A moment five years in the making is here. Support for Windows 7 officially ended on January 14. While not every enterprise has completed the migration to Windows 10, it is the operating system IT teams must focus on moving forward — and it means big changes in how they operate. “Set it and forget it” is done. At the same time, the pain of migrating thousands of endpoints over to an entirely different OS is too, replaced instead by a new method of ongoing life cycle management.
We’ve entered the era of Windows as a Service. This is not just clever marketing but rather a genuine shift in how new Windows features are introduced and updates are conducted. Essentially, this model requires delivery of new features twice a year and security updates every month. Feature updates also receive ongoing quality updates over the course of either 18 or 30 months, replacing what previously occurred over the course of several years. The new model translates to a continuous rollout of Windows through internal testing. As with any major change, Windows as a Service has its pros and cons. Let’s dive in.
Windows as a Service officially makes Windows 10 the last OS enterprises ever have to install. I know more than a few enterprises struggling through migration pains that will be grateful for this fact alone.
Additionally, such an aggressive schedule of new releases helps to ensure that enterprises are running a relatively current version of the OS without ever falling too far behind on system updates. With the monthly quality updates, Windows 10 fixes and feature enhancements are implemented consistently. This could be a big boost to system hygiene and go a long way toward shoring up endpoints. Though it is not a replacement for an organization’s own monitoring and vulnerability management, it will dictate that systems are running something reasonably close to what they should be and that it is supported.
Microsoft has also learned from SaaS models that delivery of services can be very dynamic, enabling them to respond to changes in the landscape, new business needs, and security threats much faster and more flexibly than ever before. Additionally, the company has reaped the benefits of the model with other products, so it was only a matter of time before the OS — the product on which the company was founded — received similar treatment. As such, Microsoft will be pushed to innovate at a quicker pace and thus keep the behemoth relevant across all of its lines of business.
On the con side, a number of concerns have popped up, chief among them a loss of control. Companies used to be able to choose their preferred OS version and decide when, what and how to update. Even though Microsoft’s intent is to keep organizations on track, this aspect could be massively disruptive for teams.
Today, the entire life cycle has shortened to 18 months for enterprises that seek to be at the bleeding edge or 30 months for those that simply don’t have the resources to keep up. This is considerably shorter than any previous version of Windows. Deployments can be delayed slightly but not refused entirely, meaning one way or another, you’re going to have to deal with feature releases and upgrades on a regular schedule that your team does not set.
Additionally, the resource demands for Windows as a Service are considerable. This is a huge worry for IT teams that are already understaffed. According to a recent survey, nearly two-thirds (73 percent) of IT staff feel that they are stretched too thin. To force them into a continuous rollout schedule for Windows could be debilitating.
Windows as a Service is also causing a deep-seated fear of the unknown. IT team members are wondering perpetually how the next version is going to work — or if it is going to work. What things are going to break and what will be required of them to address the issue? These concerns are growing, especially as the first few builds have not been without their bugs. Tack on the fact that there are a lot of features being released that can’t be unbundled, even if they cause problems with other vital applications. As a result, there is a lack of enthusiasm coming from IT.
There is really no way around Windows as a Service in today’s enterprise environment, and ultimately, it will prove to work in enterprises’ favor. If lower total cost of ownership doesn’t get you or if you don’t at least feel a sigh of relief from never having to change over thousands of machines and endpoints to an entirely new operating system while conducting business as usual, then promises of enhanced security and greater operating efficiency should make you feel at least a bit better.
To make Windows as a Service work, or at least something you can live with, it may require you to shift your mindset. Let “set it and forget it” go once and for all, and realize the opportunities Windows as a Service can create. Microsoft is setting the table for you to get and keep your endpoints in line. By keeping them up to date, you will head off a slew of future problems and can focus energies in new ways.
Additionally, as tools advance, deployment of feature enhancements and updates can be automated reliably, alleviating this strain from teams. With improved, highly secure content distribution engines, such as those that utilize the latest peer-to-peer technology, companies can also reduce the impact on network performance as upgrades and updates are deployed. By removing the time and frustrations associated with configuration, testing and deployment of Windows updates and enhancements through automation, IT teams will have more time than ever before to devote to other IT imperatives.
Yes, there will be growing pains with Windows as a Service — probably even worse than expected when you learned of the initial migration to Windows 10. It will take a few cycles to sort through and determine what is needed in order to make Windows as a Service efficient for your company. Yet, by knowing what is coming and when, companies can swap uncertainty with a new kind of discipline. They can also integrate emerging tools and applications that facilitate secure, efficient delivery while also ensuring configurations are correct. In this light, there is hope that Microsoft’s new model will benefit organizations and teams alike.