Corporate PCs up to task of Windows 7, but age could be mitigating factor

Companies will have to weigh the potential costs associated with maintaining those aging machines against the cost of a migration to new hardware/software and upgrading of some existing applications

Nearly 90 per cent of existing desktops and laptops within corporations can support Windows 7, but many of those assets are aging and will provide only limited grease on the skids of a migration to the new Microsoft operating system, according to a survey released Thursday.

Companies will have to weigh the potential costs associated with maintaining those aging machines against the cost of a migration to new hardware/software and upgrading of some existing applications.

While 51 million enterprises licensing customers have had access to Windows 7 since early September, Microsoft is gearing up next week for official launch parties as the operating system hits the consumer market.

Windows 7 alluring, but XP the migration X factor

"Around the 42-month mark of a computer's life cycle the support costs shoot up substantially," says Dean Williams, services development manager for Softchoice, the Toronto-based reseller that conducted the survey, which collected data from 450,000 PCs at 284 North American organizations between November 2008 and August 2009. "It is at that point that capital gains you experience from it depreciating as an asset are greatly outstripped by the productivity loss on the support side and the user side."

The Softchoice survey found that 88 per cent of PCs within the average organization meet the minimum system requirements to run Windows 7. That percentage compares to three years ago when only 50 per cent of existing PCs in organizations could meet the minimum requirements to run Vista. Williams says that is one factor that stalled upgrades to Vista.

But having existing machines with the capability to upgrade to a new operating system doesn't make the decision a no-brainer."We are not recommending our customers keep their computers past 60 months," Williams says. "If you have a 5-year-old computer you have bigger worries than can I deploy Windows 7. The problem there is can I get my work done today."

The Softchoice survey did not collect data on the age ranges of the corporate PCs that graded out as capable of handing Windows 7. But Williams theorizes the economy over the past 12 month or so kept many organizations from PC upgrades. He also said a percentage of those machines may have been purchased in the past two years with users exercising downgrade rights and running XP.

In that case, many of the PCs inventoried in the Softchoice survey could be considered aging machines with many likely closing in on the magic 42-month mark for replacement consideration.

"For the computers on the meaty side of the curve that aren't old enough to be replaced but can't run Windows 7, there is the opportunity at minimal cost to slap a stick of RAM in there and pop the hood and put in a new hard drive," Williams says.The Softchoice survey showed that of those machines requiring upgrade to meet the minimum Windows 7 specifications, 12 per cent require hard drive or RAM upgrades.

"People are very interested in investigating what the impact of deploying Windows 7 may be," Williams says. "The good news is from a hardware perspective the impact will be pretty minimal. But there is still work to do in the planning cycle."

In addition, the migration planning cycle is forcing corporate IT pros to figure out how long it will take to get all their XP desktops to Windows 7 before XP support runs out or before application vendors quit producing XP versions of upgrades or new software, which some predict could come as early as 2012.

With that in mind, Gartner is advising users to be off of XP by 2012. That advice could mean a compressed migration window for many users as the Softchoice survey shows that 93 per cent of desktops and laptops in organizations are running XP. Only 3 per cent are running Vista.

All XP support ends on April 8, 2014. Mainstream support for XP ended in April 2009.

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John Fontana

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