close up of a clock face with second hand visible
PHOTO: Sonja Langford

Are you a Windows 7 user? If so, you’re not alone. During the last decade, Windows 7 has earned a loyal fan base.

But come Jan. 14, Microsoft will no longer provide security or support for the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008/R2 operating systems, meaning patching and technical support via Microsoft’s support center will no longer be available. That means continuing to use either operating system after this date will put your system at risk of attack from new, unpatched vulnerabilities. Running your business on an outdated (and unsupported) system is a huge security risk. 

What steps can you take now to prepare for the imminent Windows 7 end of life date? And what are your options? Keep reading.

Options for Windows 7 Users

Keep using Windows 7 (not recommended)

Continuing to run your systems on Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008/R2 will put you at major risk of attack from hackers exploiting vulnerabilities that Windows will no longer be patching. One in three breaches caused globally is due to unpatched vulnerabilities, with an average cost of $3.86 million per breach in 2018, according to the Ponemon Institute

By paying for Windows Extended Security Updates (ESU) you can stay protected with ongoing updates, but with support fees starting at $25 per device and doubling each year after 2020, the service will quickly become very expensive.

If your organization absolutely must continue to use Windows 7 after Jan. 14, you can either secure every device with Windows ESU or, if you’re already using Azure services, run Windows 7 virtual desktops in the cloud, which Microsoft will continue to freely support for three years after the January 2020 end of life date. That being said, migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is the only real option for businesses in the long-term.

Related Article: Making Your Way to Windows 10

Upgrade hardware and get the new OS automatically

If the hardware in your architecture is in need of an upgrade, you’ll automatically get the new Windows 10 OS by buying or leasing new PC hardware. If you’ve upgraded recently, new hardware may not add much in the way of performance, but by aligning the lease with your hardware refresh cycle, you’ll ensure your systems are secure and continually updated with the latest and greatest.

Migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 10 on existing hardware

For desktops and laptops, if your Windows 7 hardware is less than three years old — you’re in luck. You can upgrade to Windows 10 with the hardware you already have. If your hardware is any older than that, you likely need to purchase new hardware, which will automatically come with Windows 10. If you’re like most of us, however, you’ll need to migrate to Windows 10 and navigate Microsoft’s licensing.

Here are your options, depending on your system and requirements:

  • Windows 10 Pro Upgrade License — recommended for upgrading Windows 7 Pro machines to Windows 10 Pro.
  • Windows 10 Enterprise E3 Device or User based license.
  • Windows 10 Enterprise E5 Device or User based license.
  • Microsoft 365 Bundle — includes a license to Windows 10 Enterprise or Business, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security.

For servers running Windows Server 2008/2008 R2, you’ll need to migrate to Windows Server 2012/2012 R2, 2016 or 2019. Windows Server 2012/2012 R2 and 2016 both offer synchronized file servers with Azure and virtual machine (VM) replication to back up and protect your workloads. Windows Server 2019 offers both of these features, in addition to storage migration, local predictive analytics, and the Azure network adaptor, which configures and connects existing VPNs to Azure.

Related Article: RIP Windows Server 2003

Planning Your Migration to Windows 10

If you decide to migrate to Windows 10, please remember: Any OS migration is a major undertaking and requires careful planning. Don’t try to migrate all at once. If possible, you should migrate in phases, depending on your endpoints, to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

Here’s a step-by-step checklist to help with the migration process:

  • Step 1: Take inventory of all of your systems and identify those running Windows 7 or Windows 2008/2008 R2.
  • Step 2: Run an assessment of your existing Windows 7 hardware to see if it meets the requirements for Windows 10.
    • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster compatible processor or System on a Chip(SoC)
    • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
    • Hard drive size: 32GB or larger hard disk
    • Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
    • Display: 800x600
  • Step 3: Decide whether you need to buy/lease new hardware or migrate with your existing hardware (see above).
  • Step 4: Check for compatibility issues with running your applications on Windows 10. 
    Windows Analytics Upgrade Readiness is helpful in highlighting any known Windows 10 compatibility issues with software and hardware drivers on your machines. You should also check any legacy web-based applications and determine whether they need to be configured to Internet Explorer 11.
  • Step 5: Identify any machines running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008/R2 that you must keep after the EOL Date. Consider using Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure, which allow you to run Windows 7 desktops virtually. If you absolutely must continue to use a Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008/R2 machine, you should purchase a Windows ESU plan, but beware of the cost.
  • Step 6: Make a phased migration plan. If possible, start with a small group of devices to validate the process before rolling it out to the entire environment.
  • Step 7: Consider Windows 7 and Windows 10 architecture and SKUs. Whenever possible, Microsoft recommends an in-place upgrade when migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which automatically saves and restores user and application data. If you have systems with Windows 7 32-bit installed, you can only do an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 32-bit, not 64-bit. Note that Windows 10 64-bit is preferable as it offers better security and access to RAM.
  • Step 8: Choose the right licensing options for Windows 10 and Windows Server to fit your business. Windows licensing is notoriously complex and you should seek additional advice if you’re unsure.
  • Step 9: Understand “Windows as a Service.” Microsoft's moniker for the new way of delivering Windows 10 updates, dubbed “Windows as a Service,” provides twice-yearly feature releases (aligned with Office 365 updates) and monthly patches. Microsoft also provides two servicing channels, to determine how often devices need to be updated. The Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) provides new functionality with twice-per-year feature update releases, while the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) is tailored to devices that receive new feature releases every two to three years.
  • Step 10: Implement an endpoint management solution to keep all of your systems up-to-date with automated, scalable software deployment and patch management, to make the process easier going forward.

The clock is ticking — as of next Tuesday, Windows 7 will no longer be supported. While OS migrations may seem daunting, delaying will only put your business further at risk. If you haven’t already, start examining your options and secure your plan of action now — your business’s health and security may depend on it.