Migration strategies for ditching Windows XP

As is widely known by now, the venerable Windows XP operating system (OS) ceased to be supported by Microsoft as of April 8, 2014. The longest supported OS from Microsoft, Windows XP had an amazing run of 12 years and five months, more than the previous record of 11 years and five months that is held by Windows NT. Obviously, the cessation of support and associated security updates means that machines still running on Windows XP are now a security liability. Even for enterprises that have entered into an agreement for custom support with Microsoft, it is worth mentioning that the exorbitant fees only cover the most serious flaws that have been flagged as “critical”. With this in mind, it hence makes sense for businesses to migrate to a supported version of Windows that is protected from security threats. Before making the move, businesses need to be aware of two distinct usage scenarios that may affect how a migration is performed. In my experience, the most common scenario would be desktop machines that may still be running on Windows XP. Beyond that, a Windows XP machine could be utilized to host background services or apps that perform work on a batch basis. I address each scenario separately below. End-user Desktops Most organizations would probably find themselves replacing ageing Windows XP PCs with newer hardware that either runs on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. The steps are relatively straightforward, and typically looks like the following.

  • Migrate data from old PC to new PC
  • Test custom apps on new PC environment
  • Setup new apps such as Outlook on new PC

Official resources such as the Windows XP to Windows 8 Migration Guide by Microsoft outlines the specifics in great detail. The move could be performed by the IT department, or by contracting external vendors for the migration work. Regardless, it makes sense not to immediately discard or recycle the old PCs, but make use of a phased approach by leaving the decommissioned machine in place for at least a month. Following that, the hard disk drive can be removed and stowed away for a lengthier period of time prior to being data wiped and destroyed. Services running on Windows XP Experienced IT professionals will be familiar with the inevitable accumulation of background services and apps that are required to facilitate various business processes. This could be for the purpose of piping data between proprietary services, or as an interface with legacy systems. Migrating such systems from Windows XP can be more complex, and mandates a minimum level of testing to ensure that everything works well. In scenarios where the legacy apps simply refuses to function properly outside Windows XP, there are ways by which businesses can continue to use it:

  • Image Windows XP machine into a virtual machine (VM) and host it within a protected enclave where network connectivity is carefully filtered and monitored.
  • Place the physical machine behind a firewall and lockdown client services such as the Web browser, email clients and document readers.

These two steps should offer a modicum of protection against malware or hacking attempts, though a clean migration to a supported version of Windows such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is still the safest option. This post is brought to you by HP.

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