Despite years of lead-time, many businesses had to scramble this year when Microsoft ended support for its incredibly popular Windows XP desktop operating system. The disruption caused by the end of support for Windows XP may be nothing compared with the disruption caused by the end of support for Windows Server 2003, slated for July 14, 2015.
"When Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April, about one quarter of U.S. businesses were still using the operating system, which caused a series of operational issues and potential security challenges," says David Mayer, practice director, Microsoft Solutions, at IT services firm Insight Enterprises.
"While XP was primarily a desktop issue, we're advising our clients that Server 2003 end of service affects entire servers, with the potential to have widespread impact on many more business operations," Mayer says. "With less than a year to begin addressing the issue, we're outlining for clients we work with a series of timely steps and options to start exploring now so they can implement their own outcome."
Mayer says an estimated 39 percent of all installed Microsoft Server operating systems are the 2003 edition. That's about 24 million servers, of which about 9.4 million are in the U.S. Many instances are running an older version of SQL Server or other database applications (Microsoft's highly popular SQL Server 2005 is itself heading toward end of support in 2016), Mayer says.
"Windows Server 2003 was a very stable, very robust server operating system," Mayer notes, explaining its longevity.
But organizations that deal with sensitive or critical information -- health care records or credit card payment data, for instance -- risk falling out of regulatory compliance if they don't upgrade. And that, of course, could lead to lost business or a dramatic increase in the cost of doing business.
For many businesses, he says, the sunset of Windows Server 2003 is not just a challenge, it's an opportunity.
"The thing we're seeing with the organizations that we talk with is this is very much an inflection point in the design, management and architecture of their data center," Mayer says. "Is this the point where they move to software as a service or infrastructure as a service? Do they fully virtualize?"
For many, the choice will come down to Windows Server 2012 R2 in a physical deployment or Windows Azure in the cloud. He notes that Windows Server 2012 R2 is a modern server operating system that offers a number of new capabilities, but will likely also require more powerful hardware. But that more powerful hardware may also offer benefits like advanced virtualization capabilities, the ability to handle larger workloads with less hardware and a general reduction in overhead costs.
Mayer says that if organizations haven't started their migration process already, they should start now to ensure a smooth transition. Insight suggests organizations follow the following steps:
Phase I: Discovery and Analysis. In this step, businesses need to undertake a detailed environmental discovery to uncover which servers and applications are operating on the software.
Phase 2: Actual Migration. Organizations have a number of choices here that can be pursued in combination. They can pursue software upgrades, including enterprise-class data center and hybrid cloud solutions that can be simple to deploy, cost-effective, application-focused and user-centric. They can undertake hardware upgrades, as Windows Server 2012 requires new powerful hardware that can deliver improved energy efficiency. And they can pursue cloud-based solutions, giving them a flexible platform that allows businesses to rapidly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers.
Phase 3: Monitoring. Finally, to ensure zero downtime or negative effects from the migration, the IT organization must continue to monitor for 24 to 48 hours after the migration.
"There isn't one solution for all businesses," Mayer says. "Based on our experience working with clients, we're seeing this issue cut across all industries and company sizes, and every business may need to budget time, finances and human resources to address it. Whether the businesses we work with choose to replace servers, upgrade software or migrate to the cloud, there are critical decisions to be made that could take a good part of the coming year to address."