As the end of 2010 approaches, now is a great time to put in some time doing some long-term planning for your business’s IT infrastructure.

The primary factors that influence most small businesses to replace workstations include:

  • Manufacturer/OEM support window:  Many companies like to keep mission-critical computers under a hardware support contract.  When your manufacturer says “Sorry, no more extensions on that contract,” that can be a sign that it’s time to consider hardware replacement.
  • Minimizing the risk of hardware failure:  The dawn of every new day also sees a small increase in your computer’s failure risk level.  As computers get older, parts such as hard drives and power supplies start to wear out.  Many companies like to decrease this risk level by proactively replacing their computers on a set schedule.
  • Speed increases:  Newer computers are faster, not only because they usually have a faster processor, more RAM, etc., but also because they bring a clean slate without the years of “junkification” that a workstation goes through.
  • Upgrading to the latest versions of Windows or Microsoft Office:  Sometimes users want to be using the latest and greatest software, or sometimes new line of business software requires that users run a newer version of Microsoft software.  In many cases, it is more cost-effective to buy a replacement computer with OEM licenses for the software you need, as opposed to purchasing the software through Retail or Volume Licensing channels.

There is one other factor related to the last bullet that is often overlooked — Microsoft’s support lifecycle.  People sometimes take it for granted that Microsoft will fix security bugs and that they can simply go to Windows Update to grab these patches.  However, at some point this stops.  Each product goes through a lifecycle of Mainstream Support, Extended Support, and Self-Help Online Support.  Microsoft’s policy is to offer at least 10 years of Mainstream + Extended support.  From a business perspective, the key thing to understand is that when Extended Support is over, security updates are no longer released.  This suddenly changes your email program, for example, from a business asset to a dangerous liability.  Security exploits are a regular occurrence in today’s world, and if you are using a version of Windows or Office that is no longer receiving updates, you are putting yourself and your entire IT environment at risk.

Below is a list of key dates to keep in mind when popular versions of Windows and Microsoft Office will leave Extended Support and stop receiving security updates.  Of course, these dates are always subject to change, so it is best to check Microsoft’s site for the latest update.  Also, it’s best to review Microsoft’s official policies on these matters to completely understand their policies.

  • Windows
    • Windows 2000 or below: Already out of support– upgrade or replace the machine now!
    • Windows XP:  April 8, 2014 — for an organization that exclusively runs XP, you have just over 3 years to do some serious work!
    • Windows Vista: April 11, 2017
    • Windows 7: January 14, 2020
  • Microosft Office
    • Office 2000 or below: Already out of support — upgrade or replace the machine now!
    • Office XP:  July 12, 2011 — start thinking seriously about whether you will upgrade Office before July or replace the machine!
    • Office 2003: April 8, 2014
    • Office 2007: April 11, 2017
    • Office 2010: October 15, 2020

I hope that this post inspires you to take a look at your business’s computer replacement plan, and perhaps makes you consider some factors you hadn’t thought about before.  Best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.