Server Countdown

WindowsServer_webEnd of support looming for Windows Server 2003.

Tick tock. Time is running out on organizations that have not yet moved to upgrade from Windows Server 2003. On July 14, Microsoft will cease all support for what was once the most popular server operating system, a workhorse for most of the world’s computer networks for more than a decade.

In fact, the total installed base of Windows Server 2003 remains substantial. Although Microsoft has issued multiple updates of the flagship server OS over the years, Windows Server 2003 still accounts for 39 percent of the Windows Server installed base. Microsoft reports that, globally, there remain 24 million instances (half physical, half virtual) of Windows Server 2003 running on 12 million physical servers. North America accounts for more than 9 million of those instances.

At this point, the large installed base represents a significant risk. Microsoft says there were 21 critical updates for Windows Server 2003 in 2014, and 37 in 2013, which strongly indicates that problems will continue to appear on the platform. Once Microsoft stops issuing new security patches or updates, servers running the unsupported OS will be highly vulnerable to attacks that could expose valuable systems and data.

Feds Issue Warning

The Department of Homeland Security considered the risk great enough to issue an alert in November, warning that IT departments running unsupported server software will face elevated cybersecurity risks and hardware compatibility issues. Additionally, key business applications may become unsupported and organizations could find themselves in violation of legal and regulatory obligations.

“With the end of support date nearing, we are strongly urging customers who currently run Windows Server 2003 and have not yet begun migration planning to do so immediately,” said Frazer Scott, Director of Marketing & Operations for Microsoft New Zealand. “We are concerned by a recent Gartner report that points out that business leaders may not be aware of the risks they would face if Windows Server 2003 systems are not migrated in time, leaving IT leaders at fault for the incomplete disclosure if problems later arise.”

As with the end of support for Windows XP last year, organizations have been slow to give up on a product that has worked so well for so long. However, IT demands have changed dramatically since Windows Server 2003 was introduced. The IT infrastructure in those days still revolved around networks of desktop computers. Today’s servers are expected to run a wide range of mobile, analytic and collaboration workloads. What’s more, Windows Server 2003 is a 32-bit OS, whereas newer operating systems run 64-bit environments.

Challenges and Opportunities

As such, organizations should move quickly to make the upgrade, not only to avoid business risk but to improve their ability to take advantage of the latest IT technologies.

For example, upgrading to a newer version of the Microsoft OS such as Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 gives organizations the opportunity to work with a system that was designed for virtualization from the ground up. Industry experts say any organization running more than a few servers should be virtualizing their workloads. That’s difficult to achieve with Windows Server 2003, which was great for setting up specific physical server roles but much less effective for creating virtual machines.

Migration efforts can also create a better understanding of the organization’s overall application portfolio. In many organizations, individual departments and end-users have procured and installed applications through informal channels. Although such apps are undocumented by the IT department, they may have become critical to everyday business processes over time. The migration process provides an opportunity to discover and document these applications and make solid decisions about which apps can be retired, replaced or upgraded.

Plan of Attack

IT solutions provider Softchoice recommends a four-part approach for organizations still running Windows Server 2003:

  • Discover: Take account of how much Windows Server 2003 is in your IT environment, what hardware it’s running on, how old it is, and how much of it is virtualized.
  • Understand: Determine what processes are running on the each of the servers and what dependences they have.
  • Plan: Once you have a full view of the environment, evaluate your options, and roadmap your migration or upgrade plan. Are you simplify going to upgrade the hardware and software, are you going to move workloads to the cloud, will you implement a hybrid IT solution?
  • Test: Begin the migration from Windows Server 2003 and test repeatedly during the process to ensure systems are running and to guarantee uptime of mission-critical programs.

“With less than a year to go until Microsoft pulls the Server 2003 plug, now is the time for businesses to start their migration,” said Softchoice executive David Brisbois. “IT management should evaluate their entire technology environments — from hardware and application workloads to the data living on their servers — to figure out the most strategic way forward, be it an on-premises, hybrid or total cloud setup.”