Windows 10, 8.1 or 7? You’re asking the wrong question

What’s in a number? While Windows 10 is garnering the headlines, the fact remains that choosing which version of Windows to move to is the relatively easy bit.

The pain points are less to do with switching operating systems, and more about the difficulties of migrating business-critical proprietary applications onto the destination Windows OS. The challenges remain the same whether the move is from Windows XP to Windows 7, 8.1 or 10.

By mid-2016, once Microsoft has added more enterprise bells and whistles, we expect to see Windows 10 migration really start to pick up. For those wanting to move sooner, Windows 7 or 8.1 – or a mixture of the two, the former for office-based staff and the latter for touchscreen-carrying field workers – are both viable options.

But the choice of OS is not really the biggest decision

For enterprises looking to move large estates over from XP, for example, the decision they should really be mulling over is: “What’s the best way to manage application migration from one Microsoft OS to another?”

Application stacks are much more complex than they were during the last great OS migration around 10 years ago. And we are now learning lessons about migrating to Windows 10. Handling the migration of thousands of applications can be laborious and if things go wrong, employee productivity can be seriously impacted and migration costs can easily escalate.

The main challenges for the IT team stem from the need to migrate infrastructure and applications in a short timescale, while continuing to support business services and adhering to SLAs.

Most applications are not deployed straight out of the box without a degree of customisation. This adds an extra layer of complexity to any application migration project: figuring out how the application has been customised and why can be problematic.

Once a clearer picture of the application inventory is available, work can begin to simplify the environment. A little like clearing out old clothes from a bulging wardrobe, applications can be rationalised by removing duplicates and eliminating ones that are no longer needed.

On completion of the planning phase and the groundwork preparation, the process of packaging, remediating and virtualising applications can take place using industry-standard toolsets. An application audit that records where each application resides is a good housekeeping tool, helping organisations to easily manage their software lifecycle going forward.

A significant application cull is often possible. This delivers bonus savings in ongoing licensing and maintenance fees.

An operating system migration and application repackaging presents an opportunity to consider moving applications to the cloud. If you are in an environment with rapidly changing business needs this is often the catalyst for moving to cloud delivered applications and services. No longer the preserve of bleeding-edge organisations or small business users, there is now a growing appetite to migrate even core business services to the cloud, resulting in a more dynamic environment.

Additionally Windows 10 functionality leveraging SCCM allows the curation of an “Enterprise App Store” allowing organisations the flexibility and control of applications to make the installation and management of the application stack far simpler.

From a longevity perspective, Windows 10 is the clear winner out of the Windows OS alternatives. And Gartner’s stated view that Windows 10 is superior to Windows 8.1 in key areas such as security, management and user experience only serves to reinforce the coming of age of Microsoft’s latest OS.

Another important aspect to consider when reviewing an OS swap is usability. Windows 10 will provide much similarity with the current Windows 7 and traditional XP interfaces - with enough o f a sprinkling of Windows 8 to be useful but not annoying. Add to that the additional 5 1/2 years of extended support beyond Windows 7 and the justification for migration is right there.

But that’s only half of the story

Windows migrations are typically ‘big bang’ affairs, resulting in poorly managed systems and significant cost to bring the whole estate up to scratch. Add to that the complexity of rolling in a hardware refresh, particularly in the fast-moving, damage-prone area of laptops and tablets and you get a high cost, large impact event that frankly nobody has the appetite to even contemplate for the next ten years.

Why work on that basis?

Just because we’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way. Currency of systems and avoidance of “technology debt” is the new approach to whole systems management, rolling in new and updated systems as a part of the day-to-day running of IT shrinks the event to a mop-up of unmigrated systems (tied in to their hardware refresh cycle).

Add to that a move to alternatively delivered applications and the circle is complete.

Damian Dwyer, Practice Director, End User Computing, ECS