Many people still use a landline or a home computer running Windows XP with a wired mouse, because they’re stable and (for the most part) problem-free. Those are probably the same people who still have at least one server running Windows 2003 as a platform. That legacy software has always been reliable and sturdy – even though most of today’s smart phones are more technologically advanced than a ten-year old server.
But all good things come to an end. Landlines are on their way out, XP has been phased out, and on July 14 Microsoft will discontinue all support for Windows Server 2003 – even though the company estimates there are still about 20 million servers using the platform. Microsoft doesn’t make its decisions based on software popularity, however, so as of this summer there will be no further support or security patches available for the product (with one small exception we’ll discuss later). That will leave Windows Server 2003 less secure and more vulnerable to attack as time goes on, and will create legal compliance problems for companies who continue to process credit card transactions on their old servers.
What To Do Next
Naturally, Microsoft is advising all 2003 clients to migrate to its current standard platform, Windows Server 2012 R2. However, some firms who already have a number of machines running on Windows Server 2008 have decided to migrate their 2003 boxes to that platform instead, and there are some companies moving directly from Windows 2003 to the cloud. The “easiest” move, though, is to go with Microsoft’s advice since 2012 R2 is considered stable, as well as a good “stepping stone” for an eventual switch to cloud computing.
This migration, unfortunately, isn’t as easy as it was to upgrade your desktop from XP to Windows 7. One issue is that about one out of every four Windows Server 2003 installations is running on outdated hardware which won’t accommodate 2012 R2, so you may first need to replace your equipment. And that’s the easy part.
The real problem is that you undoubtedly have many old applications on your server which won’t run properly on Windows 2012 R2 and aren’t available in 64-bit versions. And seamlessly moving all of your accumulated data to modern web and business apps on a new server is sadly just a dream.
What’s required is a detailed, step-by-step plan for migration. It should begin with a comprehensive inventory of everything that’s currently running on your Windows 2003 server, followed by a mapping process to determine new destinations in 2012 R2 for each app, data set or workload. This may require adding programs like Office 365, SQL Server 2014 and Microsoft Azure to the new server before actually beginning to migrate data.
If this sounds like a lot of time-consuming work, it is. Companies without a qualified IT team may be best served by hiring consultants to work on the inventory and mapping, and possibly even the migration itself. If the job will be done in-house, there are software tools like MAP (Microsoft Assessment and Planning), or options from companies such as RiverMeadow, AppZero and Zynstra which can aid in constructing a migration plan.
It may be tempting to just leave everything the way it is and cross your fingers, but Murphy’s Law has a way of derailing that approach. For now, Microsoft does plan to offer extended custom support agreements for customers with large installations who can’t finish their migrations to Windows 2012 R2 by the July deadline. That’s not something to rely on for the long-term, though; Microsoft will be charging very high fees for those agreements, so the overall cost for big companies could easily run into hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. It’s a much smarter move to bite the bullet and migrate now.