It could be that you’re watching the Windows XP discussions with a minor bit of amusement, knowing that it’s still a whole year away before the same thing happens with Windows Server 2003. Shucks, you might be one of the lucky ones who have already successfully retired all of your Windows Server 2003 systems, maybe even all of your 32-bit server installations! But don’t get too comfortable, because Windows XP still has the potential to generate discomfort in your data center, even though this is primarily an enduser situation.
Security Updates, of Course
The obvious consideration with Windows XP is the loss of security updates, and to a lesser extent for most organizations the termination of technical support for those systems. Microsoft has generously extended the availability of Definition Updates for their AV/AM products on Windows XP until next summer, and most other vendors of AV/AM have done the same. So, maybe there’s some consolation in knowing that while you may not be able to patch all of the “newly discovered” vulnerabilities that will be announced starting April 9, 2014, at least you’ll be able to trap the malware if it does get installed. Well, at least that’s the theory, right?
But this conversation is about a lot more than security vulnerabilities and their coming attacks, or the protection and remediation from malware. Setting all of those considerations aside for a moment, let’s talk about some other reasons why you, as a data center administrator, still ought to be acutely aware of the Windows XP question in your organization.
Browsers and Web Servers
First, of course, is that Internet Explorer for Windows XP has not been developed beyond version 9. Among other things, that means no HTML5 for Windows XP clients with IE9, and that may impact your ability to upgrade websites and Web services, or deploy new technologies because of that dependency. Alternatively, both Google and Mozilla have committed to supporting Chrome and Firefox on Windows XP for an extended period. Google will support Chrome until April 2015, while Mozilla has not announced an actual end date for Firefox support. So, maybe if you completely abandon IE on those Windows XP systems, Web development will still be able to make forward progress. Then again, what does one more year really buy?
Legacy Application Software
Another significant issue in this whole Windows XP debacle is that a lot of software vendors have been ignoring (avoiding?) efforts to update many products that were designed a dozen or more years ago, but were never properly updated to deal with the Windows Vista/Windows 7 desktop security model. As such, this has been a contributing factor to why many organizations have deferred the upgrade to Windows 7 that, ostensibly, should have occurred three to five years ago. Furthermore, considering the radical change in Windows 8, some of them could even skip the effort and go straight to development for it instead, leaving organizations with only two choices: stay on Windows XP or upgrade to Windows 8. For many organizations, neither are particularly good choices.
Legacy Network Technologies
There’s also the question of network technologies that are now a dozen years old, but are all that’s available on a Windows XP system. While you might be able to get a gigabit network interface card working on a Windows XP system, unless you’ve already done that, it’s probably not worth the effort now. That means continuing to have Windows XP systems running at only 10 percent of what a client system should be operating at today.
In addition, file and print services have seen notable enhancements in Windows Server 2012, and you might even be one of the early implementers of some high-performance SMB v3 file servers, but those lowly little Windows XP systems are still only going to connect using the SMB v1 capabilities.
Regardless of whether the focus is placed on the lack of security updates for the operating system, the complications that may arise from trying to maintain support and growth for Web applications, dealing with migration of legacy applications or accepting the severe networking limitations of a Windows XP system in today’s world, it’s very important to understand that the Windows XP issue is not just a “desktop support” problem. It’s an issue that will affect every aspect of a business, including the data center, until that last Windows XP system is laid to rest.
If you’re one of those who have already replaced those legacy systems, count yourself among the very blessed and enjoy your peace of mind while the rest of the world tries to cope starting next month.