Windows 7 Migration Could Create Budget Burdens: Gartner

Microsoft's Windows 7 could burden businesses' IT budgets if they agree to an accelerated migration from Windows XP and Windows 2000, according to a Gartner research note.

Microsoft may promote Windows 7 as an essential element of the next-generation office, but a new research note from Gartner suggests that upgrading from Windows XP and Windows 2000 could create a burden on companies' IT budgets.

"Corporate IT departments typically prefer to migrate PC operating systems (OSs) via hardware attrition, which means bringing in the new OS as they replace hardware through a normal refresh cycle," Charles Smulders, managing vice president at Gartner, wrote in an Aug. 26 statement. "Microsoft will support Windows XP for four more years. With most migrations not starting until the fourth quarter of 2010 at the earliest, and with PC hardware replacement cycles running at four to five years, most organizations will not be able to migrate to Windows 7 through usual planned hardware refresh before support for Windows XP ends."

That means organizations will possibly need to accelerate their Windows 7 migration in 2011 and 2012, in order to beat that closing timeframe for Windows XP support-which in turn could translate into higher costs in both IT labor and infrastructure. Extended support for Windows XP SP3 is scheduled to end in April 2014, with no updates or patches after that point.

Gartner previously suggested that a general lack of XP support from ISVs will start around the end of 2011, with a support "XP danger zone" developing at the end of 2012.

Gartner estimates the costs of an accelerated migration in an office of 10,000 PCs where all units will be replaced at between $1,205 and $1,999 per PC. Capital costs would account for 60 percent of that total cost.

Upgrading those PCs, instead of replacing them, will translate into a migration cost of $1,274 and $2,069 per PC. In this scenario, lower capital costs are offset by higher labor costs associated with the migration; in addition, Gartner approximates that 25 percent of PCs would need a hardware upgrade.

Corporations could also consider a partial migration to a hosted virtual desktop environment, particularly for their data-entry workers, but Gartner analysts warn that the cost of the associated IT infrastructure will outweigh any potential savings.

"Whether replacing or upgrading PCs, it is clear that Windows 7 migration will have a noticeable impact on organizations' IT budgets," Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in an Aug. 26 statement. "Based on an accelerated upgrade, we expect that the proportion of the budget spent on PCs will need to increase between 20 percent as a best-case scenario and 60 percent at worst in 2011 and 2012."

Windows XP remains an important part of many companies' IT infrastructure. Given its enduring popularity, Microsoft made the decision in July to extend the operating system's end-user downgrade rights for the life cycle of Windows 7.

"Our business customers have told us that removing end-user downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional could be confusing," Brandon LeBlanc, a spokesperson for Microsoft, wrote July 12 on The Windows Blog, "given the rights change would be made for new PCs preinstalled with Windows 7 and managing a hybrid environment with PCs that have different end-user rights based on date of purchase would be challenging to track."

Windows XP's downgrade rights had originally been slated to end with the availability of Windows 7 Service Pack 1. Support for Windows XP SP2 ended July 12, necessitating an upgrade to Windows XP SP3 for anyone wanting to stay with the platform instead of upgrading.