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Microsoft Windows XP end of life serves up some surprises for partners

Channel partners report that Microsoft's ending support for Windows XP has been good for their business, leading to upgrades to the operating system, migrations to handheld devices, cloud adoption and more.

Despite the warnings leading up to April 8, when Microsoft ended support for Windows XP, the day brought no apocalypse.

Many channel partners had begun notifying and migrating customers off of XP and on to another operating system as much as two years prior, with a lot of migrations occurring in the past year. Still, over the course of that time, Microsoft partners reported a number of surprises, most a boon to their business.

Microsoft partner David Brisbois, senior manager at Softchoice, a Toronto-based company that does the majority of its business in the U.S., described Microsoft Windows XP end of life as a ripple-effect event for his company's business.

"It was an opportunity for our customers to change the way they do things," he said. Softchoice, a Microsoft Gold partner, has a strong presence in the midmarket across customer vertical industries.

Brisbois noticed a customer divide into those who became brokers of change and those who toed the line. The brokers-of-change customers used the Microsoft Windows XP end of life as an opportunity to rethink delivery of applications to the desktop, while the more staid customers continued to do things as they had in the past with upgraded devices and operating system.

About 60% of Softchoice customers took action on XP within the past two years, with about half of the 60% making changes 18 months or so prior to end of life and the other half over the past year. The Microsoft partner noted that within the past year, the number of customers with 50% or more of their computers running XP has dropped from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5, or 20%.

Microsoft gave partners plenty of advance notice about its plans to end support for XP, notice that happened to coincide with changes in IT infrastructure, such as cloud computing and the consumerization of IT.

For both Softchoice and LAN Systems, based in Berkeley Lake, Georgia, XP upgrades drove adoption of Office 365. LAN Systems CEO and founder Mary Hester said that for many of her managed services customers, XP upgrades and Office 365 migrations went hand in hand.

There's some risk to us [in covering XP devices under the managed services contract through year-end], and we may eat some costs, but that's the approach we're taking.
Mike Jenningsowner, Business Engineering Inc.

Despite the Office 365 outage earlier this week, Hester said that cloud is more advantageous for most of her customers, noting that "the benefits outweigh the risks."

A good portion of business for the Microsoft Gold partner is managed services, which means that XP migrations for many LAN Systems customers have been ongoing for the past year.

Unmanaged customers have been more likely to delay upgrading XP, according to Hester. "These customers tend not to budget for IT on an annual basis and they're not prepared for the financial impact of doing an upgrade all at once," she said.

Adoption of cloud applications for Softchoice's broker-of-change customers coincided with the emergence of the bring your own device (BYOD) trend and a noticeable migration of Windows customers to Apple devices. "For some customers, the end of life of XP was an inflection and rather than migrate to Windows 7, many of our customers' employees, when given a choice, opted for Apple products," Brisbois said.

The adoption of Apple devices among Softchoice customers has driven the delivery of Microsoft services, such as software as a service (SaaS) applications, according to Brisbois. With BYOD and cloud, customers are more concerned with applications being delivered to the machine than with the operating system, he added.

Mike Jennings, owner of Business Engineering Inc. (BEI), a Reston, Virginia, Microsoft Gold partner, hasn't seen a connection between XP migrations and the adoption of cloud apps. BEI caters to SMB customers and specializes in healthcare IT. Today, about 30% of the computers BEI manages runXP.

"For many of our clients, changing how they get applications delivered to the desktop is a complicated and big decision and would mean an upheaval in how they run their business," he said.

BEI does offer QuickBooks online and customers are on hosted email. Some of the partner's healthcare customers moved to hosted electronic medical records, but that was before making a decision around XP, according to Jennings.

For this partner, the XP opportunity has mostly been in hardware and software upgrade. Similarly, Softchoice gained new business in hardware upgrades as well as thin client evaluation, and professional services to do data transfers from old to new machines and, disposal.

As for the laggards, Jennings is giving his managed services customers until the end of the year to upgrade or the XP devices will be removed from their managed services contracts.

"There's some risk to us [in covering XP devices under the managed services contract through year-end], and we may eat some costs, but that's the approach we're taking," he said, noting that all work done on XP machines in 2015 will be outside of a fixed-fee contract.

Repairing XP-based computers under a break/fix model will mean more money for managed services partners like BEI and Valley Network Solutions, a Fresno, California-based Microsoft Gold partner. Despite the benefit of education, some business customers continue to stick it out with XP, said Daniel Duffy, CEO and CIO at Valley Network Solutions.

For the 10% of Duffy's SMB customers ignoring his advice to upgrade from XP, he stated that he'll continue to support them but that they're likely to pay more for labor and support of those systems. "There's also, potentially, security issues, and eventually something will force their hand," he said.

A surprise for Hester when it comes to XP is how unwilling some customers are to move on from the decade-old operating system. "Some companies are just so invested, so comfortable with the familiar. You wouldn't see them do that with a car; everyone wants the latest and greatest," she said.

Yet, she understands that for some companies an upgrade is costly, especially in an economy still rife with uncertainty.

Finally, the most unexpected business opportunity for Softchoice revolved around Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), which enables administrators to manage the deployment and security of devices and applications across the enterprise.

Microsoft did a good job of selling SCCM to clients as part of their contractual agreement, Brisbois explained. However, he said, many companies might have owned it but never deployed it or made limited use of it, such as for patch management.

"For our broker-of-change customers, we started doing professional engagements around SCCM, implementing different modules, essentially, lighting it up for our customers," he said. "It's been a huge opportunity for the past 18 months that we really got behind," he added.

One key feature of SCCM 2012 is helping administrators address BYOD in the enterprise for user-centric management.

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