What is End-of-Life software? Why should you care?

Are you familiar with the term End-of-Life, as it pertains to software? Hopefully so, especially if you’re in the position of managing your company’s IT network. Simply put, End-of-Life (EOL) refers to the point in time when the developer will cease to create updates and patches for that particular piece of software. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why software companies issue end-of-life dates, and why you should seriously consider upgrading your systems before an EOL date arrives.

Every software product has a lifecycle. This cycle begins the day the software is released and ends when the developer decides to stop creating software updates and security patches. You may be asking yourself, why do they stop? Why, for instance, would Microsoft want to cease support for Windows 7, one of its most popular operating systems? As time passes, consumers steadily place greater demands on software. These users want more features, better performance, improved tools, etc. Eventually, the old software becomes incapable of meeting these demands so a new program is created to replace it, much like how a new car model supplants its predecessor.

This type of transition is quite common in the tech industry, and is usually referred to as the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). These cycles may last for many years. Windows Server 2003 received updates for over a decade, until Microsoft killed support for the platform in July 2015. Two current (and widely used) examples are Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, both of which Microsoft will cease to support after January 14, 2020. Any businesses that rely on either of these two programs should already be planning an upgrade to Windows 10, and/or Windows Server 2019, respectively.

You may be be thinking, why should I plan to upgrade? After all, the software still works and I’ve spent a lot of time and effort customizing the platform to suit my business. While we can certainly appreciate that  sentiment,, here’s why you should seriously consider keeping your systems up to date.

Just because Microsoft will cease to provide security updates, doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still trying to find vulnerabilities in the operating system. Suppose January 21, 2020 rolls around and a malicious hacker finds an exploitable weakness in the Windows 7 operating system. Since official software support has ended, that weakness will remain unpatched. It also means that this weakness exists on every other Windows 7 machine running at the time. As of January 2019, Windows 7 comprised 34% of all currently running operating systems.

Imagine that a burglar finds a key that unlocked the backdoor to a third of American households, and worse yet, no one can fix it. That’s a great metaphor for the type of risk you run by using software past its end of-life date.

If your business is running Windows Server 2008 and/or Windows 7, we urge you to start planning a migration to a newer software platform as soon as possible. Extended support is available for these products, albeit at a substantial premium.

The upgrade process can feel a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Over the past two decades, our team has assisted dozens of companies with major overhauls and upgrades to their IT network. If you would like assistance, we’re here to help, and your initial consultation is completely free of charge.

To request a complimentary assessment of your company’s IT network, contact us and one of our expert representatives will reach out with one business day to arrange your consultation.

Brief History: Windows 7

Microsoft released Windows 7 in October 2009. The software giant marketed the platform as the natural successor to Windows Vista. In fact, Windows 7 utilized much of the underlying code and technology from Windows Vista. The most obvious improvements came in the form of faster boot times, a new user interface, and the addition of Internet Explorer 8.

Windows 7 was available in a several different configurations to meet a variety of market demands. For their personal machines, individual users could choose between Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. Microsoft also released Windows 7 Enterprise Edition for businesses.

In contrast to its much-derided Vista predecessor, Windows 7 proved itself very popular right out of the gate. Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc blogged that over 240 million Windows 7 licenses were sold in the first year alone. At the time, this made Windows 7 the fastest selling operating system in history.

Win7 Usage Share Stat

Image Source: http://gs.statcounter.com/windows-version-market-share/desktop/worldwide/#monthly-200908-201906

At its adoption peak in 2013, Windows 7 accounted for over 60% of all Windows-based desktop operating systems. At that time, Windows machine accounted for roughly 90% of all desktop-based operating systems worldwide.

StatCounter-os_combined-ww-monthly-200908-201906

Image Source: http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/desktop/worldwide/#monthly-200908-201906

While many people certainly loved Windows 7 (and many still do), its days were numbered from the outset. Although it was a clear improvement over Windows Vista, 7 still had its faults. Following feedback, Microsoft made several changes and released a new version called Windows 8, and Windows 10 would be released a few years after that. In an effort to drive adoption, Microsoft even offered Windows 10 as a free upgrade to many Windows 7 users. This effort proved successful, and by early 2018 Windows 10 had taken its place as the dominant desktop operating system.

Windows 7 End-of-Life: Next Steps?

Official sales ended in October 2016, but that doesn't necessarily mean businesses have upgraded to newer products. According to some estimates, as much as 45% of the business world is still running Windows 7 machines, a figure that roughly translates to 378 million Windows 7 PCs currently in use around the world. This is important to note, because in just one year Microsoft will cease to provide extended support for the aging operating system.

What is Software Support?

Software support is the means by which software companies create updates for their products to enhance their performance and keep them secure from digital attackers. Oftentimes, major software companies offer to support their products several years after the original release.

Upgrading From Windows 7

In 2020, when Microsoft Extended Support officially ends for Windows 7, companies will be forced to start upgrading to Windows 10. That said, upgrading all of a businesses computers to a new operating system can be a massive undertaking, requiring substantial commitment of time and resources. The challenge of doing so means many businesses will be slow to upgrade to Windows 10. In fact, studies have shown that by the end of 2020, a full third of all business PC will still run the old operating system. The fact that such a high proportion of the world's businesses may end up running an inherently vulnerable operating system represents a grave cybersecurity threat.

How Does This Affect Me?

If you work with a small or midsize business that runs primarily Windows 7-based PCs, then you should consider upgrading to a newer OS sooner rather than later. The cost and pain of switching worsens with the passage of time, especially if your company is in growth-mode. This makes logical sense, if you think about the effort required to upgrade ten PCs versus... say, a hundred.That said, if upgrading now is out of the question for one reason or another, we recommend taking advantage of Microsoft's Extended Security Update (ESU) offer. This is Microsoft's way of offering security updates to those who cannot or will not upgrade in the immediate future. Businesses can pay a fee, based the number of workstations in question, to have Microsoft support Windows 7 machines for up to 3 additional years. We should stress that while ESU plans are expensive, it is better to pay the fee and ensure your OS is still updated against the latest cyber threats. 

Brief History: Windows Server 2008

Released in late-February of the same year, Windows Server 2008 included several notable improvements over its predecessor, Windows Server 2003. Compared to older platforms, the system was much more efficient, offered better security tools for administrators, and featured an improved user interface.

Here is how ITProToday.com reviewed the platform upon its release:

“Windows Server 2008 is the most substantial upgrade to the Windows Server product line since Windows 2000, with a sweeping set of capabilities and a reengineered core that will usher in a new era of 64-bit server computing. Like its Windows Vista stable mate, Windows Server 2008 was in development an achingly long time, and some of its many features were originally slated for its predecessors, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2. Unlike Vista, however, this lengthy schedule hasn't proven problematic. In fact, it's arguably worked to the product's advantage: This is a refined, mature, and stable operating system that will no doubt power server systems of all kinds for years to come.”

Though Windows Server 2008 utilizes an evolved version of the Active Directory (AD) infrastructure that first debuted in Windows 2000, many of the features of this new OS are radical and revolutionary. Key among these major advances are Server Core, which provides a lightweight version of the server aimed at specific workloads, and Hyper-V, Microsoft's hypervisor-based virtualization technology. (This latter technology is currently available only in beta form; see below for details.) As befits a major Windows Server upgrade, however, Windows Server 2008 also includes a slew of smaller functional advances as well as key gains in scalability, reliability, manageability, performance, and security.”

Initially referred to internally under the codename “Longhorn,” Bill Gates announced the platform’s official title during his keynote address at WinHEC in May of 2007. As ITProToday.com predicted in their review, Server 2008 did prove itself extremely popular, and has demonstrated excellent staying power. More than a decade after its initial release, Server 2008 remains widely in use.

As of April 2017, Windows Server 2008 still comprised over 30% of all server operating systems in use. The fact that so many businesses remain on the platform this close to its January  2020 end-of-life (EOL) date is genuine cause for concern.

Server usage stats

Image Source: https://www.smartprofile.io/analytics-papers/windows-server-2012-approximately-equal-windows-server-2008/

What is The Danger?

An approaching EOL means that Microsoft will cease to issue regular security updates for Windows Server. But that doesn’t mean malicious hackers won’t keep probing the system to find new weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Once the updates stop, any weaknesses found in the final version of the software will remain unpatched. This means that whatever data or systems are running onServer 2008 will be particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks.  Extended Security Updates are available until 2023, albeit at a premium price point. See more info below <hyperlink to ESU section on pillar page>.

Windows Server 2008 End-of-Life: Next Steps

Sagiss CTO Jim Lancaster discusses the hot topic of Windows Server 2008 end-of-life and covers the key reasons why businesses should plan to migrate from the aging software as soon as possible.  

Q: What is End-of-Life?

The term end-of-life (EOL) means end of support from Microsoft, so they have several versions of that. One of them is end of regular support, which means that you can no longer get patches for free anymore. they And then for some of their bigger enterprise customers such as General Motors for example, they can continue to get patches, but they've got to pay for them and that is very limited circumstances. But for the vast majority of us, end-of-life means that Microsoft no longer supports, no longer releases patches, and longer provides telephone support for their products. It's not just Microsoft that stops supporting, it’s the vendors that write software for that operating system too which is maybe even more important in some cases.

Q: What is the history of Windows Server 2008?

Jim Lancaster: Microsoft Windows Server 2008 came out and they made a lot of changes to the user interface. Some of them were very awkward and so probably a year later, maybe 18 months later, they came out with the 2008-R2 to fix those UI issues made it look and feel more like Windows than the original 2008 release. It was a very good operating system: very stable, very robust and ran for a long time, but software gets old and they quit supporting it and it’s time to move on.

Q: What is the primary reason to migrate from Windows Server 2008?

Jim Lancaster: To me my primary concern about a Windows 2008 server would be security. How do I protect it?  How do keep hackers out of it and that sort of thing. That software was not written to withstand the kind of punishment that servers are taking now out on the internet. It wasn't hardened to the degree that servers have to be hardened now and I think security would be the principle concern for somebody who's considering whether or not to upgrade that 2008 server. These are the same concerns of compliance issues too because compliance is really related to security.  How do you maintain any kind of compliance on an obsolete operating system and the answer is you can't.  So whether you're HIPAA-regulated or you've got insurance compliance or you've got customers that are requiring you to be in compliance with their own IT requirements, you're not going to be able to meet those compliance requirements on 2008 and it's principally because of the lack of security.

The reality is that we live in a global economy, and while you can say that we are not under the regulations of GDPR in the United States--that it is a European regulation--the fact of the matter is, is that if you do business with anybody in the European Union you have to be in GDPR compliance. So, the newer versions of the server are GDPR compliant, but in the 2008 version that is now 11 years old, it was created long before any of that.

Q: What are other reasons to migrate?

Jim Lancaster: What interesting in this case is that we have an option that we didn't have really before for the last upgrade. Microsoft is really encouraging folks to consider Azure. So instead of buying server hardware like we did maybe for this generation of 2008, instead of buying a new server and buying the server OS and buying the client access licenses and doing all of that, Microsoft will essentially give you the server license in the client access licenses if you move your server up to Azure. You're paying rent on the server, but it is where things are going. It is more secure. People will make arguments about whether it's more cost effective to be on Azure or not, but I think it's really more about security, stability and about maintaining accessibility.  What's built into Azure now is this idea that you should be able to get your data from anywhere. Really the whole thing is built from the ground up for a kind of universal access. For day-to-day operations, there is really no reason to have a Windows 2008 server online.

How to Upgrade from Windows 7

Home Users: the ESU Doesn't Apply to You

Microsoft's ESU (Extended Service Updates) doesn't apply to home users, in other words anyone running Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium. You can sign up for it if you have Windows 7 Professional or Enterprise. However it is very expensive.

Minimum System Requirements

The system requirements for Windows 10 aren’t very rigorous, but first be sure your computer meets the following minimum standards:

  • Processor:1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor
  • RAM:1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
  • Hard disk space:16 GB for 32-bit OS or 20 GB for 64-bit OS
  • Graphics card:DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display:800 x 600

If your computer doesn’t meet these requirements you need to consider upgrading your equipment. Microsoft has engineered Windows 10 to run on most systems and upgrading now will prevent a lot of frustration later on. Microsoft also has a tool to guide you in finding the best computer for your needs here

Backup your data

You never know what might go wrong while upgrading you system, and there are ways you can revert to the old operating system if the need arises. But losing important documents and photos can be devastating don't risk it.

Updates are critical

If your computer is telling you it can’t update to Windows 10 and you've meet the requirements it may be that you need a firmware upgrade on a critical component of your computer. Before installing Windows 10 make sure you’ve updated all of your core components firmware and software.

Those critical components would include:

  • BIOS if applicable (Basic Input Output System) This system manages data flow between all other components in your system.
  • CPU (Central Processing Unit) This is the “Brain” of your computer this performs all the calculations, decodes and then takes action by delivering the appropriate output to the components of your computer.
  • Video Card or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) This performs specialized functions for the video display of your computer. Your GPU works in concert with your CPU.
  • Ethernet and Wireless Network Adapter This component handles all traffic between your local network and internet traffic.
  • Motherboard The foundation of your computer, this component ties all other devices together and lets them communicate. 

There may be other components installed on your computer, but these listed above are usually the culprits stopping Windows from updating. Updating these components is also an important part of staying ahead of hackers. You can find those firmware and software upgrades on websites of the component manufacturer.

Securing a Valid Windows 10 Key

After ensuring your computer has all its critical updates you can proceed to update to Windows 10. If you need a key for Windows 10 or need help with updating we've got you covered in this video

How Long Will it Take?

Once you’ve got your legitimate copy of the Windows 10 registry key, you can proceed to upgrade.

Your time to upgrade has many factors, if you are downloading from the internet or installing from a physical copy, upgrading from Windows 7 or doing a clean install. The computer you are installing it on will also contribute to the amount of time involved.

Be prepared to spend anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours on the process itself. This doesn’t take into account the amount of time it takes to download Windows 10 from the Microsoft servers which can vary greatly due to the size of the file which can change depending on the version of Windows 10 you've purchased and internet speed.

Following these tips can help you with a less hectic upgrade of Windows 10. 

Should you purchase Microsoft Extended Support Updates?

Here’s what you need to know:

For Businesses

The ESU for businesses includes security updates for critical and important issues as defined by Microsoft Security Response Center for three years past the end-of-life. After then, there will be no more updates from Microsoft and support will cease. The ESU will only be available for Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise versions.  They will not include any other versions of Windows 7 and won’t cover older versions of Windows such as XP and Vista.

There is no hard deadline for purchasing the ESU (aside from when the program is over). However, if you wait to purchase the program until after it starts, Microsoft will still bill you for the preceding time the ESU was offered. In other words, if you purchase it in year two you will be billed for year one as well. This is because the updates are cumulative, so you still receive the benefits of the previous updates.

The ESU pricing model for businesses is:

Windows 7 Professional

-Support is billed per workstation or device.

-$50 in year one; $100 in year two and $200 in year three

Windows 7 Enterprise

-Support is billed per workstation or device.

-$25 dollars per device in year one, $50 in year two and $100 dollars per device in year three

As of August 2019 Microsoft announced for Windows 7 Enterprise users that had active Windows 10 Enterprise E5 or Microsoft 365 E5 subscriptions you will receive a free year of Extended Security Updates. 

"Qualifying subscription licenses must remain active throughout the full ESU coverage period, or the free ESU coverage expires with the subscription," Microsoft said.

This is a limited time promotion, you'll need to check with Microsoft to see if it's still available.

For Home Users

There is no direct link to Extended Security Updates for home users on the Microsoft website, so by all indications, ESU is not available for individuals. However, the company has provided some general guidance to assist with the end-of-life issue.

Microsoft suggests that any home user upgrade to Windows 10 if they have not already done so before January 2020 as any technical assistance after the 14th of January 2020 will not be available.

They also advise that purchasing a new PC is the best option for consumers. Microsoft’s website states that today “PCs are faster, lightweight yet powerful, and more secure, with an average price that's considerably less than that of the average PC eight years ago.” They also have a guide that will help you choose a new PC that fits your needs. For a complete guide to updating your Windows 7 Machine click here.

For further information on the ESU and the platforms it covers, please follow this link.

How To Upgrade from Windows Server 2008

The First Step: Assessment

It starts with the applications that you're running and figuring out what the vendor’s recommendations are for them. For example let's say you've got a document management system or if you’re a medical firm and you've got EMR or something like that--are you going to the hosted version of that software? Is the server that you have now going away or if you've got on-premise version of the software, what are their requirements? When we're looking at a 2008 upgrade our first step is to figure out what is it that you're running and what does the software requires.  Once we’ve sorted through all that, we determine where these applications and services are going to end up.  Then we look at what's left and decide whether an on-premise server is really indicated or whether to move you up into Azure.

The Second Step: Migration

Jim Lancaster: The vast majority of everything that we're doing now is going to Azure. There are legitimate reasons for having an on-premise server. Maybe the location that the client is in has low bandwidth so it’s just impossible to get good reliable Internet service, so that may be what's driving it. But for the vast majority of people, it's time to look at Azure. That’s where most upgrades will go.

The Third Step: Optimize 

Jim Lancaster: Things work differently in Azure than they did they do with the old 2008. So it does require careful planning and requires somebody who knows that it’s just a really complex animal. But monitoring and managing the server once it's up and running is very similar to what we've always been doing. We have to monitor memory disk space, memory utilization, CPU utilization and that sort of thing.  But in addition to that, we have to monitor cost because the Azure cost model is that you pay a little bit for everything. So, you pay a little bit for disk rights, for disk reads, for CPU, for the amount of CPU used, and for how much network traffic you send back and forth. Monitoring all of that and making sure that you don't have a runaway process that will generate a very big surprise bill at the end of the month--that requires some expertise as well.

Are you still on the fence? 

Jim Lancaster: While I understand the reluctance or the reticence to move to the cloud, I think the benefits now far outweigh the negatives. The things that you can do with your servers in the cloud and with your applications in the cloud--there's so much more that you can do now. We were never able to do easily before. Principally that has to do with remote access and being able to provide our customers with access to the data no matter where they are. If they have multiple locations sharing data in a central location for all, etc. It used to be that we had to manage these locations independently and it was pretty complicated to keep everything synchronized. Those problems have gone away. Now it's more about just getting connected to the Internet and after that, you're finding your way to your infrastructure and managing and running everything there. So, it's just different I understand the reluctance. It requires a different way of thinking and it requires change. But I think it offers a lot more of everything more than what we've been able to do in the past and it's the way things are going whether we want it to go that way or not, that's the way the world is going. Even if you’re on the fence, I think it's time to at least look at the cloud.