After 12 years of active service, Microsoft are finally withdrawing extended support for the Server 2003 operating system on 14 July 2015. After this date Microsoft will not provide any security updates, hotfixes or support, paid or otherwise.
Intended to bring the power and simplicity of Windows XP into the data centre, 2003 was a major step forward over Server 2000. Little surprise then that Server 2003 is still in service in many companies across the globe. But the withdrawal of official support by Microsoft means that businesses will need to upgrade sooner rather than later, or risk their corporate systems and data being exposed to hackers or system failure.
So what do you need to consider as part of your migration plans?
1. What are you upgrading to?
If your business is determined to retain server operations in-house, the obvious upgrade path would be to adopt Server 2012 R2, Microsoft’s latest server operating system. But the advent of Cloud technologies means that your business has more options than ever before.
A Microsoft Office 365 subscription provides access to key productivity, Exchange email, Skype for Business Unified Communications and the OneDrive data storage tools, for instance, potentially doing away with the need for a central email/file server. And many specialist business applications can be built and delivered via the Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud platforms.
Your business needs to carefully consider the cost implications of upgrading an in-house server, and whether Cloud-based alternatives provide better value, particularly for smaller companies.
2. Is your infrastructure ready?
Windows Server 2003 supported older 32-bit processor technologies at launch, and was used by some OEMs to keep the price of their server hardware low. However Server 2012 R2 only supports the newer 64-bit (x64) processor architecture, mainly because of the performance improvements and increased memory support offered.
This means that your business will need to entirely replace any 32-bit machines because there is no supported upgrade path for those systems; obviously this will increase the overall cost of replacing Server 2003 in your environment.
3. Have you allotted enough funds for the upgrade?
Like any upgrade, the move away from Windows Server 2003 incurs a number of costs on top of the headline licence purchase costs. As described above, the physical server may need replacement, immediately adding to the cost of upgrading.
Similarly some of your existing line of business applications may not be compatible with Windows Server 2012 or the new x64 architecture. These too may require upgrades, further adding to the cost of modernising your IT infrastructure. When defining the upgrade budget, don’t forget to factor in the cost of other essential software upgrades or replacement.
And although Server 2012 R2 supports Windows XP PCs on a domain, for the best user experience (and highest levels of security), desktop clients should probably also be upgraded to Windows 7, Windows 8, or the soon-to-be-released Windows 10. Not only is Windows XP severely dated, but Microsoft ended support for that particular desktop operating system back in April 2014 – if you are still using XP, you should be looking to replace it as soon as possible too. This may also entail purchasing all-new Windows 8.1 certified hardware.
4. Data protection and migration
The upgrade and migration process presents a high degree of risk to your data. A system failure, incomplete upgrade, or interrupted file transfer operation can all place corporate data at risk of corruption or total loss.
Not only do you need to take a full backup before beginning any kind of upgrade, you also need to test the recovery mechanism, ensuring that it is capable of restoring your data to full working order before work begins. You should also ensure that you have a backup plan in place should the recovery fail, such as a low-level file recovery tool like Ontrack PowerControls for Exchange.
Taking the time to analyse and document your emergency data recovery provisions in advance will also help to speed up the process in the event that something does go wrong.
No time to waste
With under a month until Microsoft withdraw support for Server 2003, your business needs to draw up a migration plan as soon as possible. Those servers that are not upgraded before July 14th will be vulnerable to system outages or data loss, creating a much larger headache for systems administrators in the long run.