Managing Windows Server 2003 Migration Risks, Reaping Rewards
For network-connected servers, however, time's up on July 14. "I recommend disconnecting it from any network." An IT Inflection Point Though overworked IT personnel may feel differently, there's a silver lining to migrating away from the aging OS. David Brisbois, senior manager of assessment and technology deployment services at Softchoice, an IT consultancy and services provider, said organizations running Windows Server 2003 are on the "verge of a new world." Now that the choice of staying on Windows Server 2003 is essentially being taken away from organizations—upgrade or risk slipping into non-compliance—businesses have an opportunity to not only modernize their server environments, but capitalize on 12 years of operating system advances that have helped lower IT costs and enabled companies to respond to market shifts in a more agile manner.One obvious alternative is to upgrade to Windows Server 2012, Microsoft's virtualization-friendly, cloud-enabled OS. Not so fast, suggests Brisbois' colleague, Tim McKellips, practice manager at Softchoice. For the first half of 2014, Softchoice discovered that out of 72,000 customer servers, nearly a third (32 percent) were still running Windows Server 2003. The majority, 63 percent were running Server 2008 while a mere 4 percent had made the jump to Server 2012. The disparity, said McKellips, is due to the availability of mission critical apps. "The third-party ISV community was slower to adopt newer OSes. Hence, the move from Server 2003 to 2008 "allowed for some complacency," he said. The situation has improved, due in no small part to the work Microsoft has put into Windows Server 2012 and the company's ISV outreach. "They lived up to their commitments; produced a superior server product and improved the quality of the server," McKellips said. Get a Move On There's no time to waste, regardless of the path IT managers take, according to Sergio Galindo, general manager of GFI, a software and services provider for small and midsized businesses (SMBs). He suggests that IT organizations "start by inventorying what they have on their server." Critical applications aside—databases, Web servers, email and the like—"people should also inventory the stuff they don't need," he said. Galindo is a big proponent of archiving old and unused data and starting with a clean slate. "Treat it like you're moving to a new house, toss that old fridge and clothes that don't fit." In fact, archive everything, he recommended. "Archive your environment; take an image of your current machines as-is," he said. If a mishap occurs during the migration, it's a relatively trivial matter to fall back to a previous setup unstill the issue is resolved. "Start from a known good place and keep it in a safe place." In terms of hardware, just bite the bullet. Organizations, SMBs in particular, may initially balk at the cost of the latest server hardware. But it's an investment worth making, said Galindo. "The beauty of technology over the last couple of years is that it's gotten reliable," he said. Servers today are "as reliable as refrigerators," he said. From modernizing data centers to preventing compliance meltdowns, there is no shortage of reasons for businesses to upgrade their server OS installations. For now, the most pressing concern is that support for Windows Server 2003 will soon come to an end and Microsoft, aggressively pursuing a cloud-focused approach to IT, appears unlikely to extend the deadline for customers that are clinging to the past.
Whereas the Windows Server upgrade path has been fairly straightforward in the past, today businesses have options. Brisbois argues that IT departments must now weigh whether it's "time to move these workloads to the cloud; upgrade [their] hardware and apps; or if it's time to do more virtualization." They can also carry out any combination of the three.