Companies still running Windows XP on their corporate workstations should know the significance of April 8, 2014. That is because April 8 is the last day that Microsoft will provide any kind of support for Windows XP. Small business that haven’t made the jump to a newer version of Windows could face serious malware threats.

Before jumping into how you should prepare, here’s a quick history lesson about why Microsoft is ending support. Before 2002, Microsoft would release new Windows versions with little to no warning. They would often drop support for older products at the same time. Bug fixes, customer support, and updated drivers would no longer be offered. Companies that didn’t upgrade became vulnerable to security risks and were unable to maintain a safe and secure business environment.

In 2002, Microsoft began providing a higher level of service to Windows users by publicizing a schedule of planned product support. This schedule set a dependable support time-frame. Windows products were to receive 5 years of mainstream support and another 5 years of extended support.

What can your company expect once Windows XP is no longer supported? To start, security patches and updated drivers will no longer be released. This lack of new security updates means Windows XP computers will become increasingly vulnerable to outside threats. Additionally many software companies will follow Microsoft’s lead and drop support for their own aging Windows XP products.

Hackers and other malware producers are very much aware of the XP end-of-life date and have been preparing threats called “zero-day” malware. Zero-day malware is malicious code that is so new that no defense against it exists. On supported versions of Windows, zero-day exploits rarely last for more than a day or so. Patches and updated security definitions are quickly released to protect against the threat. Since Microsoft will no longer support XP nor offer security updates for it, the risk of such attacks will dramatically increase.

Hardware and software manufacturers that developed products for Windows XP will likely end all ongoing support. New hardware will present an especially serious problem as Windows XP drivers are unlikely to be available. New hardware will either simply not function, or function in a very limited way using old drivers. Lack of software support will only further compound security issues. Old software will become a potential entry point for malware, while new software will be unavailable.

So what can your business do? The most foolproof solution is to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. In fact, many companies have done this already. Upgrading to Windows 8.1 makes even more sense though, as Microsoft is committed to providing support for it through January 10, 2023. In either case migrating to a new operating system is hardly a simple task. Microsoft estimates that typical migrations, which start with creating a plan and finish with a deployment, can take between 18 and 32 months. This means many business owners will likely be upgrading well past XP’s end-of-life date.

A simpler plan, though one that requires more resources upfront, is to perform a “green field” migration. In this type of plan, you upgrade the existing hardware, in addition to the operating system. In other words, you put a clean install of Windows 7 or 8.1 on a brand new, clean computer. The approach provides several advantages. For starters, upgrades become quick and simple. What’s more, incompatibility with old hardware is prevented. Basically, you are “future-proofing” your IT infrastructure.

Whichever option your company settles on, act quickly. If your IT manager hasn’t pushed this issue with you yet, find out why. You may want to bring in a migration or upgrade specialist to help you move forward.