The great Windows XP migration: What has IT learned?

Way back in 2001, corporations across the globe were faced with the task of switching their entire IT infrastructures from Windows NT to the newly launched, and much anticipated, Windows XP operating system. For the majority of these organisations, the biggest single problem behind this switchover was the process of application migration – ensuring that all apps, tools and bespoke software packages were transferred seamlessly onto the new OS. When it came to the original XP migration, such preparation was virtually non-existent – the application readiness simply wasn't there.

Following the difficulties of this migration, it should come as no surprise that so many corporations have chosen to procrastinate over the inevitable move to Windows 7. In fact, many have found themselves clinging onto the long out-dated XP operating system a whole 12 years after its original release. Sadly, with updates and support ending this April, staying with XP is no longer an option.

As increasing numbers of organisations start switching to Windows 7, it is worth looking back at the XP migration and asking what we as IT professionals have learnt from this change, and how we can better prepare ourselves for the next big switchover.

There is no quick fix

Despite a sharp learning curve throughout the NT to XP transition, the switch to Windows 7 has gone to prove that the vast majority of organisations remained largely unprepared when it came to their application portfolio management. The bloat of disorganised apps floating around on XP was far larger than anyone had ever imagined. The implications of this application chaos stretched far beyond that of just bad practice, they were also providing a tangible drain on these organisations' resources.

The mistake many organisations made was to assume that once a migration was complete, it required no further management and could remain unchecked until the next big switchover. Having transferred their apps from NT to XP, IT professionals failed to organise their portfolios and effectively police their companies' application policies.

In future, having learnt from the XP switchover, organisations must treat their migrations as part of a broader long-term strategy of application management. Only then can they hope to avoid the issues faced by XP and extend the benefits of rationalisation beyond the initial migration process.

More devices mean more issues (for now)

The XP switchover represented the very first app migration to be scattered across such a wide multitude of different devices. While the changeover from NT simply meant organising software across the desktop, XP saw unmanaged applications spread across mobiles, laptops, tablets and desktops, not to mention virtual app stores and cloud-based data systems. With each of these new devices came a host of unseen issues that the application migration needed to address, from different software versions to unauthorised app installations.

In addition to these issues, organisations were also faced with the problems of BYOD. As growing numbers of employees have started to provide their own devices, the ability to centrally manage an application portfolio has become increasingly difficult. As the variety of consumer devices and platforms continues to diversify we have to start to call into question what we understand as the traditional 'IT infrastructure'.

While this diversification has complicated the XP switchover, as operating systems evolve future migrations may prove a much simpler process. It is hard to picture an environment where apps are totally 'sandboxed', in the sense that they can be seamlessly moved from OS to OS, (with the so-called effect of simply 'moving the operating systems around underneath the apps'). However, what is likely is that Microsoft will take account of the complexity of moving apps between different OSes, and will somehow make this easier in future versions of Windows.

Users will always get what they want

It doesn't matter how hard IT departments try to stop them, users will do everything in their power to get what they want, when they want it, and in a way that is appropriate to them. If an employee prefers a free software package to a company's recommended application, in nine out of 10 cases they will find a way to use it.

By attempting to block these unauthorised apps through strict installation policies, many organisations will simply find themselves frustrating their employees and reducing productivity. Rather than attempting to gain complete control over an organisation's app portfolio, IT should instead work to develop a two-way dialogue with employees. Through this dialogue, concessions can be made on both sides, helping to ensure that certain vital apps remain in use without the possibility of application chaos that developed amongst XP users.

This option is now more feasible than ever, as a result of numerous application monitoring and OS analytics tools. By utilising these tools, application managers can carefully track the state of their organisations' portfolios. This provides the opportunity to offer additional leeway to end users, while still maintaining a tight hold on the overall app estate.

App migration is as well-known as it's ever been

With so much publicity surrounding the end of XP, application migration has become an increasingly hot topic within the IT and business communities. While there is still a large group of organisations that have not yet started their migration to Windows 7, the vast majority have taken the move far more seriously than any previous switchover. While many do not possess the skills to undertake the move on their own, most organisations are at least aware of the issue and its vital significance to the future of their IT systems.

Where to now?

It is this raised awareness that will prove critical in future application migrations. As the timespan between new OS launches continues to decrease – in the future organisations will simply not be able to devote the time or resources previously required throughout the XP switchover.

It is only by learning from the lessons of the XP migration that organisations can hope to be ready for the increasingly diverse, fast-paced future of application management. Without on-going management and a carefully planned strategy, future organisations will forever be doomed to repeat the migration woes of previous operating systems.

Adrian Foxall is the CEO of Camwood.