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Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7: Weighing the options

How best to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7? In this first of a two-part series, it's a hard choice between desktop virtualization and new PCs. But CIOs have to decide soon.

This is the first of a two-part series about options for migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7. In this article, CIO Ivan Imana details the reasons his company is making the leap to Windows 7, and the pros and cons of desktop virtualization versus a traditional desktop migration. In the second part of the series, experts debate the pros and cons of using desktop virtualization as a path from XP to Windows 7.

Ivan Imana, director of technology at the Adelman Travel Group, is thinking through a strategic decision facing many CIOs in 2010: How exactly should he make the trek from a perfectly serviceable XP operating system to Windows 7, and -- as important -- when? An operating system migration is rarely easy. This one is up against an economy still swooning from the fiscal crisis of the past two years. Capital remains scarce, particularly at smallish companies like Adelman, where annual revenue is about $350 million and the total IT budget $1.5 million.

"Realistically, if I am going to spend dollars in 2010, I probably should spend those dollars on something that increases revenue or reduces cost, and this [migration] does neither," said Imana, who likens the XP migration to replacing a "refrigerator that has nothing wrong with it."

But the Milwaukee-based agency, which specializes in corporate travel and conducts much of its business online, has no appetite for running its operating system on unsupported software. "That is not a risk the company is willing to take," Imana said. That means any migration plan must be well underway before Microsoft's proposed 2012 date for shutting down support for XP. So, with the clock ticking and visions swirling in his head of a "forklift" migration for his 250 desktops versus desktop virtualization, neither the migration path to Windows 7 nor the ROI seems clear-cut.

"It is a very unpleasant problem, and there are a very large number of companies exactly in that same position," said analyst Simon Bramfitt, who covers application, desktop and client virtualization technologies at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group Inc.

Companies have been running XP in the enterprise for a very long time, about eight years, Bramfitt pointed out. Now, because of the times, they can't afford to make this upgrade easily. The situation, in fact, is a driving factor in the spread of desktop virtualization. Gartner Inc. has predicted that desktop virtualization will grow from a half-million users in 2009 to 49 million by 2013.

One of the difficulties in choosing desktop virtualization for an operating system migration is that there are so many moving parts to consider and so many claims being made by vendors. Desktop virtualization vendors, for example, will tell companies they can realize an ROI within six months of installing their products, a claim which Bramfitt, a former senior architect at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente responsible for application virtualization, finds "very hard to accept." At the other end of the scale are companies that decide desktop virtualization will not pay for itself under any circumstances, he said. He favors a "middle ground." Opportunities for savings do exist, but it is difficult to "stand far enough away from your enterprise … to identify where there is an appropriate return on investment," he said

"The trick, more than anything else, is not to look at it from a technology perspective, but to look at it from a business perspective: Will your business benefit from all the secondary effects of desktop virtualization? rather than, can [you] reduce the cost of IT services?" Bramfitt said.

Realistically, if I am going to spend dollars in 2010, I probably should spend those dollars on something that increases revenue or reduces cost, and this [migration] does neither.

Ivan Imana, CPA, CTC, director of technology, Adelman Travel Group

For example, if IT delivers a server-hosted desktop virtualization service, will employees be encouraged to work from home and thus be more productive? Or, because all the data remains inside the enterprise with server-hosted desktop virtualization, will the company save money on data loss?

For Imana, finding the right perspective for identifying that ROI has been a challenge. On the face of it, the agency's desktop environment is "pretty basic," he said. About 95% of employees use the browser for Internet research and to access a customized Web application the agency uses to sell travel. When the company weighed a move to Windows Vista, the issue was whether to upgrade from 1 GB of memory on the computers to the 2 GB his team had determined was necessary to run Vista. "At the end of the day, we are looking for stability, and we had a lot of that with XP," he said.

For the migration to Windows 7, Imana pondered whether to add more memory to the existing 250 desktops or buy new PCs, and found the cost delta was not that great. Between paying for the new operating system and the new memory, he got "pretty close to what it would cost for new desktops," he said.

A fan of server virtualization, Imana also considered investing in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to make the transition to the new operating system. But a back-of-the-envelope analysis of the initial investment and licensing for the VDI put the cost on par with buying all new desktops, he said.

"The question is, do I want to introduce this variable cost of VDI that is always going to need to be supported, or do I make the capital expenditure and buy new desktops?" Imana said. In fact, when the cost of ongoing maintenance for VDI was factored in, the five-year ROI was actually worse than buying all new computers, which surprised him, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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