In April 2014, all the commotion was about Microsoft finally pulling the plug on its popular Windows XP operating system. But less publicized at the time was Microsoft’s planned end of support for its Windows Server 2003 platform—currently scheduled for July 14th, 2015 according to Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle information.
This date should be of particular importance to SMBs, enterprises, and organizations that have continued to use the some 8 million instances of Windows Server 2003 Gartner estimates are still in operation.
So, come this July 14th—after Microsoft distributes its final security fix for Windows Server 2003—what happens…? Well, much the same as Windows XP, continuing to run business-critical applications and workloads on the soon-to-be-retired operating system could prove incredibly risky. Even so, Microsoft Systems Integrator, Avanade, expects a full 20% of Gartner’s estimate—some 1.6 million—will miss the end of support deadline.
What does Windows Server 2003 End of Support Mean…?
1. Increased Support Costs
Continued reliance on legacy server software and hardware can be very expensive. Companies and organizations will need to take extra measures if they continue to run Windows Server 2003 past the end of support deadline. A recent Gartner brief has conservatively gauged the cost of custom support for servers running the expiring operating system after July 2015 in the region of $1,500 per server, per year.
2. No More Updates, Fixes, or Patches
Carrying on with Windows Server 2003 can leave servers extremely susceptible to bugs and performance issues as well as newly discovered vulnerabilities, which won’t be addressed by updates from Microsoft. To put things in perspective, one of the technology-maker’s most recent critical patches (MS15-011) was released with accompanying:
The architecture to properly support the fix provided in the update does not exist on Windows Server 2003 systems, making it infeasible to build the fix for Windows Server 2003.
With this most obvious example coming directly from Microsoft itself, users shouldn’t expect any more patches or hot fixes to be released—regardless of how severe a given vulnerability may be.
3. Compliance and Regulatory Risk
Without a doubt, new technology laws and regulations can be very complicated. Having an end of support server operating system doesn’t help matters and could be interpreted as failing to meet industry-wide compliance standards. Breaches that are tied back to a Windows Server 2003 server may land an organization in regulatory “hot water” and could be grounds for an audit and/or heavy fines.
4. Hardware and Software Compatibility
It is only natural for hardware and software manufacturers to continue optimizing their products for the most recent version(s) of Microsoft’s server platform. As more and more applications and devices abandon Windows Server 2003, it is a very real possibility that organizations with older / legacy hardware and software will struggle with complex compatibility issues.
5. The Clock is Ticking
Clearly, there are a number of factors working against companies and organization that are still using Windows Server 2003. The biggest factor being time. Not only is the July 14th deadline less than six months away, but server migrations require a significant amount of time to properly complete. Depending on the complexity of the project (and allowing for a few bumps in the road), the average Windows Server 2003 migration can take up to 200 days according to some industry professionals—with Microsoft reporting six to eight months, and Gartner estimating nine and fifteen months.
Moving Forward After the July 14th Deadline
As the end of support date for Windows Server 2003 looms, the highly negative consequences of its continued use are becoming more and more evident. Even just one server running the antiquated operating systems can present considerable cost, vulnerability, compliance, and inefficiency risks.
For companies and organizations that have not started the migration to a modern server infrastructure—time is not on your side. IT professionals should be acting now and considering the following questions to ease the deployment and migration process.
- Which systems are currently on Windows Server 2003…?
- Do you have the ability to migrate…?
- What are the results and consequences of inaction…?
- Which applications and data need to be migrated…?
- What are the available migration options…?
- What does the migration timeline look like…?
- Where and when should you look for help…?
With millions of systems still running on Windows Server 2003, and very little to benefit from staying on the operating system, now is the time to develop a migration strategy. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources and a number of options available to transition away from Windows Server 2003, including: upgrading to a newer version of Microsoft’s server platform (i.e. 2008 or 2012) or migrating to a cloud-based environment.