Windows 11: Partners See Complications In Rollout Amid PC Shortages

While solution providers see abundant opportunities and benefits for users with Windows 11, Microsoft’s stringent hardware requirements combined with supply constraints may slow the deployment of the operating system. The first of a three-part series on Windows 11.


Businesses looking to deploy Windows 11 through PC refreshes rather than upgrades of existing devices may find that a difficult goal to achieve, at least in the short term, solution providers and industry analysts told CRN.

Windows 11 heads into general availability on Oct. 5, both on new PCs and as a free upgrade for compatible Windows 10 devices. But the operating system will debut at a time of industry-wide component shortages and supply chain disruption, as well as pre-existing strong demand for PCs.

The notion of refreshing rather than upgrading hardware is a “nice ideology,” but may not be feasible in this environment, said James Riley, CEO of Tucson, Ariz.-based solution provider JNR Networks.

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“Right now, hardware is more expensive than it’s been for a while, and it’s hard to get. We may say in an ideal world, ’replace the hardware,’” Riley said. “But we’ve got a massive semiconductor shortage and I don’t think it’s going to dry up anytime soon. So we’re probably going to be doing upgrades on existing hardware, whether we want to or not.”

Depending on the age of a PC fleet, upgrading to Windows 11 may not be an option for all businesses, either. The operating system will be supported by fewer existing PCs because of Microsoft’s strict processor requirements for running Windows 11.

Along with the much-discussed requirement for a TPM 2.0 security chip, Windows 11 also requires a CPU released in the past four years.

The CPU requirement is widely believed to be a security measure, as well. That’s because hardware protections against the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities have been included in new Intel and AMD processors since late 2018. (Microsoft did not make an executive available for an interview.)

Taking everything together, there’s good reason to expect that Windows 11 may not see a speedy rollout – even for partners and customers that are inclined toward moving quickly on it, solution providers said.

“If there wasn’t a semiconductor shortage and the system requirements weren’t as high as they are, I think that the industry would try to push to Windows 11 much quicker,” said Marc Menzies, president and CTO of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Overview Technology Solutions. “By this time next year, everyone is not going to be running Windows 11.”

Along with possible delays, the situation will “make things more complicated for us,” Menzies said. Managed services providers may end up having to support both Windows 11 and Windows 10 environments for some time, “instead of doing a mass lift-and-shift of everybody,” he said.

It also means that any customers clamoring to get onto Windows 11 may need to be advised to have patience – and confusion among customers about the situation is also likely, solution providers said.

Rosalyn Arntzen, president and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based Amaxra, is already hearing from customers that are excited about Windows 11 – but are voicing some “consternation” about having PCs that aren’t compatible with the operating system.

In some cases, Arntzen said the customers have actually had Windows 11 compatible PCs and just had bad information. “I think there’s just confusion” out there about Windows 11, she said.

J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said he won’t be surprised if there is a more-gradual rollout of Windows 11 than there might have been otherwise.

“Supply chains are still a mess. We have the chip shortage that doesn’t seem to be fixed until next year,” Gownder said. “Those new Intel foundries aren’t going to be around very quickly.”

‘Very Different Story’ From Windows 10 Launch

Clearly, Windows 11 is launching into a PC market that’s been dramatically altered from when Microsoft came out with Windows 10 in 2015, analysts told CRN.

When Windows 10 debuted, the PC market was sluggish and “one of the underlying goals was to drive refresh,” said Tom Mainelli, group vice president for device and consumer research at IDC.

That all changed with the pandemic driving soaring demand for PCs and the upheaval in component availability and supply chains, Mainelli said.

Compared to the Windows 10 launch, Microsoft rolling out Windows 11 in a supply-constrained environment “makes for a very different story,” he said.

“There shouldn’t be any expectation that this new OS is going to significantly drive increased volumes this year. Because the industry can’t make more PCs,” Mainelli said. “They’re making as many as they can.”

In this environment, it’s fair to assume that people who want to buy a new PC to get Windows 11 “may have a harder time finding a PC,” Mainelli said.

And even if you do track down a PC, you may have to settle for different specs than the ones you’re looking for, said Matthew Bookspan, CEO of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Blacktip. It’s extremely difficult right now to get the exact hardware you want, Bookspan said.

“You are either going to have to over-buy – buy something that’s higher spec that you needed – or under-buy something that’s lower spec. Because that’s all that’s available,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing now. We’ve seen delays of almost six months to buy [the ideal] equipment.”

Microsoft’s timing for the Windows 11 launch is creating a conundrum, Bookspan said.

“They’re trying to create this momentum and this drive for everyone having more-secure systems,” he said. “But then we’re going to run into a problem – that there might not be physical hardware to procure.”

At Kirkland, Wash.-based FusionTek, CEO Brian Miller said the bigger impact for his customers is likely to be the increased cost of PCs.

Still, while Windows 11 PCs could be challenging to procure in the short term, Miller says that over time he does expect a strong refresh opportunity from the new operating system. He estimated that 40 percent of PCs in his customers’ fleets will need to be refreshed in order to move to Windows 11.

“We’ve got a lot of clients that have a technology gap. With the pandemic, they’ve deferred spending on IT infrastructure,” Miller said. “To get that newer level of functionality, user experience and security, there are going to be a lot of hardware refreshes.”

Services Opportunities For Partners

In addition, Miller sees the opportunity to provide customers with managed services around the transition to Windows 11, as well as project services around migrating specialty apps to the new operating systems. (Microsoft has said that Windows 10 will be supported until Oct. 14, 2025.)

At Tempe, Ariz.-based iT1 Source, Chief Marketing Officer Shelliy Cymbalski also sees an array of opportunities for services and hardware refreshes. The move to Windows 11 is a chance to have a broader conversation with customers about Microsoft technologies, she said.

“When we talk about one thing with Microsoft, we also ask them about Enterprise Agreements, licensing, their cloud journey. They’re always going to be buying something Microsoft,” Shelley said. “Windows 11 is going to be a conversation starter.”

In terms of features, the new productivity capabilities available in Windows 11 should serve as another appealing element for customers, said Kevin Vogl, senior solutions architect at MessageOps, a division of Sirius that’s based in Boca Raton, Fla. Productivity enhancements include snap layouts for easier organization of windows and snap groups for more quickly returning to previous tasks, including across multiple monitors.

End-user training around Windows 11 is “probably our biggest opportunity” when it comes to the new OS, Vogl said.

Improved Security, Update Cadence

Solution providers say they’re viewing the higher bar for security as the top benefit of Windows 11 overall. While the security-focused measures could contribute to a slower rollout of Windows 11, the solution providers who spoke to CRN agreed that this is a worthwhile trade-off.

Using Windows 11’s security features in combination on test devices has reduced malware by 60 percent, Microsoft said in a June blog post.

“I strongly feel that Microsoft is doing the right thing by prioritizing security” with Windows 11, Menzies said. “I’m fine with them prioritizing security over being able to roll this out to every computer.”

With the new operating system, MSPs will also have a “big opportunity” to play the role of trusted advisor around Windows 11 security, said Derek Nwamadi, CEO of Dallas-based solution provider Quantum Symphony.

“You’re going to have to show the nuances of why transitioning is important – which is all focused on better integration with security,” Nwamadi said. “This brings security to the forefront of the conversation.”

Among the other big advantages for partners is that Windows 11 will shift to once-a-year feature updates, as opposed to the twice-a-year cadence with Windows 10, solution providers said.

“It’s great, just because it’s less churn and less to keep up with and prepare for,” said Zach Saltzman, senior director for the Microsoft platform at Carlsbad, Calif.-based FMT Consultants. “For the customer, it’s less overhead for the IT organization. It saves IT hours and cycles of rolling stuff back or troubleshooting issues.”

At Tempe, Ariz.-based MicroAge, Vice President of Marketing and Technology Larry Fulop said he sees a major benefit in Windows 11’s improved compatibility with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, as well as a number of other useful upgrades.

“It’s more compatible with Teams and collaboration. It’s better for virtual desktop management. Android apps are now going to be available on Windows,” Fulop said. “We’re excited about it.”

Timing For The Rollout

In terms of the timeframes for deploying Windows 11 to customers, solution providers who spoke with CRN offered a wide variety of forecasts. Some said they’re looking to start moving customers to the new operating system within just a few months of general availability, while others said it could be 12 to 18 months.

Apart from the PC supply constraints, the usual need for testing and ensuring application compatibility for customers will also be a process that will take time, several solution providers said.

Other solution providers are looking to expedite that process, however. At FusionTek, Miller is hoping to start moving his customer base to Windows 11 within three to six months of availability. His customer base is largely made up of SMBs, which are generally more nimble than larger businesses when it comes to upgrading to new operating systems.

Even with the hardware shortage, the opportunities abound with Windows 11, he said. Like many other IT solution providers, Miller said, “we’ve had a great year so far. And I think this just adds to it.”

Check out the next two parts in our Windows 11 series, focusing on app compatibility and Microsoft’s security strategy.