On 8 April, 2014, Microsoft will stop releasing security updates for Windows XP. Despite being superseded by later operating systems, estimates suggest 30% of all PCs are still running Windows XP. According to Gartner Research that’s approximately 500,000 PCs in active use which are going to become more at risk from viruses and other security concerns.

For organisation still running Windows XP (and there will be plenty, especially in the SME sector) decisions have to be made soon over how to best manage the end of updates and the potential risks to their data security and ability to conduct business.

Deciding on what to do with existing PCs running XP comes down to three main options. Move on, pay for support, or ignore the issue.

Moving On

Replacing XP with the latest version (currently Windows 8) puts organisations back in the fold of full support. However migrating users can cause issues.

Hardware upgrades — Existing XP hardware may not run Windows 8. Businesses will need to factor in the cost of replacing hardware when migrating.
Staff training — Windows 8 has a very different look-and-feel to XP and employees will need training on the new OS. Adding costs and time to the migration process.
Software compatibility — Some organisations are built on key applications. Applications, especially bespoke ones, may not have been upgraded to work on Windows 8.

Paying up

Microsoft will still supply security updates to companies that pay them for future support. The prices don’t come cheap though. One-year support is $200 per desktop, two-year support is $400 and three-year support is $800 for each computer. These costs quickly mount up and even if an organisation takes support for three years, there is still the question of what happens after that period?

Staying put

The ‘head in the sand’ option is to do nothing. Windows XP won’t suddenly stop working on 8 April and viruses (or other threats) won’t suddenly infiltrate the network at 00:01 (unless you’re very unlucky). One day though an exploit will appear that attacks the office PCs and no security update will be in place to prevent it.

When that day comes the MD will be knocking on the IT manager’s door asking why the PCs were not upgraded.

The end of XP security updates is going to impact on business, and whether an organisation decides to switch OS now or later, at some point changes will have to be made. This need for change makes the ending of XP a great opportunity to look into alternative ways of providing an OS and desktop to employee.

The Hosted Desktop alternative

Companies are going to have to implement change-management policies, undertake some staff retraining and allocate IT resources to the transition. These requirements are broadly the same whether the upgrade is to Windows 8 on individual machines, swap to a completely different OS (OS X or Linux) or moving to a Hosted Desktop service.

However Hosted Desktop brings other advantages which make it a serious contender for the right move to make.

Remote working and hot desking — Every computer becomes your desktop. This gives employees freedom to sit at any desk, and makes it easy to support remote workers and flexible working hours.
Off-site security — Everything stored on cloud servers. No concerns over security breaches on site.
Use existing hardware — XP may be EOL but your hardware may still be usable. Switching to Hosted Desktop converts existing PCs into thin clients.
Fixed-cost — Running costs, licences and maintenance are all replaced with one simple monthly or annual fee.
Automatic backups — How many employees back up their data? With a Hosted Desktop documents are stored in the cloud and automatically backed-up.

There are less than six months to go till Windows XP security updates end and the time for organisations to start planning their migration away from XP is now. Waiting till April 2014 will be too late and companies need to decide whether to go for a direct Windows XP to Windows 8 upgrade, move to a completely different OS, or investigate the Hosted Desktop alternative.

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