Some of the best things in life eventually wear out their usefulness. Just look at Windows XP. Come April 8, 2014, Microsoft will be pulling the plug on its all-time best-selling operating system. No more support. No more updates. See ya! Those who choose to stick with the legacy system after that fateful date will have some crucial decisions to make.
Managing a migration of an older operating system to a newer platform is a task IT managed service providers deal with from time to time. When that time comes, it’s one of those necessary evils that must be addressed in order to provide their clients with the best possible service. The older the system, the more it suffers from performance, security, and reliability issues.
Unfortunately, being a way of IT life doesn’t exactly make this task any easier to deal with. There are quite a few roadblocks to clear, including these four challenges.
1. Hardware Incompatibilities
I’m sure I’m not alone, but I like to draw parallels between computers and cars. You know – the computer is like the frame of the car, while the operating system is the engine that drives it. When replacing the engine on my 2001 Dodge Intrepid, I learned the hard and expensive way that even the smallest of hardware incompatibilities can cause big problems. For me, those incompatibilities were the driving factor behind my car never being the same again. Computer equipment can endure similar performance issues if caution isn’t exercised before migrating.
A new operating system like Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 will generally perform best on beefier hardware. You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a new server or desktop, but you may need some additional hardware components. For instance, all it may take to squeeze optimal performance out of the new system is a faster processor and memory upgrade. Of course it’s possible that your equipment is just too old to hack it, so one of the first things you want to do is go over the hardware requirements of the OS you’re trying to bump up to.
2. Software Incompatibilities
So you got your new operating system installed on your hardware with little to no problems. That’s awesome, but there is still no guarantee that all your other software will work. This common annoyance can balloon into a major problem when mission-critical applications your client needs to run fail to fire up. If that software is outdated, it may be time to purchase new licenses and get up to speed. If that isn’t an option, you could solve your compatibility woes by using virtualization. With a tool like VMware or Microsoft’s own Hyper-V, it’s possible to create a virtual machine that runs an OS that previously supported those existing apps on the same hardware running the new system.
3. Data Loss
You may be scrapping that dusty old operating system, but you darn sure aren’t getting ridding of the data connected to it. Your software can always be reinstalled, even if you have to perform a virtual workaround. But your data is one of a kind, so unique that you might as well call it irreplaceable. Technically, unless you’re performing a fresh install, an OS upgrade is supposed to keep your files and data intact. With that said, anything can happen during that process, which is why it pays to back up your data before moving forward with a migration.
There are plenty of methods, but since an MSP is typically working with much more than a handful of files, they tend to require a more advanced backup system. Image-based backup software is ideal for this scenario because it copies the contents of the entire hard drive. As a result, everything on that machine, data and settings included, can be restored on another machine should something go wrong during the migration process. Whether you store that data locally or in the cloud, this type of software will make sure it is protected.
4. Learning Curve
Back in the summer, I got a new laptop and made the monumental leap from Windows XP to Windows 8. I’m sure I would’ve caught on faster had I experienced Vista and then Windows 7 like normal people, yet here I am – nearly six months later and still trying to find my way around this unfamiliar environment. There is going to be a learning curve when migrating to any new software, but something as important as an operating system could impact everything from look and feel to the execution of everyday tasks. MSPs would be wise to keep client usage and their own expertise in mind so that curve is as easy to navigate as possible.
Migrating from one operating system to a newer version can be a chore for organizations and the managed service providers that support them. In order to overcome these challenges and deliver a successful transition, MSPs must have a clear understanding of the client’s needs and conduct a thorough evaluation of their IT resources.