Time Running Out on Old Versions of Windows

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The following was published in the April 14, 2019 editions of Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

Do you run Windows 7 on your computer at the office or at home? Do your servers run Windows Server 2008? If the answer to either question is yes, you’ve got less than nine months to replace these operating systems.

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Why? Because Microsoft is ending support for both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 on January 14, 2020, nine months from today. That is not a lot of time, not at all. Windows 7 has been the most widely installed version of the Windows operating system on desktop and laptop computers. Depending on which estimates you believe, Windows 7 is still thought to be running on approximately half of the PCs in use worldwide. This is a staggering number.

Depending on the generation of your computer, you may or may not be able to update a Windows 7 computer to Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest version of the Windows operating system. If your computer is less than five years old, you may be able to upgrade it and still have it perform well, though many computers will simply need to be replaced. As people keep their computers longer, upgrading to the latest operating system may not provide acceptable performance due to increased resource requirements and capabilities that older hardware may not be able to support.

While nine months may seem like plenty of time to get a Windows 7 computer upgraded, especially for businesses that may have several, in not dozens or hundreds of computers to upgrade, time is absolutely of the essence. We have already experienced significant shortages in critical computer components through the first quarter of 2019. Intel CPUs were severely constrained since late last year, and this pushed out delivery dates for every major computer manufacturer to the point where back orders stretched well over a month. This situation may only worsen and organizations put stress on the supply and demand cycle for computer manufacturers.

Many sources are predicting significant shortages of available computers by the third quarter of the year, based on present trends. It would not at all surprise me to see a rush on PC demand come the summer months, when many companies look to undertake significant disruptive projects during the traditional summer vacation season. Certainly, replacing large fleets of computers across departments and entire companies may be easier to manage when more people than usual are on vacation. I am concerned those individuals and organizations that wait until summer to start planning these replacements may not be able to complete them before the end of support.

When support ends, no updates will be released for these operating systems and you can be assured that hackers will be waiting in the wings to exploit unprotected systems. You do not want to be caught in that coming wave. In fact, many cyber insurance policies require that you maintain currently supported hardware and software in order for the coverage to protect you in the event of a cyber related incident. The risks of inaction are significant.

The situation for Windows Server 2008, the operating system running many servers still today is no less of a concern. Servers are naturally more complex to replace than an individual PC. Servers are the foundation of IT infrastructures and support the applications, databases and services that we all rely on every single day. Together, the end of support of each of these versions represents a growing threat and trend that we all need to be aware of. As technology advances, companies like Microsoft and others simply cannot maintain the level of support necessary to keep them all supported indefinitely. The threat landscape is simply too fluid to devote the significant resources to keep all of these versions supported.

If you have yet to focus on this, I urge you to make this your number one IT priority this year. Talk with your IT department or IT partner and be sure you have a plan to act now, not later. You will need every bit of time between now and the end of the year to plan, budget, procure and implement. As the saying goes, time is a wasting. Make yourself a note to start your plan tomorrow morning, if you have not already.