Microsoft's upgrade avalanche a challenge for IT pros

Corporate technology managers must take time when deciding on Windows, Office upgrade path

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However, CIOs and analysts caution against getting seduced by the Microsoft marketing siren call.

ROI important

"CIOs need to focus on total cost of ownership and return on investment. Once you know what you're currently paying with the TCO analysis, then you can do an ROI assessment," said industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research.

IT professionals should focus on what their internal organization's road map looks like, said IDC analyst Al Gillen.

"They should identify what technologies they want to put in place and understand where the gaps are, what's available in the market and what Microsoft's portfolio has today and in forthcoming products," Gillen said. "They need to determine what pieces fit where and what potential adoption curves will be for their organization."

As Microsoft beats the drum to attract attention to its slate of enterprise software upgrades, Cam Crosbie, vice president of IT and CIO of Equitable Life of Canada, isn't paying too much attention to it. "It's on my radar but just at the periphery right now. It's not something I'm trying to get my head around in terms of strategy," he said.

Equitable Life of Canada is in the midst of a full desktop refresh cycle, standardizing its 550 users on Windows 7 and Office 2010, and the plan is to stay on that upgrade for the next several years.

"Ours is a 'take your time approach' to make sure there's value in a potential solution before making the jump," Crosbie said. "A lot of the marketing hype sounds quite good, but we want to make sure that whatever we're looking at has a lot of compelling business value before making the leap."

This is the right approach, especially regarding Windows 8, which is in beta testing and will most likely ship toward the end of the year, said Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.

The next Windows

Companies need to upgrade from Windows XP, which Microsoft will stop supporting in April 2014, and delaying such a move to wait for Windows 8 would be a mistake, Silver said.

"It's really important that organizations continue to get XP out," he said. "For most people, Windows 8 will be too late and Windows 7 is the one to focus on right now."

Gartner estimates that in developed countries, Windows 7, which began shipping in October 2009, has been fully implemented in about 10% of enterprises, while 55% are in the process of deploying it and 25% are just starting.

In addition to the new Metro UI, Microsoft officials have been promoting Windows 8 enterprise features like Windows To Go, which lets users boot and run Windows 8 from USB devices like flash drives; simpler ways for end users to manage their connections to Wi-Fi and mobile broadband networks; and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) improvements. Windows 8 also features security enhancements, such as a new secure boot process.

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