In a year, on July 14, 2015, Windows Server 2003 will meet the same fate that Windows XP met on April 9. On that date, the server operating system will enter its end-of-support phase, spelling the end of security patches and bug fixes, said Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Windows Server and System Center.
"If new issues do happen to be found, the only way to receive additional updates will be through a custom support agreement," said Anderson in a statement.
Despite its advanced age—Windows Server 2003 will turn 12 when Microsoft pulls support—the company has issued dozens of updates this year alone, said Anderson. "Even 10+ years after its release, Microsoft still issued 37 updates for Windows Server 2003 last year, but these regular servicings are now going to end."
In a YouTube video from Microsoft, the company warns that "physical and virtualized instances [of the OS] will be vulnerable to any and all new security threats."
Security concerns aside, organizations may have little choice but to purge the server software from their IT mix if they plan to continue conducting business. "Companies that continue to run Windows Server 2003 will start to fail standard compliance audits," cautioned the online video.
Since its launch 11 years ago, the operating system was succeeded by Windows Server 2008 and 2012. Despite those releases, Windows Server 2003 maintains a strong grip on some data centers, said Anderson.
"The fact of the matter is that there is a significant amount of Windows Server 2003 to upgrade around the world; we estimate that there are more than 15,000,000 physical servers that are likely to be upgraded over the next 12 months," he said.
Migrating millions of servers to Windows Server 2012 could provide Microsoft's virtualization technology, Hyper-V, with a big boost against rival VMware.
Anderson indicated that "many organizations are using the upgrade as the point in time they also migrate from VMware to Hyper-V." Windows Server 2003, unlike Server 2012, does not ship with the hypervisor, he observed.
When Windows Server 2012 was released on Sept. 4, 2012, Microsoft dubbed the software as its "Cloud OS," due in part to its built-in, cloud-friendly virtualization capabilities. In its latest iteration (Windows Server 2012 R2), the OS can support up to 1,024 active virtual machines (VMs), 64 virtual processors per VM and up to 1TB of memory per VM.
Before its launch, Microsoft claimed that the OS will win converts from VMware. Chris Avis, senior IT evangelist at Microsoft, said at the time that Microsoft was raising its "game so that we support a similar amount of processors, a similar amount of RAM and to be able to do the same amount of live migration scenarios levels the playing field of Hyper-V, versus VMware."