Is it time to upgrade? This is probably the most frequent question I get from my clients. And for good reason. It’s not always easy to tell if upgrading makes sense. Not even for IT Pros.
The reason is simple: It’s complicated. There are a lot of factors which have to be considered when deciding to upgrade, and there are many questions you should ask yourself when planning for your future IT needs.
The first thing to consider when evaluating an upgrade is Cost. But even cost is more complex than you might think.
How much does it cost now? What is the cost of support/maintenance over the life of the product? How long should I expect it to last?
What about the costs of lost productivity if I DON’T upgrade?
What about less tangible costs related issues:
- incompatibility between versions
- poor performance of older versions
- security issues due to reduced/absent vendor support
- increased support/maintenance costs – older stuff takes more time to keep running
Besides costs, there are also risks. The risk of failure increases with the age of any product. Older stuff breaks. Bottom line.
Besides risk of failure, there are also security risks, especially when we’re talking about software. Older software & hardware drivers are updated less frequently than current versions. Really old software that is out of support may not be updated at all, which can be a problem due to both security and reliability concerns. Some older software may not work properly on newer operating systems, and can pose a risk of data loss due to crashes. Suffice to say you are taking a big risk by using unsupported products on your network. Bottom Line: If you can afford not to, don’t.
Sometimes the question of upgrading is simpler because you might HAVE to upgrade. Forced upgrades are commonplace, and although you may not actually be “Forced”, once you’ve built your company procedures around a piece of technology, you cant always just switch and stop using it.
After technology has been deployed across your business, change can become expensive. Vendors know this, and they’ve learned that most companies will choose to upgrade rather than change software that everyone in the company uses. But even though the costs to deploy a new solution and provide training are more expensive than the upgrade, if your business depends on numerous programs, the cost of upgrades can quickly become a multi-headed monster…one that feeds itself.
The typical scenario goes something like this:
You have to upgrade to the current version of Quickbooks because their payroll feature is no longer supported on the older versions. The new version of Quickbooks won’t run on Windows XP, so now you have to upgrade all of your Quickbooks workstations to Windows 7. Your time keeping program won’t run on Windows 7, so you now have to upgrade that program too, but of course the new version won’t run on Windows XP, so you the rest of the PCs on your network now need to be updated to Windows 7.
Next, you find out that your older version of Office 2003 is crashing due to incompatibilities with some of the newer software as well, so now you also need to update to Office 2013. File format changes between Office versions mean the Office 2013 upgrade needs to be deployed companywide to keep everyone on the same version.
So you bite the bullet and start upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2013, in addition to Quickbooks. You buy some new PCs, and upgrade some others hoping to get a few more years out of them. Several $1000s into the upgrade process, someone points out that the older workstations, to which you already upgraded with more RAM and larger drives to allow the OS upgrade, are now being brought to their knees by the resource hungry newer versions of software.
Oh yeah, and two of your printers (you know, the ones you’ve had for years, that print perfectly and that you have 2+ year’s worth of toner for) are no longer supported under Windows 7.
So before you know it you’ve replaced all of the PCs on your network, upgraded all of the major software packages, and replaced a couple of printers that didn’t need replacing. Worse yet, you’ve also just set yourself up to repeat the process about 5-7 years from now.
By the time all is said and done, the whole Upgrade question can get pretty confusing. Figuring out what to upgrade can be a daunting task, and without proper planning the expense and risks only increase.
So what do you do? Here are some guidelines.
- Keep all software up to date with regular security patches and updates.
- Most major vendors offer frequent software and firmware updates.
- Out of date software escalates risks.
- Windows Updates and Service packs ensure security and productivity
- Productivity apps that are used frequently business-wide, represent the greatest risk of failure or security breach, and must be kept current .
- When version upgrades are required, plan to upgrade ALL PCs at once
- When all systems are on the same versions, ensured compatibility means better productivity
- Support costs are reduced when software platforms are uniform across your business
- Don’t run unsupported software.
- If the vendor is no longer updating the older version, upgrade to the new version.
- If the vendor is no longer offering upgrades, consider an alternative product/vendor.
- Avoid upgrading Operating systems by instead replacing PCs.
- OS Upgrades are costly.
- Purchase price of software license
- Cost of support to backup system, install upgrade and resolve issues
- Cost of hardware upgrades to meet OS requirements and ensure performance
- RAM/Hard drive Upgrades
- Peripheral upgrades
- Reduced productivity: diminished performance resultant to pairing last generation hardware with upgraded OS
- Unless you have 25+ PCs, purchasing PCs with OS license is cost effective comparable to Enterprise Licensing
- Preinstalled OS saves setup time
- OEM licenses are much cheaper than a retail license for Windows
- PLAN. PLAN. PLAN.
- Budgets are your friends.
- When purchasing a new PC, consider the anticipated useful life
- Develop a schedule to replace ALL PCs regularly that meets your budget
- Choose wisely.
- Choose Vendors for Warranty and Support as well as features and price
- Avoid Custom software and hardware solutions if possible
- Custom software can be a nightmare to maintain, and vendor support may vary.
- Custom vendor support contracts can be expensive, and the hardware/software may become unusable without support. Third party support may be difficult/impossible to find.
- What happens if your developer/system builder goes out of business?
- Develop a long term plan for the ongoing replacement of all IT equipment
- Waiting until everything is really old can be a disaster.
- Generally, a 4-7 year rotation schedule is appropriate for most IT equipment
- Version consistency for Operating Systems /Software = reduced support costs and increased productivity
So what now?
As you may have heard, support for Windows XP officially ended earlier this year. So, should you update those Windows XP computers now? Or replace them?
Well, I know your old Windows XP pcs have already been replaced/upgraded, right? I’m sure you are NOT wondering how big a risk it might be to put off the upgrade awhile. I mean, if Microsoft says you need to buy 20 new PCs this year, you’re just gonna do it, right? You don’t want to piss of the MotherShip in Redmond now, do you?
Well, let’s say you DON’T have an unlimited IT budget…You probably have some tough choices to make.
To help put the question in perspective, ask yourself these questions if you are debating about the XP upgrade:
- Do you run any HIPPA compliant software or keep sensitive data on your networks? – YES, UPGRADE
- Do you process credit cards, work with financial data, or pay bills online? – YES, UPGRADE
- Do you make purchases or use Internet Banking? – YES, UPGRADE
- Is Internet Explorer 9 or greater required for any websites you use frequently? – YES, UPGRADE
- Is your system slow and it seems like you are always waiting for it to catch up? – YES, UPGRADE
- Do you use Internet Explorer to surf the Internet? – Switch to Chrome or Firefox or UPGRADE
- Is any of your CURRENT software UNSUPPORTED on Windows 7? – YES, EVALUATE. Additional software upgrades may be required.
- Are all of your printers and peripherals compatible with the new software? – YES, UPGRADE; NO, Evaluate extra costs.
- Will the upgrade cause any other problems? -YES, Evaluate. Obviously, every situation is different.