Official support of Windows XP ends in April 2014 and despite being over a decade old, it remains the dominant OS in most firms today, and by a significant margin. In fact, according to a straw poll of our own customers, Windows XP still runs on 74% of their computers.

With the April deadline looming, firms are facing a significant outlay on new OSs. However, this is only one side of the story. Additional costs will come from making existing third party business software compatible with Windows 8.

This is more than a question of technical compatibility with Windows 8 however. Firms need to go deeper to understand compatibility at the licencing level. Firms need to know, well in advance of an OS migration, what they are entitled to within their existing licences and contract agreements so they can budget for any required licence upgrades. The aftermath of a costly OS upgrade is not the time to discover that additional significant outlay must be made on compatible licences just to keep the lights on. Firms must plan and prepare now.

Understanding your current Microsoft Effective Licence Position or “ELP” (a reconciliation of the software you have bought with the software you use) in relation to all Microsoft desktop software is an essential and necessary first step in advance of refreshing your desktop environment. It will guarantee that you maximise the consumption of your existing licence entitlement whilst significantly reducing your future licencing bill at the same time.

The challenge begins when trying to determine the most cost-effective upgrade path for both OS and desktop products. Understanding your existing licence rights and determining the best course of action prior to upgrade can appear to be a bit of a minefield; even more so if you have lost sight of your organisation’s existing ELP.

Here are some examples.

For most small to medium organisations, Windows 8 Professional will be the most widely deployed edition. An organisation can upgrade to Windows 8 Professional for no extra charge if the computers in question are covered by Software Assurance (SA) (via a Microsoft Volume Licencing Agreement (VLA)). This is because SA includes New Version Rights which allows the organisation to upgrade any devices covered by the SA for no further charge.

If you do not have SA, then it tends to get more complicated. For firms in this situation, one option would be to leverage upgrade licences. If the organisation can provide evidence that their existing PCs have qualifying operating systems installed, Windows 8 Pro upgrade licences may be purchased through the company’s existing VLA, which will further reduce the financial commitments.

Different challenges face larger organisations, particularly those that are looking to upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise edition. Windows Enterprise may be considered as the most suitable edition, however, it is important to realise that this is only available as a benefit of SA and cannot be purchased outside of this scenario.

To install and use the Windows 8 Enterprise edition, an organisation must own a Windows 8 Pro licence and assign SA to it. Once the Enterprise edition has been deployed, the right to use it is perpetual on the device. However, as soon as SA has expired, the Windows 8 Enterprise edition software cannot be moved to another device. If the Enterprise Edition was not installed prior to the expiration of SA, then it cannot be deployed on the device.

With this in mind it is important for an organisation to not only understand its current end-user rights, but to manage its ELP on an on-going basis. Licence obligations must be managed at the same time as licence consumption must be optimised. In addition, if the organisation is initiating a complete technology refresh on its desktops, it is the perfect time to review how you are purchasing your licence entitlements, considering whether other VLAs such as a Microsoft Enterprise Agreements will provide significant benefits and savings.

Lastly, it is worth acknowledging the relatively slow uptake of Windows 8 to-date, with many citing the radical interface change as the primary reason. While the reluctance to adopt Windows 8 in its current form may be delaying many organisation’s decisions to upgrade, the fact remains that the clock is ticking on Windows XP and forming and implementing a migration strategy takes time. Even if organisations are reluctant to upgrade to Windows 8 for aesthetic purposes, there is still a very strong business case to get started now before it’s too late.

Managing your licences and tracking how they are being consumed is essential if you want to ensure that your company is maximising the benefits available. So many organisations fail to apply the required due diligence prior to a major upgrade which, in all incidences, leads to them spending significantly more money than required. Don’t let that happen to you.

Posted by Sean Robinson, MD of License Dashboard