Upgrade tech BEFORE the End (of Life)
By Sean Gill, vCIO
“All good things must come to an end”, wrote Chaucer in his poem, Troilus and Criseyde. Alas, who knew that this would be particularly true in the realm of technology today? Many of us have fond memories of long-lost operating systems (Windows XP – we see you) or our favorite firewalls. But time and progress march ever onward and for the good of our organizations’ security and relevancy, we must keep up.
It’s generally understood that keeping systems up to date is important. But the ongoing work of keeping systems patched with the latest patches is only part of the equation. The other thing to keep in mind is the system’s overall usable timeframe or “End of Life” date.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- First off, what is “End of Life”?
- System lifespans to be aware of
- Security risks of using unsupported systems
- Two current examples of vulnerable systems (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2)
- Risks of using old systems- unpredictable hardware failures
- Planning benefits of paying attention to EoL dates
- Productivity & experience benefits of upgrading sooner
“End of Life” and General lifespans
The “End of Life” (EoL) date is determined by the vendor. It marks the date when they will no longer support that technology (operating system, software version, etc.), and/or release any additional feature or security updates for that system.
The length of time before a system goes EoL differs depending on the type of system. In general, plan for the following life spans:
- 2-4 years for software/line of business applications (depending on the vendor)
- 3-5 years for workstations or laptops
- 5 years for server hardware
- 5 years for network hardware (firewalls, switches, etc.)
- 10 years for Windows Operating Systems (from original launch date)
There are two approaches to dealing with system End of Life dates:
- Create a strategic plan to proactively upgrade the systems over time
- Wait it out and, like an old car, drive the old system until it’s dead
You can probably guess which approach we advise.
While it may seem more cost-effective to keep a system until it dies, there are a lot of risks in this approach that far outweigh the upfront costs of replacing these systems sooner rather than later. Here are a few reasons why it is always a good practice to upgrade systems before they go completely “end of life”.
Reduce Security Vulnerabilities
In today’s day and age, security is at the top of most organizations’ list of concerns. Security is one of the biggest reasons to upgrade or replace older systems before their EoL dates. When a system reaches its End of Life, the vendor stops putting out security patches and stops all support for the system. Once this happens, that system becomes more insecure day by day. Threat actors know this and keep a close eye on these dates, waiting for the opportunity to exploit them.
Two current examples of this are the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 operating systems. These were great OS’s but went End of Life in January of 2020. They are now a potential liability to organizations still using them, as hackers work to find unpatched vulnerabilities in these systems and put out exploits to take advantage of them. Replacing these systems sooner rather than later can dramatically improve an organization’s security posture.
Avoid Unexpected Hardware Failures
Like security, productivity is another business priority that suffers when End of Life dates are overlooked. If a company is running critical systems on older hardware or servers, eventually these hardware systems will fail, grinding productivity to a halt when it does. And if “Ol’ Murphy” has anything to say about it, this will happen at the most inopportune time like during month-end or some other critical crunch-time.
Planning ahead for hardware replacements can help businesses avoid unexpected failures and prevent lost productivity. In addition, proactive planning can help identify systems that might need special attention.
For example, perhaps there is an older financial software system that is business-critical but can only run on an operating system that’s reaching its End of Life date. Determining this early can help the business plan accordingly. Maybe they determine that the system can be upgraded. If not, and the system must be kept, they can plan for security contingencies like firewalling or air-gapping the system away from the rest of the production systems.
Access More Features and Work More Productively
Upgrading systems that are going End of Life isn’t just about avoiding disaster. Embracing current systems sooner rather than later can unlock access to new feature sets, better performance, and more capabilities that were limited in the older system. In addition to being more secure and more reliable, this can also improve productivity and user experience.
Plan Ahead & Upgrade Sooner Rather Than Later
We all wish that everything could be backward compatible. It would be so much easier if things just lasted and kept on lasting. But that is unfortunately not the reality. Software companies build their software on the backs of new coding techniques and technologies which allows them to give us the feature sets we ask for. As those technologies advance, we need to keep up to be able to run the new system. As mentioned earlier – time and progress marches on, and so must we. Hopefully, these insights help explain why it is important to upgrade systems before their official End of Life.
Do you have any outdated systems that come to mind in your business? It may be time to put an upgrade plan in place!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean has been shaping the IT strategies of businesses across a wide range of industries and sizes for over 10 years. As a vCIO at CIO Solutions, he works with business leaders every day to create a clear IT vision, mature technology solutions, and ultimately, enhance business productivity and security through technology.
He and the rest of the Strategic Client Services team at CIO Solutions are constantly evaluating important trends in the industry and advising clients on best practices and long-term IT strategies for success.
Are you a current client of CIO Solutions? Contact your vCIO or Client Success Manager to do a review of your systems!
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