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Windows XP Migration: The Next Y2K Crisis for IT Pros?

As the clock continues to tick for Microsoft's Windows XP, Microsoft and others are doing everything they can to motivate reluctant users to migrate off the aging operating system. Suffice to say, it remains an arduous process. In a token effort to remind people of the OS's limited life, Microsoft last week said it's holding a virtual retirement party for Windows XP, which it will officially stop supporting April 8 of next year.

Could that day be the closest thing we've had to the Year 2000 (Y2K) crisis scare -- when any computer not properly updated would be rendered inoperable? And with some of the legacy systems out there that led everyone to wonder if there would be dial tone or running water. Certainly those at Microsoft looking to get people off Windows XP might want people to give it that same sense of urgency.

For those who haven't been paying attention, Microsoft will no longer issue system or security patches for Windows XP after that date. That means continuing to run systems with Windows XP can make them a sponge for malware, viruses and other problems.  The so-called retirement party comes in the form of an information graphic Microsoft published with snippets outlining why users should get off Windows XP. But it was really just Microsoft's latest gimmick to draw attention to the issue.

Nevertheless it's not a trivial problem. Larger organizations know what they have to do and if they don't want to do it themselves they'll hire outside partners to help with migration of apps and configuration of the new systems.

Smaller businesses and branch offices of larger enterprises often are the guiltiest of those still saddled with PCs still running Windows XP. Some may beg to differ with the term "guiltiest." I have heard from quite a few stalwarts who will go to the grave with their Windows XP systems and are quite angry at Microsoft for pulling the plug on it. But from everything I'm hearing April 8 is the real deal. No one expects Microsoft to give Windows XP another stay of execution.

There are many who appreciate that sense of urgency and intend to upgrade as the date comes closer, though it's expected many upgrades will happen after April 8 as well. Many shops will ultimately break down and make the move. Those who choose to do it themselves can use some of the tips adeptly outlined by Redmond magazine's online news editor, Kurt Mackie, back in April. But many liken the task to mowing their own lawn or painting their house. Sure they could do it but they'd rather pay someone else a few bucks and not have that burden to deal with it.

For decision makers who feel that way about moving their PCs to a new operating system, there are plenty of third-party options, though some might be costly. In a move to offer an inexpensive approach for smaller organizations looking to make the upgrade, Harry Brelsford, founder of SMB Nation on Thursday August 1 is launching a new service called XPmigrations.com.

Brelsford has run SMB Nation for over a decade in Bainbridge Island, Wash. and is a fixture in Redmond. While Microsoft won't be promoting XPmigrations.com, officials there are well-aware of the effort, Harry told me. And XPmigrations.com will use Microsoft Community Connections to help introduce consultants to appropriate business and civic groups.

Here's how XPmigrations.com works: Any qualified Windows consultant can register at the XPmigrations.com site to apply to become a migration expert. SMB Nation itself has a network of 40,000 SMB IT Pros and Harry explained to me that the goal is to have migration experts available nationwide. The experts will help customers choose how to handle a migration including choosing the right PC for their needs and then moving data over and getting each desktop or mobile system configured and connected to the network. The cost to upgrade each PC is $200.

Breldsford calls it a co-op and XPmigrations.com will operate like a temporary employment agency, which he ran in another lifetime. In effect, XPmigrations.com will sort of function like an online labor pool or marketplace of Windows XP migration experts, he explained. XPmigratiions.com performs background checks on prospective consultants, equips them with a migration assessment tool kit and trains them to become a Certified Migration Expert (CME). "We liken the need to migrate off Windows XP as the equivalent of a Year 2000 issue," Brelsford told me.

While the number and scale of systems that may be affected if organizations didn't update the proper systems may not measure up to a Y2K crisis, the number of systems running Windows XP is significant. An astounding 41 percent of Redmond magazine readers still have Windows XP-based systems within their organizations, according to the Redmond 2013 Readership Survey. Another interesting figure shows only 18 percent have absolutely no Windows XP-based systems (meaning 82 percent have such PCs) compared with 3 percent who say they don't have any Windows 7-based systems.

On the other hand, only 23 percent report that more than half of their systems are Windows XP-based. Yet less than half -- 45 percent -- say they plan to migrate off of those systems by the end of the year, with another 24 percent planning to do so but haven't established a timeframe.

But we all know what's going to happen. Most are going to wait until the last minute and beyond. And then there are the diehards.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/01/2013 at 1:15 PM


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