Apple MAC has always had this feature):  Now system administrators do not have to include the Adobe Reader in their standard operating environment!

I can’t wait for the CTP release.

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