Beyond all the hype around Windows 8, there's something that's been missing. Yes, Windows 8 is something new, it's slick, it has some interesting features. But for businesses, what really matters goes beyond the new desktop. After all, Windows 8 is also a platform, and one that has some key advantages in an enterprise setting.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Walker White, CTO at BDNA, an enterprise data management solutions company, regarding Windows 8 and what it means for the enterprise. What follows is an edited version summarizing the key points of that discussion. (We also asked small business owners whether they would upgrade to Windows 8. Find out what they said in Windows 8 for Small Business: Upgrade or Wait?)

Windows 8: Not Your Typical Desktop Upgrade

Cory Janssen: Windows 7 was generally well received. How does this affect the upgrade decision given that you are going from something stable to something unknown?

Walker White: On the surface, many are talking about this as a simple upgrade. At BDNA, we think of it as a three-legged stool. There are the economic, technical and strategic considerations.

Let’s start with the economic ones. Windows 7 was three years ago, but we are only now seeing peak demand for Windows 7 migration. You might be surprised to know that one of the largest Windows 7 upgrades is now taking place, as 470,000 desktops move from XP to Windows 7. Sometimes in all the hype we forget that it takes years for these cycles to fully develop. Arguably Windows 7 is Windows 8’s greatest competitor. (Read more about the thinking behind this in Forget Windows 8: Why Your Next Upgrade Should Be to Windows 7.)

On the technical side, unlike Windows 7, application compatibility is not going to be a huge issue. There is a sense that Microsoft got it right with Windows 7, but Windows 8 is still unproven. The whole subject of UAT is a big one as well. Windows 8 got rid of the start button and changed up everything users know. These two factors alone represent significant technical risk. (To learn more about those changes, see Windows 8 Is Coming: What You Should Know About Its UI.)

The third point, the strategic decision, is what I believe is most important. Windows 8 is not just a desktop upgrade. It’s BYOD, it’s mobile, it’s the cloud. Windows 8 needs to be thought of as a platform upgrade.

CJ: Hmmm, that sounds like major career risk for a CIO. You’ll either be the hero or the guy searching for a new job. When do you want to make that bet?

WW: The challenge represents an opportunity for leading CIOs. It takes courage to say, yes, we get the Microsoft decision and we are rethinking the role of the desktop. Played right, a leading CIO can bring a consumer-level experience into the enterprise. It can be done. The key message to get across to your readers is that this is much more strategic than most people realize.

The PC: Dead or Still Kicking?

CJ: Some analysts have been saying that despite the release of Windows 8, the PC may be dead. What do you think?

WW: First off, there will always be some role for the desktop. The question is, as we move away from a desktop, how seamlessly can we move the info among devices? Can we seamlessly access a spreadsheet from a tablet?

Laptops aren’t going away, but the platform for sharing from the corporate desktop, into the cab, into the plane is the main question. How do we move info in this seamless and secure fashion?

CJ: BYOD isn’t going away. How big a deal is this consideration, or are we talking apples and oranges because users want their iPhones and iPads, not necessarily a Windows device?

WW: It’s really has less to do with the device than it does the infrastructure in the back end. Many users want to use their iPad at certain times but then to jump back on the PC. Broadly, you’ll see more seamless sharing. It’s about abstraction at the representation layer. Theoretically, you will or should be able to bring whatever info onto any device. (To learn more, check out BYOD: What It Means for IT.)

Welcome Windows 8 ... and the Cloud

CJ: How should the cloud factor in to an upgrade decision?
WW: Yeah, there clearly is a lot of reliance on cloud in Windows 8. I’d say two things about the cloud: First, realize that it comes in on day one. You can’t just slowly move to be using more of the cloud with Windows 8. An organization needs to be comfortable on the cloud in order to go with Windows 8

Second, with Windows 8, you are buying into the App Store as an implicit technology. Similar to how you can’t use Apple products on the consumer side without iTunes, decision makers should understand that The App store is simply part of the technology. You just can’t turn it off. It’s integrated.

BDNA at a Glance

CJ: Tell us about BDNA

WW: BDNA basically collects data, audits and consolidates it, and gets you the right information to make an informed decision. For example, what should an organization virtualize? What should be consolidated? You have the data, you just don’t have the data translated into a form to aggregate, analyze and then act on it.

A typical client has at least 15 tools in their environment to do discovery, collection and gathering of data. They have gigabytes if not terabytes of data. But they are clueless about what is going on in their environment. We translate that into a common language, a common taxonomy.

One of BDNA’s tools for this is, the world’s most comprehensive IT catalog with more than 450,000 hardware and software products listed and organized in a single, universal taxonomy. It supports effective IT planning, procurement, operations management and compliance by providing consistent and uniform information about IT infrastructure.

Windows 8 is one great example. Let’s say 42 percent of my existing applications are not Windows 8 compatible, but if I slice that from free to bundled, then maybe that number is 80 percent. OK, so that’s a good start … It’s in ways like this that we try to help our clients in a Windows 8-specific context. We make the data better. We make it usable.

The Takeaway

We all know about the new UI in Windows 8. Yes, it’s slick, but it’s still a UI. The key point is that Windows 8 has implications that go far beyond the desktop. And it’s the first time we’ve seen something like this from Microsoft. But beneath all the debates about the cloud and BYOD is a central concept: Windows 8 is about the platform. So, the most important thing for a CIO to understand is that this is more than a different OS - it's a strategic shift. Take this into account and you’ll have a much better chance of having a successful migration.