Gartner: The bell tolls for Windows XP

Annual list of IT trends highlights pending end-of-support dates for Windows XP, Office 2003 as key concerns for many companies

ORLANDO -- There are a number of IT trends users will see in coming years, but one that's expected to rise to the top will be the need to migrate off Windows XP and Office 2003 as the end of support nears.

At its Symposium/ITxpo conference here, research firm Gartner highlighted the shrinking of data centers as users shift more work to cloud services as it detailed its annual list of the top 10 trends in infrastructure and operations. But the standout issue for many companies will be the pending end-of-support dates for the Microsoft products.

Support for Window XP and Office 2003 ends in April 2014.

Although desktop operating system migration ranked No. 7 on the list, Gartner analyst David Cappuccio indicated that it will prove to be a more critical issue to some people.

"You may find yourself in a situation where these migrations become the dominant projects in your organizations over the next few months," Cappuccio said. "It's just a fact of life that we can only milk a cow for so long," he said of the still widely used operating system.

Matt Holmes, systems manager for Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., said the Windows migration is "definitely" an issue.

"Over the summer, we just had a round of 'firefighting' where we had a bunch of Windows XP SP2 machines that had to get upgraded to Service Pack 3 because of end-of-life support," said Holmes, who was at the conference. "I think it kind of snuck up on the desktop support folks."

The college plans to migrate to Windows 7, he said.

Here's what Gartner sees as the key IT issues in the years ahead.

1. Virtualization 'of everything'

This issue remains high on any list because of the increasing expansion of what's virtualized. "The data center of the future is going to be completely virtualized," Cappuccio predicted. The trend will include desktop virtualization, especially as users access their desktops through multiple devices. "The question is how I deliver the experience that the end user needs to the device that end user has with them at the location [where] they are right now," he said.

2. Big data issues

Data is expected to grow by 800% over the next five years, and 80% of it will be unstructured data. This will prompt adoption of better management techniques such as tiering of data based on its criticality to the business, as well as developing tools to make better use of it. "How can I take that content and get something out of it?" Cappuccio said.

3. Energy and green IT

This issue has been on the top of most IT lists for a number of years, and it's not shrinking, especially as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's interest grows. This includes improved automation and monitoring, which is about reducing the staff time needed to run routine operations, in particular.

4. Unified communications and collaboration

This trend is key as companies seek to meet the needs of young workers. For the new generation of employees, texting is how they communicate. "That is how they will continue to talk to each other," Cappuccio contended.

5. Thinking horizontally

Creating an IT staff that isn't limited to a vertical focus will be important. Employees who "know how to link things together" between tech and business will be critical, Cappuccio said.

6. Open-source collaboration

Businesses, which are already following the trend of unifying communications internally, will also move toward using external networks to collaborate.

7. Windows XP migration

Shifting away from Windows XP is critical as the end of support for XP and Office 2003 nears, Gartner says. Independent software vendors may stop testing new versions of their software on Windows XP as early as this year, but it will be a common problem by 2012.

8. Computing and data center density

Density will continue to increase as users build up data centers rather than building new ones. This will be helped by the doubling of cores every two years and the expanded use of liquid cooling.

9. Cloud computing

Users will shift more services to cloud computing. "I'm convinced that over the next five years, data centers will shrink," as users run out of data center space, Cappuccio said. IT managers "are kind of falling into this idea of split environments," he noted.

10. Fabric computing

Fabric computing, or converged infrastructure, integrates server, storage and network systems. Cappuccio said that some may see it as a way for vendors to create a new lock-in model, but he doesn't believe that is true, because otherwise users won't want it for the long term.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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