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Today is the day – 5 options if you’re still using Windows Server 2003

It is hard to miss the news that today marks the very end of the road for Microsoft’s popular Windows Server 2003 operating system. After that date, Microsoft will no longer offer support, maintenance or security patches for computers running Server 2003 leaving businesses reliant on the OS unprotected against software flaws or security vulnerabilities.

With only a few days until the deadline, the chances of realistically planning and executing a migration to another OS are very, very slim. So what are your options moving forward?

1. Don’t panic!

The end of support for Server 2003 does not mean that servers using that OS variant will simply explode tomorrow. Everything should continue running as normal, giving you time to finalise your migration plans and transfer data, services and roles to a new machine.

You could even use this grace period to seek assistance from a third party migration specialist to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

2. Dig deep

Despite official support ending today, Microsoft will actually continue to provide hotfixes and maintenance for Server 2003 indefinitely under certain conditions:

  • Your business takes out a special support contract for each Windows 2003 server.
  • You agree that each support request you lodge with Microsoft may be chargeable.
  • You are able to pay a vastly inflated sum for the contract – the US Navy just paid $9 million for ongoing support of their Windows XP devices for instance.

So if you really, absolutely positively cannot do without Windows Server 2003, you may still be able to purchase protection.

3. Consider third party support and maintenance

Most Microsoft-affiliated maintenance providers will not be willing to help support your Windows 2003 machine for any longer than it takes to migrate to a modern Server 2012 alternative. But this stop-gap support could prove invaluable as you finalise your upgrade plans.

You may also find other non-affiliated support providers willing to provide maintenance services indefinitely, generally at far lower cost than Microsoft’s prices. There is one caveat however – third party support providers are unable to develop hotfixes or patches for bugs and vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system because they do not have access to the source code. But then this is a gamble you take when choosing any option other than direct support from Microsoft.

4. Keep your data protection tools handy

Whether rushing through an upgrade/migration before today, or carefully planning for a roll-out in the coming months the protection of your data is paramount. Make sure that existing data backup routines are maintained, and consider the possibility of performing each day a test restore of some data from your backup media to properly verify that you could recover the server in the event of a major failure.

You should also consider keeping data recovery tools at hand just in case the very worst happens and the server fails on the day that your backup tapes/drives corrupt.

5. Don’t assume everything is alright

You may be able to keep your Server 2003 machine running for many weeks or months, even years, but this is not evidence that routine OS upgrades are just a cash-cow for Microsoft. The reality is that advances in new technology mean that it is not cost-effective for software vendors to offer perpetual support for every version of their products. Similarly customers like you benefit from new functions and features that help them become more efficient, cut costs or create new competitive advantages.

Also important to bear in mind is that the end of support means that any new security vulnerabilities or exploits discovered from tomorrow onwards are unlikely to be patched by Microsoft. This means that your data will be at significant risk of theft, loss or corruption should hackers target your server – you may not even realise there is a problem until it is too late.

Even with such a limited window of opportunity, your business does still have some options when it comes to dealing with your legacy Windows 2003 servers. But the reality is you will need to migrate or upgrade, and you will need to decide if you’ll do it sooner rather than later.

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