ISA NorCal President's Message
by Troy Leverton
Windows XP End-of-Support & What it Might Mean to You
I have been talking with many customers of mine and also amongst fellow automation-minded people and I am not sure many people understand what is going on in the near future with Windows XP support phasing out and the potential impacts it might have on many control systems out there. In this article, I will at-tempt to explain to you what you may be in store for and recom-mend some strategies to move forward.
As of April 8th this year, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. This means that though many systems will still run on this OS, they will no longer receive security updates from Microsoft. Also, Microsoft will not issue any more updates to the OS or offer any tech support. So why am I telling you, the kind of people who know better than to rely on Microsoft to run your plants? While it is true that the vast majority of controllers do not rely on Windows in any form, the same can't be said about many HMI packages. Now, not all HMI devices are reliant on a (traditional variant of) Windows OS - many devices (such as A-B Panelview, Schneider Magelis, C-more, and many others) operate their own system and are therefore unaffected. But the systems that DO rely on Windows (Wonderware, GE Cimplicity/iFix, RSView to name a few) will have some potentially serious security holes at the OS level in the very near future. This can lead to viruses, slow machines, or worse.
A frustrating reality in the automation world is that automation soft-ware runs about a full generation behind in OS support. In other words, Windows 8 has already been on the market for a while, but Windows 7 support has only come to the automation world in a real way within the last 2 years or so. Therefore, anything built prior to that is likely running on XP. Un-fortunately, this also means that if you upgrade now, you will not be able to upgrade to Windows 8 quite yet.
However, this is not that big of a problem, since the general consensus on Windows 8 isn't that great, most IT departments are still pushing Windows 7 and ex-tended support for Windows 7 is, as of writing, due to last until 2020.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to upgrading isn't on the OS end, Windows XP End-of-Support & What it Might Mean to You though. I have had several in-stances where an OS upgrade was desired but this also neces-sitated an upgrade to HMI software. For example, a customer upgraded from Windows Server 2003 to Server 2008 R2 (which is very similar to the XP - 7 up-grade process) and was previously running Wonderware version 9.0, which was unable to run on the new OS. They were forced to upgrade to the newest version of Wonderware at the same time, which, despite some added cost, was not that difficult and provided them with enhanced functionality as well.
This is not a knock on Wonderware - in fact, I personally think it is a great software package - it is also an issue in other platforms as well (I personally have the same experience with GE software and it was essentially the same process).
At any rate, you should be considering your options if you are running a machine in your plant that runs on XP. Navigating the upgrade process can be tricky, however, so allow yourself several weeks to plan and implement, in most cases. If you haven't been thinking about this, trust me, your IT department has and they may be of (limited) help.
If you have further, application-specific questions, your HMI software provider probably has at least one person who has been answering questions about this process non-stop in the last year. You may be pleasantly surprised how easy a transition it may be with the right help. Of course, I am willing to answer any questions I am capable of answering - just drop me a line. My contact info is right here in this newsletter.
Control Systems Engineer
Sycal Engineering, Inc.
Office: (650) 246-1850