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The Underestimated Impact of Linux OS Upgrades: Chasing the Latest Version

Joao Correia

May 29, 2023 - Technical Evangelist

In a world where technology ceaselessly advances, organizations find themselves in a constant pursuit of the latest software iterations. Canonical’s Ubuntu 18.04, a Long Term Support (LTS) version of the Linux operating system, stands as a classic example. With its end-of-life (EOL) phase already here, businesses that have not yet upgraded are bracing themselves for the impending challenge of unpatched security vulnerabilities. 


But what does EOL truly mean and what hidden costs are attached to such a significant transition? Let’s take a more comprehensive look at these underappreciated expenses that make EOL an event of paramount importance.


Peeling Back the Layers of EOL 


Ubuntu 18.04, CentOS 8, and CentOS 7 – these Linux distributions have been the backbone of enterprise Linux systems over the past half-decade. As they approach their EOL dates, organizations are faced with the Herculean task of transitioning to newer versions. 


At first glance, EOL may seem like a simple mark on a calendar, but in reality, it represents a significant shift in the security landscape of an organization. Before EOL, systems are proactively fortified with security updates to combat new vulnerabilities. Post-EOL, this protective shield vanishes unless the organization opts to take on the responsibility of coding, compiling, deploying, and maintaining its own patches. And testing. And certifying. And the list goes on.


In essence, EOL signifies the point where a system morphs from being an asset that contributes to the organization’s goals into a security liability with potential for substantial negative impact. 


This calls for a change – an upgrade to a newer system version or a more modern Linux distribution.


Unmasking the True Costs of System Upgrades


While upgrading systems may seem like a straightforward solution on the surface, a closer look reveals hidden complexities and costs. Automating an “apt dist-upgrade” and “apt do-release-upgrade” is somewhat trivial. 


Dealing with the aftermath, not so much.


Development and Compatibility Costs


A system upgrade isn’t simply about updating the operating system. Often, existing workloads may not be compatible with the newer OS version, necessitating modifications. These changes could range from a complete code rewrite to minor adaptations, or even more profound architectural transformations.


The cost of development time is significant. Developers are a valuable resource, often engaged in multiple projects simultaneously. Diverting them to accommodate the system upgrade process means other crucial projects may have to be delayed or interrupted. This leads to a domino effect, causing potential revenue loss and increased project timelines.


Moreover, there’s also the risk of unexpected issues arising during the upgrade process. These could include bugs or incompatibilities that weren’t initially apparent, adding further to the development costs and time required for the upgrade.


Hardware Replacement Costs


The compatibility issue extends to hardware as well. Certain hardware components may not work with the newer operating systems. As hardware support gets deprecated and drivers aren’t updated to meet the new OS requirements, organizations may find themselves with obsolete hardware.


Replacing incompatible hardware represents a significant cost, both in terms of acquiring new hardware and the time required to install and integrate it into the existing system. It’s not just about the monetary expense; the process can also cause disruption to normal operations and potentially lead to downtime.


In addition, there is also the environmental cost to consider. Disposing of obsolete hardware is not always straightforward and may require special handling or recycling processes, adding another layer of complexity and cost to the upgrade process.


Certification Costs


Many applications require specific certifications to comply with industry regulations. These certifications validate that the application functions correctly on a specific operating system. Changing the operating system means that the current certification no longer applies.


The process of recertification is lengthy, often involving rigorous testing and documentation. This consumes valuable resources, including staff time and potentially consultancy or auditor fees. It also introduces a degree of uncertainty, as any issues discovered during the certification process could potentially require further changes to the software, adding to the costs and delaying the recertification.


The certification process doesn’t end at the point of testing. There’s a requirement for continuous documentation throughout the software’s lifecycle, and a final review process to respond to any queries raised by the certifying agencies.


The Costs of Non-Migration


Faced with the daunting prospect of these costs, some organizations might be tempted to avoid system upgrades entirely. However, the cost of not migrating can be substantial as well.


Choosing not to upgrade exposes the organization to increasing security risks. Without vendor-supplied updates, the system becomes more susceptible to vulnerabilities and attacks. This could lead to potential security incidents, resulting in financial losses, reputational damage, and even legal consequences in the case of a significant data breach.


Moreover, if the organization decides to develop patches on its own to compensate for the lack of vendor support, this would require significant investment in terms of both time and money. Developers would need to spend time identifying vulnerabilities, creating and testing patches, and then deploying them across the entire environment. This is a complex and time-consuming process that would take developers away from other important projects.


Finally, the risk of a system failure increases over time as the software continues to age without updates. These failures come from larger discrepancies between different systems – where one is updated and another is not – or changes in protocols that become incompatible or unsupported. Such failures could lead to significant disruption to the organization’s operations and potentially substantial costs to recover.


The Planning and Testing Costs


Planning and executing a system migration at the enterprise level is not a simple task. It requires careful consideration of numerous factors, including interactions between different systems and stakeholders. This process can be time consuming and costly, as it often requires the involvement of multiple teams within the organization, including IT operations, security, and even business operations.


Planning costs include the time taken to create a comprehensive migration plan, including identifying the systems to be migrated, determining the order of migration, and identifying potential issues that might arise during the process. This often requires a deep understanding of the current IT infrastructure and potential impact of the migration on business operations.


Testing is another crucial part of the migration process. Before the actual migration can occur, the new system needs to be thoroughly tested to ensure it works as expected and doesn’t introduce any new issues. This includes compatibility testing with existing workloads, performance testing to ensure the new system can handle the expected load, and security testing to verify that the new system doesn’t introduce any new vulnerabilities.


The cost of not properly planning and testing a migration can be significantly higher. If issues are discovered during the migration process, it can lead to unplanned downtime, resulting in disruption to the organization’s operations and potentially substantial financial losses.


In conclusion, while it may seem tempting to continuously chase the latest version of an operating system, it’s important to fully understand and consider the hidden costs associated with such an upgrade. From development and compatibility costs, to hardware replacement and certification costs, as well as the costs of non-migration and the resources required for planning and testing, these expenses can quickly add up. However, there are alternatives to this costly process, such as extended support offerings, which may provide a more cost-effective solution for businesses.


The Alternative Costs


Extended support offerings provide continued security updates for an operating system after it has reached its official end-of-life stage. This allows organizations to extend the lifespan of their current systems, thereby delaying the need for a full system upgrade. 


This can be particularly valuable for organizations with large or complex IT environments, where system upgrades are transformative events that have far-reaching consequences over unrelated systems, business processes and across business units.




In conclusion, while the prospect of a Linux operating system upgrade can seem daunting due to the various hidden costs associated with it, it’s important for organizations to consider all their options. While system upgrades can be costly and disruptive, the costs of not upgrading can be even higher, particularly in terms of increased security risks and potential disruption to operations.


Extended support offerings can provide a viable alternative, allowing organizations to extend the lifespan of their current systems and delay the need for a system upgrade. This brings back control to the decision making process and the choice of when to perform such upgrades, rather than being forced to change by the inevitability of a looming date.


It’s not an easy task, but by taking a strategic approach and carefully considering all the factors at play, organizations can ensure they make the best decision for their unique circumstances, ultimately leading to a more secure, efficient, and cost-effective IT infrastructure.


The Impact of Linux OS Upgrades: Chasing the Latest Version
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The Impact of Linux OS Upgrades: Chasing the Latest Version
Linux OS Upgrades. Let's take a more comprehensive look at these underappreciated expenses that make EOL an event of paramount importance.
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