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Migrating to a new desktop operating system

On 29 July 2015 Microsoft released the new Windows 10 as an evolution of Windows 8 and – as this always happens when a new operating system (OS) is launched – many begin to wonder whether to switch to the new OS or not.

Windows 10 is being released by Microsoft for the first time as a free upgrade for one year from the date of launch on all computers running Windows 7 or Windows 8. It is estimated that Window 10 will be downloaded on about 70 per cent of the active computers in the world… a potential migration of enormous proportions.

Migrating to a new OS is not without risk. At the corporate level the decision should be subject to the analysis of different factors in order to avoid turning the systems update into a systems downtime and/or data loss. And a possible nightmare…

The opportunities of a migration process

The operating system is the basis for the functioning of a computer and applications and device drivers rely on it. Switching to a newer version of an OS should bring benefits in terms of:

  • performance
  • security
  • stability
  • productivity (usability of the user interface and new/better features)

Ok… regarding the last point, it may not always be so. The recent history of Windows 8 showed how changes in the GUI may take longer than expected to be appreciated by users since it involves changes in the usage patterns established over years. However, often it is just an adaptation time, a sort of “learning curve” for the new interface.

What to consider before an OS migration

Before migrating to the new operating system the IT department should consider several elements, including the most important ones:

Compatibility of new OS with existing hardware

It includes not only OS compatibility with the desktop and laptop computers (for example if the PCs meet at least the minimum requirements to run the new OS smoothly) but also the compatibility with peripherals such as printers, external drives and other devices. The objective is to avoid the PCs successfully migrated but no more able to interface with the devices used every day, for example due to the lack of drivers for the new OS. Some manufacturers may also decide not to develop drivers for old devices, in this case the company would have to evaluate a possible hardware replacement. Often, prior the release of a new OS the manufacturer offer specific utilities to check the compatibility of existing hardware and the so-called compatibility list, such as Microsoft Compatibility Centre

Compatibility of new OS with existing software applications

Another level of compatibility to be verified is about software applications. Assume that the software applications currently in use will be fully functional with the new operating system could be very risky. What happens if, at the end of the migration, a company realizes that the CRM or ERP system is not compatible with the new OS? Once again the compatibility list can help! If the company uses proprietary software or software not included in the compatibility list you will need to test it before.

Systems and data security

Knowing how long the operating system currently in use will be supported by the manufacturer is another element to consider in deciding a migration. The support is usually not for an unlimited time. If the manufacturer has announced the end of support on a certain OS – which means no technical support, no release of updates, no security patches – probably then it’s time to migrate. Working in an environment that is being discontinued is not recommended in terms of systems security and to ensure your data the maximum protection.

Costs of migration

The costs of migration is not only represented by the cost of software licences for the OS (the cost of licences in some cases could be very low and negligible) but also includes the costs of replacing incompatible hardware and to purchase new licences for the software applications that do not work on the new OS. Finally, in the absence of internal expertise, you may need the use external IT support for migration and pay for it.

Tips to reduce the risk of failure and data loss

The factors identified above are a starting point for a successful OS desktop migration, but you can do more. Migrating to a new operating system is never risk-free for your systems and data. A survey conducted  few years ago by VMware on the desktop migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 showed that only in eight per cent of the cases the process ended without problems, 49 per cent of companies experienced user downtime and 27 per cent reported data loss cases!

Here are some additional tips to be adopted:

Test environment

A test environment is a simulation of the production environment but without risks. If something goes wrong, the damage will not affect data. It’s a good idea to build a test environment and test the migration process, install the drivers and software applications to test that everything is working properly. Also updates and patches should first be deployed in a test environment and then applied to the production environment.

Migrate… but not immediately

It may not be a good idea to deploy immediately a new OS but to wait for some months. A new version usually brings missing drivers or not yet optimised and also some new bugs. Wait for some time and your company will be able to access compatible and stable drivers, to install patches for bugs discovered after the launch and to upgrade to applications software fully compatible. Moreover, on the Internet you will be able to find a new forum dedicated to the new OS and therefore it will be easier to seek and obtain support even from the online community.

Backup

Before starting the migration process it is essential to run a backup of all computers. The backup should not only include data files but also the entire system through a complete image.

Use appropriate tools for the deployment

The risk of data loss or that something is not working properly in a migration process can be further mitigated by using ad-hoc deployment tools. IT administrators can use tool that can backup data and settings, but also to manage the entire migration process in a centralised console.

Now we’ve seen the approach to take with regard to an OS migration, the opportunities and the risks … raise your hand if you cannot wait to install the new Windows 10 or any new version of your preferred operating system!

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