Note: This article originally appeared on MSP Mentor.
Maybe you haven’t thought about it much or maybe you’re dreading it already. In any case, Microsoft plans to end-of-life extended support for Windows XP starting April, 2014, which means you will definitely want to upgrade or migrate clients still using XP.
Understanding the need to upgrade
You might be a bit behind if you haven’t started upgrading clients yet. Statistics I gathered from a study conducted by IDC and Flexera Software show that 52.1 percent have already migrated 75 to 100 percent of their applications over to Windows 7, which means most people are already most of the way finished. That’s not to say that upgrading isn’t still an issue, because it still is for some. At any rate, if you or your clients are in the minority that hasn’t started upgrading at all, you’re running out of time, and if you’ve only upgraded clients partially, it’s time to get it done.
There’s a problem here. Some of your clients probably don’t think they need an upgrade or maybe they just don’t want to pay for it. XP was a great OS, so why should they move? Well, they might think you can still support them, and you can certainly read through forum posts and old knowledge base articles to determine the causes of a wide array of problems, but the issues won’t come from the OS itself, they’ll come from hackers.
According to PCWorld, Microsoft warned of a number of risks of not upgrading to a supported OS, saying those who keep WinXP could face a zero-day-forever scenario in which their systems would be constantly at risk. Usually when hackers attack a newly discovered vulnerability (a zero-day), Microsoft investigates, finds a patch, and releases it to users. Once Microsoft halts support, there will be no more patches, and therefore no more security resolutions. Hackers are also reportedly saving up their zero-day XP attacks to unleash them once Microsoft ends support, bombarding whatever XP machines are left. The likelihood of being attacked is pretty great when any number of these zero-day vulnerabilities are exploited all at once. You don’t want your clients running XP when that happens. The cost they pay to switch to new systems is nothing compared to what could happen if the wrong person finds a way into their systems.
Hopefully you’re convinced that current clients need to move off of XP, and hopefully your clients can understand the need as well, but now you’ve got to decide how to migrate or what sort of tools you should use to do so. You’re in luck, though, because one of the seldom-mentioned features of StorageCraft ShadowProtect is its use for migrations and upgrades. Not only that, but we’ve got a flavor of ShadowProtect specifically designed and priced to fill the need brought on by migration projects like these. Before we talk about that, there are a few things to consider before you upgrade.
Planning the upgrade
Before you do anything, it’s worth noting that a number of machines might just need an upgraded OS and won’t necessarily need to be migrated to new hardware, so think about which will just need to be upgraded and which will be migrated to new equipment. Bear in mind that XP puts less strain on hardware resources than Windows 7 will, so machines that are already having a hard time will most likely need to be migrated to new hardware.
You’ll also need to think about which software applications will also need to be upgraded and which can be scrapped. Some existing programs won’t work on Win7 and will need an upgrade as well. Also worth noting is that when you move a PC from XP to Win7, you’ve got to do what Microsoft refers to as a “clean upgrade,” meaning all the files and folders will be deleted before the OS can be upgraded. Yes, that stinks, but not as badly as you think. Before you start upgrading anything, you’ll want to take full backups of everything involved you plan to upgrade or migrate so that you don’t risk losing anything, which leads us to the next section.
Whether or not you’re moving on to new hardware, you’ll still want to take a backup of all the machines you’re upgrading because as I mentioned, none of the files and folders will make it through the process unless you save them on an external drive. The best way to do this is to take a full backup image of the systems so that you don’t risk missing something (ask me sometime about how I lost several years’ worth of photos upgrading from Vista).
But this seems like a problem. Taking backups of dozens of machines can be difficult, not to mention expensive. You can’t very well install backup agents on dozens of computers without wasting tons of time and money, but luckily, you don’t have to because there’s a tool that makes it extremely simple. ShadowProtect IT edition is a little USB drive that’s been described as ShadowProtect “in God-mode” and it’s priced to match your needs. You can pay for it yearly or you can subscribe for two weeks, a month, or three months—whatever it takes for you to complete a migration or upgrade project. This means you can backup as many servers or workstations as you need to without paying for licenses on each machine and without installing software. Once you’ve got backups of all the machines, you can upgrade, or if you need to migrate to new hardware first, you can implement a hardware independent restore (HIR) on the new hardware then implement the upgrade after that.
Once you’ve got everything switched to your new OS (probably Windows 7, according to ZDNet only 3.7 percent of businesses plan to migrate directly to Windows 8), you’ll still need the files. Luckily you took backups of everything. Once you’re booted up in your new environment, you can plug in the drive where you stored the backups, mount the image as a drive letter and find any files and folders you need to move over, or even any applications that are compatible with the new OS. But what about the applications that aren’t compatible?
If clients still have legacy programs they need to use that don’t work on Windows 7, they can still use them virtually. The best thing about ShadowProtect is that it gives you the flexibility to do just about anything you can imagine with your backup images. When you take backups using IT edition you can save them as a .VHD or .VMDK files, which means you can use the backup images as virtual machines on your newly upgraded Win 7 machines. Now you can access anything that was on the old computer, even legacy programs. It’s all inside your newly upgraded Win 7 machine, which means you get all of the new patches and security benefits of a fully supported OS, while also having access to the older programs running on XP that you may not be ready to upgrade, or in some cases, can’t upgrade.
So really, there’s no need to let migration be a big hassle. As always, using the right tools really makes things easy.
For some more thoughts on upgrading from XP to Win7, check out this Microsoft page.