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3 reasons why Windows 7’s end-of-life needs to matter

KONSKIE, POLAND - June 21, 2019: Intel Core i3 and Windows 7 sticker on laptop, closeup (Piter2020 / Depositphotos.com)

Intel Core i3 and Windows 7 sticker on laptop, closeup (Piter2020 / Depositphotos.com)

Windows 7 is going end-of-life in January 2020, yet you may not feel a sense of urgency to take any action right now. It can be easy to tell yourself, “we’ll just upgrade at the beginning of quarter 1 2020,” however it’s not quite that simple.

For the several hundred million Windows 7 users who will need to deploy Windows 10 by the beginning of the year, the following questions must be answered:

  • Have you audited your environment to find your Windows 7 PCs?
  • Do you have a budget plan approved to replace all your Windows 7 computers?
  • Do you know if they’re running any applications that depend on the Windows 7 environment?
  • Are any those applications mission-critical?
  • Have you tested a Windows 10 PC yet to see if all your applications will work?
  • Do you have a plan for upgrading or replacing any mission-critical applications that depend on the Windows 7 environment?
  • Do you need to create a custom image or installation of Windows 10 in order to replicate features that you’re using in your current Windows 7 implementation?
  • Do you have a training plan for all employees to understand the differences and improvements with Windows 10?

As you can see, numerous actions need to be taken to prepare you for a successful and efficient migration.

It can be difficult to get the organizational buy-in for rapidly upgrading to Windows 10 by the EOL deadline – especially if you haven’t already budgeted for it.

Here are three reasons that give you a justification to kick your upgrade program into high gear:

  1. You Will Become More Vulnerable

The Windows userbase comprises roughly a billion installs, and current estimates put the number of Windows 7 users at 39% of the total Install-base. This is to say that once Windows 7 formally goes EOL, hundreds of millions of people will be left behind if action is not immediately taken.

Once they’re left behind, all of these users will be out of luck as far as security patches are concerned. Even though security researchers are continuing to discover massive vulnerabilities – such as the widely-publicized Bluekeep – in older Windows operating systems, Microsoft will not issue patches for these vulnerabilities after the deadline, with few exceptions.

One exception, of course, is for customers willing to pay extra that qualify (large businesses and education customers only). For a cost of up to $200 per user, Microsoft will continue adding new patches to the Windows 7 operating system for up to three years following end of life. In other words, you can pay to upgrade from Windows 7 now… or you can pay a lot more down the road.

  1. Your Auditors Won’t Be Happy

Various compliance regimes apply to most companies, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), both of which are designed to protect individuals and their personal data and apply to businesses that collect, use, or share consumer data. Retailers are subject to PCI-DSS, healthcare companies are subject to HIPAA, and finance companies have multiple and overlapping regulatory commitments.

In general, these regimes specify three things:

  1. That you know where critical data is at all times
  2. That you protect this data to the best of your ability
  3. That you keep records as to how this data is handled

As far as items two and three are concerned, storing critical data on Windows 7 computers is an automatic fail.

First, there’s the obvious – a Windows 7 computer will be much more susceptible to viruses and malware once it goes end of life. If you’re storing data on a Windows 7 computer after the 2020 deadline, you are – by definition – not protecting critical data to the best of your ability.

In addition, older operating systems can develop problems that are unrelated to malware, and these problems can result in data loss. Your older computers may also develop incompatibilities with your backup and recovery applications. By putting critical data on Windows 7 endpoints, you’re running a risk of simply losing it all due to a run-of-the-mill glitch.

  1. Windows 7 Could Be Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Let’s say that you have an organization with a thousand employees and four hundred Windows 7 laptops. If you buckle down and start upgrading aggressively, you might be able to finish a Windows 10 upgrade before the end of life deadline.

However, as we covered earlier, upgrading your computers doesn’t mean your work is done.

Let’s say that your Windows 7 endpoints are running a custom application developed in-house. This isn’t uncommon – half of all companies perform their own software development. If this software was developed with Windows 7 in mind, then it might not run natively on Windows 10. This could lead to some tough choices. Do you:

  • Upgrade the application to be Windows 10 compatible? This might be a lot of work, even if the application is well-documented and the person who made it is still at your company (both of these things are wildcards).
  • Do you fudge it by wrapping the application in a VM that emulates Windows 7 components? This could be easier, but it could also be computationally expensive for your endpoints.
  • Do you decide to host the application on VMs in your public or private cloud?

This is a lot to answer – and whatever you choose, it’s going to be a lot of work.

How to Make the Right Choices About Upgrading from Windows 7

Microsoft gives you a lot of options and helpful documentation when it comes to upgrading from Windows 7 – but they don’t talk a lot about the externalities. If you’re stuck on difficult problems that are putting the brakes on your upgrade process, you might worry that you’re running out of time. Partnering with a managed IT services provider that is also a certified Microsoft partner, will give you access to a force multiplier – a large group of experienced IT professionals who can manage this process from end-to-end, letting you focus on helping your customers and growing your company.

NexusTek Recommends the Following Plan of Action:

  1. Choose someone internally with authority to be the project sponsor to get buy-in.
  2. Inventory your Windows 7 computers. You may find that some are new enough to run Windows 10 without replacement.
  3. Create a capital budget plan for the ones requiring replacement and a business case that talks to the risks involved of inaction. Affordable options are available.
  4. Contact a Microsoft Certified Partner to scope out the technical and tactical parts of your project, get quotes and weigh your options.
  5. Pick the option that delivers the business outcome of reducing security risk and protecting your critical business data.

Randy Nieves is Chief Technology Officer and SVP of Product Management for NexusTek, a national provider of cloud, managed IT services and cyber security solutions that is trusted by thousands of businesses across the U.S. and Canada.

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