Tick, Tock: Windows 7 Obsolescence

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Windows 7: How to Plan for Obsolescence

With auto-updates now at an end for Windows 7, critical systems are still often run on old OSs. Why is this? And how can CTOs create a roadmap that ensures they understand and have planned for the obsolescence of their tech?

With the end of Windows, 7 support businesses need to make some decisions about how they move forward. Enterprises can, of course, purchase the ESU (Extended Security Updates) which would extend the support to 2023. Still, planning for events including the retirement of general support for an OS should be a core component of each companies IT strategic planning.

Research from Aptum indicates over half (55%) of IT decision-makers admit that they struggle to keep up with the pace of technology. Nearly a third (28%) of IT leaders say they feel they can’t keep up with the increasing number of changes available to them. And 84% of respondents said they do not believe their organization is currently IT systems best suited to their needs.

Planning a secure evolution of operating systems is essential, but often not placed high enough on the corporate IT agenda. Says Professor Ilan Oshri, Graduate School of Management, University of Auckland: [https://unidirectory.auckland.ac.nz/profile/ilan-oshri]

“The Rimini Street research on the ‘State of Innovation Readiness’ confirmed the challenges faced by organizations stuck on legacy systems, which is why the highest number of respondents said they would look to extract more value from existing IT to finance IT innovation (60%) and pursue cloud services to reduce costs associated with ‘keeping the lights on’ (46%). The key is assessing the priorities for your business and deciding which applications should stay on current platforms and where it makes the most sense to innovate.”

Action must be taken if legacy systems are still in use with mission-critical components of a business’s IT infrastructure. Speaking to Silicon UK, Florian Malecki, International Sr. Director Product Marketing, StorageCraft said: “What organizations simply cannot afford to do though in their move to become more digital is to ignore the security risks. Even when using the latest technology, a business must ensure all data is adequately backed up so it can be restored quickly and easily should the worst happen.

Malecki concluded: “Ransomware attacks are an ongoing and increasing threat. They are most successful where companies are running out-of-date systems with unknown weaknesses. Businesses must make sure they work with either their partner or supplier to ensure that whatever technology they have in place is not allowed to become vulnerable to attack and that a backup solution is in place.”

It can be challenging for CTOs to see the wood for the trees when assessing the multitude of systems; they have running in parallel. As the systems have proliferated, maintaining control of what is often IT sprawl, has become firefighting and not strategic management.

Handling the transition from Windows 7 should be taken in small steps. Each step should move each legacy system to Windows 10, where this is appropriate. If a well-defined roadmap is followed, all legacy systems can be successfully migrated.

Living with legacy

For many businesses, critical systems are still running on Windows 7. An option is to run Windows 7 with a remote desktop via an Azure installation. Front-end users will see Windows 10, but your legacy applications can still run. This is a short-term solution. If application compatibility is your top priority, Microsoft’s Desktop App Assure is an excellent aid all CTOs can use as they migrate to Windows 10.

“Technical debt should be actively managed, and there are a lot of factors that need to be considered including the stability of the system, the level of support, the need for functional change to meet user needs and the availability of the right technical skills,” Robert Kingston, UK CTO, Capgemini told Silicon UK.

“The cost, effort and potential disruption to businesses associated with upgrading some old complex systems can be challenging to justify, and many organizations are choosing a ‘sunset’ approach and incrementally moving functionality from their older systems to more modern platforms or SaaS-based services.”

CTOs need to take a holistic approach to the applications they are running and the operating systems they rely upon. Ricoh’s John Chambers concluded: “Some businesses feel forced to remain using legacy applications to run their businesses, as their software providers haven’t made their applications compatible with new operating systems. We would usually advise these organizations to look at solutions such as application packaging and containerization, which assists businesses in mitigating these risks while safeguarding their operations. At the same time, they look for a more long-term option.”

Professor Ilan Oshri also advised: “Redesigning the value chain to accommodate the changes needed in the firm’s operational and strategic model to benefit from the value new technologies may bring. This goes beyond the financial exercise of computing budget allocation to various departments and requires the firm to align its strategic service and product roadmap with information about the value of emerging technologies and business solutions. There must be a careful and realistic analysis of the benefits that IT innovation would deliver to the firm vis-à-vis its strategic roadmap.”

Taking action

Speaking to Silicon UK, Jacob Chew, Microsoft Product and Licensing Specialist, Softcat, outlined a six-step process to manage legacy systems and their transition to the latest OS.

1: What does the end of Windows 7 mean for current business users?

From a performance perspective, users may not notice any immediate changes in their Windows 7 OS, as it will still run just the same as it always has.

However, without regular software patches, they may come up against faults or bugs that would otherwise have been fixed. Equally, they may find modern applications (Office 365 ProPlus being an example) suddenly become unsupported on Windows 7.

The biggest problem will be around security. A user’s risk of being targeted and experiencing a cyberattack will increase as Microsoft will no longer be issuing security updates. This means criminals will have more time to find faults and vulnerabilities in the OS and greater success at exploiting these through malware or ransomware.

2: What should businesses do next if they still use Windows 7?

The sensible thing to do would be to upgrade to Windows 10 as soon as possible. You can upgrade your current licence, but you need to ensure your devices are compatible with the new operating system, if not, you may need to upgrade your devices too.

You’ll get all the security protections plus new features like Cortana virtual assistant on desktop, 4K picture quality, sleek-looking apps and an emoji keyboard if you so desire.

As a last resort, if you aren’t ready to switch, you can purchase an extended security updates pack which will give you a further year of Windows 7 security updates.

3: How can businesses ensure a clean switchover to Microsoft 10 or another OS?

Contact a specialist or a business who have experience in helping move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. A device refresh would be the easiest way to migrate away from Windows 7, but this isn’t always achievable. It’s essential to make sure this is done correctly from the start, especially given there are lots of things to be considered, and so experienced guidance should be sought out.

Windows 10 can be deployed, managed and secured using the same toolsets as previous versions of Windows. However, you may require upgrades and updates to make them Windows 10 compatible. This approach to delivering compute, applications and services are defined as ‘Classic IT’.

Windows 10 can also be provisioned, managed and secured using a ‘Modern IT’ approach. Modern IT changes how you deliver and secure corporate applications and data to your end-users. This grants cost-saving and agility benefits above the Classic IT approach. To adopt this Modern IT approach, you may need to invest in additional toolsets or look to an IT support service provider who can support this transformation and provide you with all the information you need for a smooth transition.

4: How can you purchase Windows 10?

When it comes to purchasing licenses for Microsoft’s modern desktop operating system, there’s a wide choice offering flexibility.

The first major decision that you must make is which edition of the product is most suitable for your needs.

Windows Professional offers a business-class OS with features including Windows Hello; Bitlocker encryption; Defender anti-virus and Application Guard. This product is always bought on a perpetual, per-device basis and involves upfront CapEx payment.

Windows Enterprise provides advanced management and security features, including credential guard, start screen control and application control. This product is usually obtained with software assurance (which provides new version rights and virtualization benefits) and is bought on a perpetual device basis.

5: How can you get your employees on board with Windows 10?

You might be ready for Windows 10, but are all your people? Even if your colleagues are using Windows 10 at home, this migration is an excellent opportunity to upskill your users and help them to be more productive using the new operating system.

Some of the standard functions have changed, and people must be getting the best out of the new system by using these functions confidently.

The two main approaches to providing employees with Windows 10 training are the development and use of self-paced learning guides and videos and giving the training which can be scaled by delivering short lessons online using Skype for Business, MS Teams or other web conferencing applications.

6: How can Device-as-a-Service help with the move to Windows 10?

Device-as-a-Service (DaaS) has played a significant role in the move to Windows 10, offering
organizations the ability to mitigate the capital expenditure of hardware upgrade and streamlining device leasing agreements into one. It also provides a strategic set of service options to reduce the ongoing management overhead, while also allowing you to review the efficiency of your devices.

All businesses are transforming how they use technology. If your organization has legacy systems based upon Windows 7, now is the time for an overhaul of your systems.

Smart migration means taking an integrated approach to assess where the main issues are located and which systems and users will be most impacted by the migration to Windows 10. With this information in-hand, a transition roadmap can be created. The attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has no place in today’s managed IT landscape.

Silicon in Focus

Oliver Pinson-Roxburgh, Co-founder, Bulletproof.

Oliver Pinson-Roxburgh, Co-founder, Bulletproof.
Oliver Pinson-Roxburgh, Co-founder, Bulletproof.

With auto support for Windows 7 ending and, Microsoft switching off Windows Server 2008, is your sense that businesses are panicking, or reticent about the impending change?

“Environments with legacy hardware, or software that only runs on Windows 7, are the most at risk as an upgrade is not as simple as buying a licence. It often means they have to spend tens of thousands to replace expensive hardware. In some cases, large estates will have a huge number of systems that will need new equipment or upgrades to run.

“Windows 10 needs a decent amount of memory and fast hard disks, so even some more modern laptops might need a hardware upgrade before they can move to the latest Operating System – if businesses have bought lower-spec hardware.

“This is also the reason why ATM’s and highly distributed hardware is not upgraded to the latest software; as to run it, you need new hardware that would be cost-prohibitive. From a security perspective, you have to make the decision whether you can accept the risk (not advised) or implement compensating controls – often equally as expensive as upgrading the hardware.

“Windows 2008 systems will often run critical systems in a business, which means getting those systems upgraded is not a case of just one day doing an upgrade. The software needs testing, and people need training, all before it can be upgraded.”

Why are businesses in some cases, still running critical systems with antiquated technology?

“A range of issues; some driven by hardware that is not supported on new Operating Systems, and others not having the budget to upgrade a large estate of equipment. We also know from our penetration testing data that 50% of the risks we saw in 2019 are due to outdated, unpatched or unsupported components. Patching is often something that is skipped to be done at a better time or planned for an out of hours exercise, and often due to the lack of resources never gets done. The other issue, as discussed above, is due to software limiting the OS from being updated. It often also relies on employees doing over time or out of hours work which has its challenges.”

As the business technology landscape has expanded, has this paralyzed some businesses to the point they are afraid to invest for fear of buying the wrong technology?

“In my experience, no. However, I have seen many organizations who have hardware and software collecting dust as they either couldn’t get it deployed, have not had the chance to deploy it or simply are not getting the value they had expected and now it adds no value. The fear of losing budget is an issue, so for some organizations spending money, so they do not lose it is pretty typical. I have also spoken to many businesses that have been breached, and it’s not uncommon for them to have lost confidence in their security solutions – in part because they were breached even though they have the latest security tools.”

Is outdated IT killing the digital transformation of many businesses?

“It has to be factored in that not every environment can or should be migrated. A transformation means you need not just to lift and shift systems but design a new platform specifically for the cloud, allowing the business to benefit fully from the migration and features of the cloud. One of which is to make upgrades easier. Many organizations are approaching their transformation by taking a hybrid approach. However, this introduces its own challenges.”

How can businesses avoid becoming prisoners of their legacy systems?

“Modern approaches allow organizations to upgrade more easily using techniques like Phoenix. For upgrades where systems are by design ephemeral, these new concepts mean that businesses should not expect any downtime when migrating services or updating their software or Operating Systems.

Organizations should plan to be able to upgrade at any time, even during busy periods of the day, having confidence and resilience in their platform. Legacy systems don’t really allow for this in an easy way. However, some cloud technologies will enable you to make use of your old tin in a more modern way.”