Windows Server 2003 end of life: do anything but nothing

Art Coughlan, business group lead, cloud and enterprise, Microsoft

16 February 2015

When Windows Server 2003 (WS2003) goes finally end of life (EoL) in July of this year, it will have been in support for more than 11 years. In that time much has changed, not least of which is the advent of virtualisation, the coming of cloud and major advances in processing and power consumption.

When the comparison is made, the facts are stark: a single server from 2003 running WS2003 consumes double the power of its modern equivalent. Or, as Art Coughlin, business group lead, cloud and enterprise, Microsoft, puts it, for the same amount of power, the current equivalent can run 20 virtual machines.

“We would say to our customers that they have multiple options,” said Coughlin.

“Those options are to continue doing what they are doing and just update — if it’s traditional physical compute they can update the hardware and the operating system (OS). Most importantly that upgrade path is going to be driven by the applications they are running on the server.”

Coughlin emphasises that it is the applications that must be the focus of the move away from WS2003.

“The focus of the conversation for customers is around the applications they are running and the criticality of those applications to their business,” said Coughlin.

“This is not just about the server operating system, and the fact that from 14 July there won’t be any further updates, this is about ensuring that their business continues to operate, because their business runs on applications.”

The extent of the issue is highlighted by some statistics from the Irish market.

Coughlin reports that there are around 2,800 Irish companies still running WS2003, on around 23,000 servers.

“We believe at least half of those are physical deployments, rather than virtualised deployments,” he said.

“This is all about identifying the applications affected, identifying the criticality of those applications to the business and taking steps, but also ensuring that partners do so too.”

There are also a high proportion of older applications still running on those servers, according to Microsoft’s numbers, such as SQL Server and Exchange.

But Coughlin points out that for the likes of SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint, there have been numerous version and point releases in the meantime, so legacy applications in this area should not be a bar to upgrading.

The process for companies is the same, whether large or small. Each organisation needs to survey their server estate and determine how many servers still the operating system (OS) and then determine what each one is doing.

When a full analysis is complete, then the process may begin to determine whether a like for like replacement is necessary or whether other options such virtualisation or a move to a cloud or an as-as-service model is appropriate. There are free tools to facilitate this process. The Microsoft assessing and planning (MAP) toolkit is a free download that allows organisations to survey their estate and establish exactly what needs to be done.

“This is all about identifying the applications affected, identifying the criticality of those applications to the business and taking steps, but also ensuring that partners do so too.”

To the cloud
For a customer who is running Exchange or SharePoint on 2003, said Coughlin, there are options to move those applications directly to the cloud in Office 365, and depending on the size of their business, that may be the optimal thing to do.

“From an SME perspective, there are a lot of advantages to the as-a-service model.”

“From the perspective of the OS environment, you can upgrade to Windows Server 2012 or you could virtualise on Hyper-V. But it is important to note that even if you virtualise Server 2003, all you’re doing is virtualising the unsupported environment.”

“Virtualising Server 2003 or moving it to the cloud does not address the problem, it just moves it somewhere else,” Coughlin warned.

“Virtualising Server 2003 or moving it to the cloud might be a step in the process, but it does not solve the underlying issue.”

Coughlin advises that moving to Windows Server 2012 is the ideal basis for modernising infrastructure and giving options to move to the cloud immediately or at an appropriate time in the future.

“It’s not all or nothing, there are lots of options,” he said.

Regulatory compliance is an important factor in this process too, warns Coughlin. For any organisation that works under the Payment Card Industry standard PCI-DSS, any part of the infrastructure that relies on an unsupported OS could breach compliance.

This not only applies to an organisation’s own infrastructure, but also to third parties who might be part of a supply chain.

With so many options available to organisations, there really is no excuse for doing nothing. When the prospect of non-compliance with standards such as PCI-DSS are brought into the equation, the message is clear, whatever is to be done, doing nothing is not an option.

“The advantages of modernisation should far outweigh the risks of doing nothing,” Coughlin points out. “But the risk of doing nothing is significant. It would be a false economy.”



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