Hundreds of thousands of devices managed by the UK's NHS are still running Windows 7. With the end of support looming, is the service about to have another Windows XP moment? Er, probably not.
Figures obtained by virtualization vendor Citrix, under Blighty's Freedom of Information (FoI) regulations, would seem to paint a fairly bleak picture at first glance.
Of 98 NHS Trusts surveyed, 77 responded. 447,619 devices were reported on, and of those a mere 122,693 were running Windows 10 compared to a mighty fleet of 231,057 using the venerable (and soon to be out-of-extended-support) Windows 7.
The rest were running a hotch-potch of other OSes, with iOS and Android featuring heavily. A lone Windows Mobile holdout was recorded and, slightly worryingly, a good deal of Windows XP installations continue to linger on life support. Still, Windows 7 is clearly an issue.
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As for why trusts have not yet made the move, 43 reported at least one app needing remediation. 18 had at least 10 problematic apps.
At this point, a sharp-suited Citrix representative would be expected to show up proffering all manner of virtualized Windows 7 goodies, meaning that trusts can keep on using those iffy apps while updating to the latest and greatest infrastructure.
Indeed, the company's director for the UK and Ireland public sector, Matt Smith, could practically be heard wringing his hands as he said "prolonged austerity is putting [the NHS] under even more pressure to do more with less" – so how about throwing some of that cash Citrix's way, right?
However, the figures obtained by Citrix show that 60 of the trusts that responded already have a plan to migrate to Windows 10, and another five were thinking about it. Only two came back with an out-and-out "NO".
And the reason for this, in spite of Smith's doom-laden warnings, is most likely that, for the NHS at least, the 14 January 2020 Windows 7 end of support deadline doesn't apply. Microsoft does plan to axe extended support and free security updates for the legacy OS on that date, but an awful lot of E5 subscribers can expect a one-year grace period before the rug gets pulled.
And all NHS organisations (in England at least) have access to Windows 10 Enterprise E5 licences.
Citrix is aware of this and one of the questions put to trusts not planning a migration was: "Do you have plans to extend current Windows 7 service subscriptions?" A spokesperson told us that "the results were not consistent enough for us to consider it as reliable insight. It did suggest to us that knowledge of this option was not widely known or understood."
Er, right. As a reminder, only two trusts came back with a definite "NO" to "Do you have plans to migrate to Windows 10 in the next 6 months?"
The figures contained more iffy news for Citrix when trusts were asked if they were considering a migration to something a little more, you know, virtual. The answer was a resounding "NO" as 44 trusts said using virtualization technology to deal with Windows 7 migration did not feature in their plans.
The good news was that 13 trusts had plans to make the move, and a further five were considering it. However, Citrix is not the only game in town when it comes to virtualizing desktops and apps. VMware and Parallels will both happily take customer's money in return for virtualizing that pesky last app or desktop that a special user just cannot do without.
There is also Microsoft's own Azure-powered Windows Virtual Desktop, which can keep those Windows 7 holdouts in security updates for another three years.
Perhaps surprisingly, Citrix agreed, and a spokesperson told us: "The additional three years of 'free' security updates is a great way to not only help parts of the NHS maintain strong security, but also to increase the awareness of virtualization," before remarking that "WVD is a great introduction to a wider variety of virtual workplace solutions."
Warning that choppy seas might lie ahead, the spokesperson added: "Our research highlighted a significant number of applications that might not be compatible with Azure or Windows 10 – the environments all NHS organisations must commit to for a free upgrade."
Obviously, WVD or E5 buys a bit of time. And those incompatibilities? Brad Anderson, corporate veep for Microsoft 365 service deployment, will tell anyone who stands still long enough that: "If you think you have an application that has a compatibility with Windows 10, you can call Brad's team, we'll look at it. If it's a Windows issue, we're gonna go fix Windows to unblock you. If it's an issue with your app, we'll help you fix your app so you can get unblocked."
Sadly, "Who you gonna call? Desktop App Assure!" lacks the same ring to it as a certain 1980s motion picture's slogan.
We asked Citrix what will become of their own users running virtualized Windows 7 instances. The company replied: "We can't share information about our customers."
Microsoft was equally reticent when it came to talking about what might actually be incompatible, telling us: "This isn't something Microsoft are commenting on."
Trusts that don't fancy any of those choices also have the option of postponing the death of Windows 7 on the desktop by simply paying for extended support.
We naturally asked the NHS for its thoughts, but the service is currently in purdah due to the electoral shenanigans currently being inflicted on the Great British public. A response will not be forthcoming until after the votes are counted. ®