Microsoft wants businesses and consumers to upgrade to Windows 10 as soon as possible, and is offering free upgrades (from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1) to try to make this happen. However, large businesses and institutions are typically slow adopters of new PC operating systems, and having a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement generally means there is no financial incentive to upgrade quickly. Cognizant of this fact, Microsoft is introducing new servicing approaches with Windows 10, including options that prevent new operating system features from affecting operationally sensitive corporate PCs.
Organizations want technology innovation, but without the risk that generally accompanies it
Microsoft’s Enterprise Agreement (EA) and Software Assurance (SA) customers are able to upgrade to Windows 10 outside of the first-year consumer/small business launch deal that the company announced earlier this year, but Microsoft still wants enterprises to upgrade sooner rather than later in order to help build market momentum and to be in a good position to take advantage of future offerings – that is, to buy, or subscribe to, new Microsoft products.
Microsoft is promoting the move to Windows 10 as much more than a one-time upgrade. Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive VP of Operating Systems, has described Windows 10 as more akin to “Windows as a service”, with the company promising additional value and constant innovation to its customers going forward. Once updated to Windows 10, PCs and Windows Mobile devices will receive a steady flow of new features, patches, and security fixes for the lifetime of the device – much like smartphones and tablet computers do today. But while corporate IT departments are geared up to handle Microsoft’s current monthly patch release cycle, the thought of testing new features and innovations on such a timeline is enough to give any IT support team a migraine.
Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) and Current Business Branch (CBB) are Microsoft’s response to this challenge. Using LTSB, IT administrators will be able to restrict operating system updates to just security patches and critical fixes for mission-critical or operationally sensitive Windows computers. Each LTSB will be supported by Microsoft for a total period of 10 years (five years mainstream support plus five years extended support), much like versions of Windows have been in the past.
CBB complements LTSB by providing organizations with the ability to delay “innovation updates” by up to 90 days. IT admins can switch systems back and forth between LTSB and CBB, using system management tools to do so. Although many enterprises use Microsoft’s on-premises Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) to manage updates, the introduction of LTSB and CBB could see an increase in IT management overhead for some organizations. To address this issue, Microsoft has announced Windows Update for Business. A cloud-based service, Microsoft has stated that Windows Update for Business will be free for organizations running Windows Pro or Windows Enterprise.
Windows 7 has already reached the end of Mainstream Support (January 2015), which means that only organizations purchasing Premier Support get anything other than security updates. With Extended Support for Windows 7 coming to an end in January 2020, and little interest in deploying Windows 8/8.1, CIOs and IT managers need to place Windows 10 formally on the corporate agenda. Meanwhile, Microsoft has to continue doing its bit by improving Windows 10 and articulating the business value of the Windows platform to decision makers and budget holders.
Richard Edwards, Principal Analyst, Enterprise Mobility & Productivity