Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 go “End of Life”

24 October 2019

It didn’t seem that long ago I was writing about the demise of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 R2, and now we have another two highly popular operating systems that will soon reach end of life.

The end is nigh for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 R2 

Although mainstream support for these products ended some time ago, Microsoft ensured they remained secure by issuing regular security updates and patches. On January 14 2020, this extended support phase will come to an end and no further updates will be issued, making an upgrade an absolutely essential task for the safety of your IT estate.

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are two of Microsoft’s most successful operating systems that still have a very healthy number of users. According to NetMarketShare’s June 2018 data, 43.38% are still using Windows 7, compared to the 32.08% who have moved on to the latest operating system, Windows 10. Market data for Windows Server 2008 R2 is not so readily available however, some reports suggest that it could be in excess of 40%.

Why should I care?  

If the PC, laptop or server is never connected to the Internet, you can happily continue to run it.  The software will keep working as reliably as it ever has.  However, it is a different story if it is Internet-connected, since unpatched operating systems are vulnerable to security risks. If the device in question is your home PC you may say the risk is worth taking. However, bear in mind that if this Internet-connected home PC is used to transfer files onto an office PC (perhaps because you have been working on documents at home and need to get them onto the office network) then there is a risk that you may be transferring a virus onto that network.  

If the device is part of a corporate network that has access to the Internet, then you really do need to act, and especially so if that network is part of a certified system (such as required by PCI DSS and the more recent GDPR) as such certifications and regulations require that software is supported and patched regularly. Hence, failure to update a device that is attached to a network may be regarded as a control failure leading to the suspension of certifications, and/or public notification of the organisation’s inability to maintain its systems and customer information.
So, what are my upgrade options?

If you intend to stick with Microsoft for the desktop then the only real option is Windows 10. This could possibly be the last time you need to upgrade a desktop operating system since Microsoft’s strategy of Windows-as-a-Service, by providing regular updates, means there should be continuity for some considerable time.

For Windows Server 2008 R2, a jump to Windows Server 2016 should be considered but, for the reasons discussed below, this may not be the easiest route. There are of course several, non-Microsoft, open source alternatives that could be considered such as Linux, Apache, ClearOS and CentOS. These will require major changes to your server environment and technical skillset, so they may not be suitable for everyone.

It is evident that more and more services are available in the cloud, and this includes the infrastructure. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) is gaining some traction and provides a method of renting your hardware and operating systems from an external service provider. If you discover that your existing hardware needs to be refreshed to allow you to run a supported operating system, then this option should be given careful consideration. This would also provide a method of reducing the capital cost since services are usually charged monthly and can be scaled to meet demand.

How painful will it be to change?

A change of operating system can bring with it several challenges. These include:

  • Compatibility with applications – Will your current applications continue to work as expected or will these also need to be upgraded. Depending upon the support policy of the application vendor, this may carry an additional cost. Even so, for business-critical applications, in-depth testing should be conducted. Some applications that are certified to run on the latest operating systems may have dependencies that won’t. An example of this is Finance, ERP and CRM systems that use SQL databases. These may require an upgrade to the SQL Server which adds further complexity.
  • You may need to replace some hardware - If your hardware is old, you will probably need to replace it as newer operating systems, such as Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, require more power to drive their superior performance. Even if your devices can run the latest operating systems, it is recommended that you do a "clean" installation that completely overwrites the hard disk. Hence, before you start you should backup all important data and ensure you have access to the application installation files and any necessary product keys and licences.
  • Consider the level of training required – The user experience in Windows 10 is not vastly different from Windows 7 but some users will still need training. This could be as simple as a handout or may require something more significant such as classroom led training. Technical staff will also need to upgrade their skills, not only to understand the technical differences, but also understand the upgrade process to ensure it runs smoothly.
  • Don’t leave it until the last minute – A change of operating system in the business environment requires careful planning and the amount of time required should not be underestimated. January 14 2020 is not a hard date when everything stops working but you should aim to have completed the upgrades within the first quarter of 2020 at the latest.

Contact us

The MHA MacIntyre Hudson Technology Advisory Services is helping business prepare for this transformation by ensuring that your IT systems and services are scalable, secure, resilient and ready to embrace the challenges ahead. If you would like to find out how we could help your business, or you have any queries relating to this or any other IT matter, please contact Gavin Davis. Alternatively, send us an online enquiry.

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