Windows 7 Upgrades: Is 2011 a Transition Year?

Most enterprises will wait until 2012 - 2014 to upgrade to Windows 7, says the CEO of a managed services firm.

Microsoft may really want you to upgrade to Windows 7 this year, but according the CEO of a top managed services and IT consulting firm, many large companies do not feel the same sense of upgrade urgency.

Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, a Seattle-based IT consulting and managed services company that provides Fortune 500 companies with OS deployments and virtualization technologies, does not see many enterprises pursuing an earth-shattering change to upgrade to Windows 7 this year. Instead, companies are rolling out Windows 7 at the department level, and as demands require.

"In our discussion with enterprises, they don't subscribe to the Microsoft timeline," says Suzuki. "They've got a program in place [with Windows XP or Vista] and made a lot of investments. Like any CIO would think: An OS upgrade is change and change is risk. Risk potentially means a lot of negative things in their lives."

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]

Most bigger companies have Software Assurance enterprise agreements, and therefore upgrade rights, but they still don't always have the time for or interest in a Windows 7 upgrade, says Suzuki.

What about the diminishing support for Windows XP? Even companies who wait past the Windows XP end-of-extended-support date set by Microsoft (April 2014) don't care so much, says Suzuki, because the expense of buying extended support is cheaper than the cost of getting the upgrade done.

"It's often a question of cost and risk against the benefits of what you have," he says. "Is it worth going through the pain of an upgrade compared to staying the course with what they've got, which is reliable and for the most part under control?"

But even though most businesses that Suzuki talks to don't feel the way Microsoft wants them to feel about Windows 7 upgrades, they know they have to do it and they want to do it, just on their own schedule and within their budget.

"What you'll see are incremental upgrades done by company division, that will be completely finished in six months or some set period of time," says Suzuki. Of the many technical concerns with Windows 7, the biggest one is application compatibility. The key for IT is to test their business applications for Windows 7 compatibility and not expose themselves to extra risk by waiting too long, suggests Suzuki.

Hardware and PC refresh cycles are another challenge, says Suzuki. Companies need to accept that when they buy new Windows 7 PCs for new employees they should not be afraid to run Windows XP and Windows 7 in parallel for a year or more. Companies should not force new hardware to run an old OS like Windows XP that it wasn't designed to run, he says.

"You'd be surprised at how many of our customers are using our OS and application deployment software [called SmartDeploy Enterprise] to migrate Windows XP on new hardware with no timeframe established for Windows 7 upgrades," says Suzuki. "That can be just as problematic as trying to run a new OS on old hardware."

While 2011 has been called the year of mass Windows 7 upgrades, Suzuki says that's a bit optimistic.

"They will be planning and testing in earnest this year, with some incremental deployments," he says. "But I think 2012 to 2014 is when the real Windows 7 upgrades will take place."

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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