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Survey Suggests IT Pros Slow To React on Windows XP Migrations

IT pros may have been caught flat footed when it came to migrating client machines off Windows XP, according to an industry survey.

That's one possible conclusion that could be drawn from a survey conducted by Adaptiva in May, during Microsoft's TechEd North America event. The findings were published today.

Adaptiva is a Bellevue, Wash.-based Microsoft partner that provides System Center Configuration Manager add-ins for large-scale IT operations, including OS patching and migrations, so it had an interest in the survey results. The survey, which included more than 100 TechEd attendees, was a small one, but it found that 53 percent of the respondents were running some Windows XP back in May, and only 25 percent thought that doing so was a security concern.

"I was surprised that, of the most well connected of all computer people, 53 percent of them still were under some sort of rock," commented Deepak Kumar, Adaptiva's founder and chief technology officer, in a Tuesday phone talk. Prior to founding Adaptiva, Kumar was one of the designers of Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager product.

It was also surprising to Kumar that 17 percent of the respondents said that they were moving to Windows 8 or to an environment with both Windows 7 and Windows 8, as that estimate seemed higher than in other surveys.

Microsoft ended support for Windows XP on April 8, noting that the OS was unsupported and potentially insecure to use, a message it had been broadcasting for years. Nonetheless, Windows XP continues to be used to this day. It was the No. 2 operating system in June analyses by StatCounter and Net Applications. Those analyses are based on general Web traffic, so it likely does not reflect pure corporate use rates of Windows XP. Gartner Inc. estimated back in April that about a third of enterprises had "more than 10 percent of their systems remaining on XP."

Obstacles to moving off Windows XP, according to Adaptiva's survey, included application compatibility issues (29 percent), time considerations (15 percent), cost (4 percent) and user training (2 percent). Challenges included "getting the task sequence right" (31 percent), the deployment of Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) servers in remote locations (28 percent), wide area network (WAN) bandwidth issues (27 percent) and remote storage issues (19 percent).

Of those issues, Kumar said that application compatibility was an expected dilemma.

"It's pretty normal for a complex organization and company -- financial and manufacturing -- to have up to 5,000 of these applications," he said. "So that, of course, is the first challenge. The second challenge is it takes too long. And then the third was technology challenges…. They were roughly divided between deploying PXE and … WAN bandwidth."

PXE is a protocol that allows a client machine to boot off a network image, "so PXE is the technology used for kicking off a migration," Kumar explained. Client machines typically will have PXE 2.1 on them. The problem for IT pros is more on the server side when attempting a large OS migration.

"The problem is the server side infrastructure," Kumar said. "It requires a server at every location and a lot of network configuration changes are required. So, deploying PXE services across an entire global network is a very time-consuming, fragile and expensive operation."

Adaptiva had one customer claim that it would take five years to deploy PXE across their 30,000 locations because of the network configuration changes involved, Kumar said. He added that Adaptiva's OneSite product is designed to address such large migration issues. It uses a peer-to-peer PXE delivery method that doesn't require any server infrastructure or router configuration changes.

Kumar also said he was surprised by the survey's finding that 81 percent of respondents did not consider cloud services to have an impact on upgrades, patch management or OS migrations. Adaptiva's technology provides "cloud-like approaches" that makes it less expensive to use bandwidth in far-flung locations for such IT operations, he claimed.

Adaptiva's survey was skewed toward users of Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager products. About 66 percent were using SCCM 2012.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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