The Demise of Windows XP and Rise of Virtualization for Healthcare.

February 07, 2014   By Jeff Mongelli

The Mayans predicted the world would end Dec. 21, 2012, but many computer users are going to feel the Mayans missed the mark by 474 days because on Apr. 8, 2014, Microsoft will cease supporting and patching Windows XP and Office 2003. OK, the world isn’t going to end, at least I don’t think it is, but roughly one third of the computing world, or 500,00,000 PCs that are currently running Windows XP will no longer meet most global security requirements. Most importantly, Windows XP will no longer be HIPAA compliant for medical practices

Microsoft did announce recently that they will, however, continue supporting their Microsoft Security Essentials Antivirus database. But don’t be fooled by the Orwellian, err Microsoft, doublespeak. No patches and updates means attacks created after April 9 will not likely be detected, and most security experts, including Microsoft, agree XP will be vulnerable. To be clear, on April 9 of this year, if you’re running XP in your medical organization on a network containing protected health information (PHI), you are out of HIPAA compliance and have a new vulnerability to contend with.

Rather than dwell on the loss of a favorite operating system, or stick needles in your Microsoft voodoo doll, or curse the Microsoft end of life policy that was initiated in 2002, you need a road map forward, and that’s where the story takes a turn towards the positive.

For the first time in the history of the PC, you have an array of options that just a couple of years ago didn’t exist or were beyond the financial resources of many clinical organizations. Let’s do a Rodeo Drive-style window shopping of the possibilities. That means if you’re looking for a deep technical dive, we’re going to stall the propeller on your beanie and keep things at the 10,000-foot level.

But before we dig into your choices, we have to discuss the world of virtualization, again, for a very high level. Think of virtualization as nothing more than taking the entire hard drive of your computer and making a single file out of it, then running it just like you would a program like Word or Excel. But instead of just a program opening, your Windows desktop opens. From a user’s perspective, nothing has changed, they see exactly the same thing, and if done correctly, their computer boots up the same way it did before. If you want to make your propeller spin, go here for more details. Virtualization should be in your quiver of options.

So XP is dead and here is what the fork in the road looks like.

Three choices to move forward without XP in your life.

1. Keep it old school. Not long ago, the only option we had when facing the death of a PC was to buy a new one. Lo and behold, you can still do that. In fact, if you want to avoid Windows 8, you can still purchase systems with Windows 7 installed. Your users will be grateful you didn’t move their cheese, at least not much, but you won’t impress the environmental crowd nor make the geek squad swoon.

 2. Keep existing PCs and virtualize them. Broadly defined, this option entails having your users run their desktops off of a server. That server can be in your office or in a datacenter. They still keep their same PC at their desk, but when it boots up, it takes them to a virtualized desktop of either Windows 7 or Windows 8 that is actually running on a server. For those that are paying attention, you may have noticed I’m referencing a server, and that server will be doing a lot more than it is doing for you now. While virtualization brings a lot of benefits to your organization, it does mean you’ll either beef up your current server, replace it with a more powerful one, or add an additional one. In most cases going virtual will still be cost effective, but you’ll have to run the numbers or have your trusted IT vendor do it for you.

3. Replace PCs with Thin Clients – Most PCs still running XP are likely to be several years old and not far from the graveyard. If that’s the case, then you can follow #1 above or you can replace them with a thin client. If you’re old enough, this may conjure up images of green screen terminals with your bank teller clicking in vain, only to turn to you to explain their system is down and the money you need to buy the fuzzy little ferret is not available, or maybe not. The thin clients of today are nothing like years past. Again, their greatest advantage is their ability to run virtualized desktops. The thin client of today is cheaper than a PC, more energy efficient, and exceptionally secure. When done correctly, the user experience is unchanged. With Dell’s recent acquisition of Wyse Technologies, arguably the king of thin clients, the platform is now fully integrated and here to stay.

One more point on virtualization. There are actually a few different flavors of virtualization from a few different vendors. VMWare and Microsoft are two vendors offering similar technologies. There’s also a difference between a virtual desktop interface (VDI) and terminal emulation, or terminal services in the Microsoft parlance. I’m not going into the distinctions here, but if you’re considering moving to a virtual world, and I believe you should, I recommend looking into the differences to be sure you select the proper solution for the needs of your organization.

Although the Mayan’s were wrong about the world coming to an end, the world is losing a trusted and reliable operating system. With today’s advanced technologies, the road ahead is actually far better.

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