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Facing up to the software migration challenge

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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The end of Microsoft’s support for Windows XP is looming. At the time of writing, the April 2014 deadline is less than six months away.

CIOs and their teams simply aren’t prepared, according to a recent survey conducted by market analyst firm IDC, on behalf of Flexera Software. The researchers spoke to 750 respondents worldwide about their approaches to managing the software license lifecycle and found that they are losing the battle to stay up to date with software releases and maintenance requirements.

For example, the survey finds that 28 percent of respondents still need to migrate more than half of their application estates to Windows 7. Fewer than 4 percent of respondents, meanwhile, have plans to upgrade directly to Windows 8.

Time is slipping away, fast - and the biggest danger is that companies will continue to underestimate the practical challenges involved in the migration. In other words, it’s about far more than swapping one piece of software for another.

Even back in June 2013, Hardeep Singh Garewal, president of european operations at systems integration specialist ITC Infotech, was warning companies about this problem.

“The move is more of a transformation than a migration, because the look and feel of the Graphical User Interface [GUI], the operating system behaviour and the architecture of Windows 7 & 8 are completely different,” he said.

“The shift, therefore, calls for two critical elements to be addressed,” he added. The first is the adequacy of the target hardware environment. The second is the compatibility of existing applications and remediating any conflicts.

“We have seen many production estates still sitting on platforms that are older than five years. A prerequisite would be to have all hardware platforms Windows 7- and 8-ready, and the rationalised set of applications, fully remediated and tested in a Window 7 & 8 production environment.”

At AppSense, meanwhile, EMEA director of product marketing Gareth Kitson has further advice to offer. “Perhaps the biggest challenge in migrating existing users from XP to Windows 7 is what to do with user profile data and associated desktop set-up scripts,” he says.

It’s unlikely, he adds, that any personalisation that the user has performed on their existing desktop will be compatible with a new operating system. “This will result in all upgraded employees having to start from scratch to get their desktop back to how they are used to working - never a quick task - which will result in loss of productivity and higher-than-usual demand on IT support, at a time when IT will be busier than usual.”

Prioritisation is the way forward, he says. That applies to applications (after all, some apps aren’t used very often and are less critical, so can be migrated later) as well as to people (some business units or user classes may need to migrate more urgently than others). It’s only be planning ahead, says Kitson, that organisations can avoid disruption - or, in extreme cases, outright panic.