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Gartner: Pump Up Your Budget for Windows 7 Migrations

Microsoft calls Windows 7 its "fastest selling" operating system, but the new OS may represent increased costs and greater logistical pain for IT shops over the next two years.

A study released late last month by Gartner, "Prepare for Your Windows 7 Migration Crunch," calculated the equipment and manpower costs of moving to Windows 7 for organizations. Typically, organizations may be moving from Windows XP (or maybe Windows 2000). However, support for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 actually expired on July 13, so organizations still using those operating systems are not getting regular security updates from Microsoft.

Expiring Windows OS product lifecycles may constitute a compelling reason to move to Windows 7, but the costs maybe aren't so obvious. Gartner's study considered three scenarios for organizations, and estimated those costs. No one strategy looks more promising than another, based on Gartner's descriptions.

Organizations can replace PCs with new ones, upgrade existing PCs or use desktop virtualization to move to Windows 7. Gartner estimates that such migration efforts will represent a big job, regardless of the method chosen, and may require lining up additional help.

"We estimate that large and midsize organizations worldwide will migrate approximately 250 million PCs to Windows 7, during the migration timeline, so it makes sense for organizations that plan to leverage external services to line up service providers early," said Charles Smulders, managing vice president at Gartner and coauthor of the report, in a released statement.

The upside to buying new PCs is that organizations will get updated BIOSes and compatible drivers on the Windows 7 machines, plus equipment with a potentially long lifespan. The downside to that approach is the up-front capital costs. Based on 10,000 PCs in an organization, Gartner expects the cost of getting Windows 7 by replacing old PCs with new ones to be between $1,205 and $1,999 per PC.  

However, the clock is ticking for organizations expecting to wait and buy new PCs, as needed, with Windows 7. The Windows XP product lifecycle will end in April 2014, meaning no security updates will be forthcoming (except via paid custom support from Microsoft Services). For those who wait, the natural PC refresh cycle may collide with XP's end-of-life cycle, according to Gartner.

"Microsoft will support Windows XP for four more years," Smulders stated. "With most migrations not starting until the fourth quarter of 2010 at the earliest, and PC hardware replacement cycles typically running at four to five years, most organizations will not be able to migrate to Windows 7 through usual planned hardware refresh before support for Windows XP ends."

Another option is to buy Windows 7 as an upgrade for existing PCs. While this approach doesn't incur up-front equipment costs, it doesn't reduce labor costs either, according to Gartner. The report estimates that it will cost between $1,274 and $2,069 per PC to upgrade machines to Windows 7. The drawback is that the machines may have to be replaced in another two to three years anyway.

Finally, organizations could try to use hosted virtual desktop (HVD) technology to solve their Windows 7 migration woes. However, Gartner cautions that this approach doesn't spare the budget because of the "incremental cost of the data center and network infrastructure needed to run an HVD."

Gartner's report predicts that IT budgets will be burdened over the next couple of years to pay for the Windows 7 migrations. To accommodate those costs, PC budgets should increase 20 percent (best case) or 60 percent (worst case) through 2011 and 2012.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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