Windows Server 2003 End-of-Life (EOL) is just weeks away and millions of servers are still running on this Operating System. Although there are instances in which there is safety in numbers, in this case, it’s quite the opposite. TechRadar calls it the “biggest security threat of 2015”: the discontinuation of security updates and patches that can leave your company exposed to a high number of vulnerabilities – as well as compliance violations.
Does your company have a plan as the EOL date approaches? Do you have a partner with the experience to help you navigate the issues that could arise? Do you understand the impact of not moving off Windows Server 2003?
What does this mean for your business? Although Windows Server 2003 won’t suddenly stop working as soon as support expires and your Windows Server 2003 workloads will keep on running, there are a number of implications that businesses running Windows Server 2003 past July 14, 2015, need to be aware of:
Increased operational costs. Without support, you can expect the cost of workloads running on Windows Server 2003 to go up – unless you’re running an application that can go away and be turned off without major implications for your business. Keeping these systems online will result in mounting operational expenses, as well as the additional investments you’ll need to make to keep them secure.
Security risks. You can expect increased exposure to major vulnerabilities and cybersecurity attacks on your computer systems, databases and applications running on Windows Server 2003. After July 14, 2015, Microsoft will no longer release bug fixes and new vulnerabilities won’t be addressed, which means your Windows Server 2003 systems will become a huge security risk.
Non-compliance. If your business is subject to independent audits, outdated software should be a key consideration. Windows Server 2003 will not pass a compliance audit. Lack of compliance with PCI security standards or HIPAA data policies, if your business accepts credit cards or handles healthcare data, can be pricier for your business than the cost of modernizing and upgrading your architecture.
Regardless of the path you choose for your business, the importance of this end-of-support cannot and should not be ignored. Even if your Windows 2003 servers are stable at this time, do you want expose your business to the risk incurred when running your applications on an operating system that will not be supported starting July 15, 2015? Unfortunately, Rackspace has seen first-hand a myriad of businesses that neglected their server upgrades and are just now modernizing their architecture to ensure continuity of service, support and security for their applications.
There is no time to lose, and if you haven’t already defined your migration strategy, it’s time to act. What are your options at this point?
Do nothing. If you choose this option, then you realize you will not be able to get support or security patches from Microsoft or your service provider, and you’re prepared for future vulnerabilities. Despite the risks, this is a viable option if your team is already working on the application and the architecture updates that will replace your current servers.
Upgrade your servers. If you choose this option, beware of the risks. This might be a viable option if you’re not running critical business applications on your Windows Server 2003 environment, and your business can withstand some downtime, lost performance and productivity due to potential functionality and application errors while upgrading from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 or migrating to Windows Server 2012.
Migrate and upgrade. Unless you’ve ruled out this option and one of the above options satisfies your requirements based on your functionality and cost requirements, in most cases this is going to be your best, most logical option. You can either choose the more practical alternative to upgrade to Windows Server 2008, or the more strategic but complex approach to modernize your architecture and migrate to Windows Server 2012.
So where do you start? You have options.
1. Assess your needs and make a plan. Break up your Windows 2003 Servers into buckets:
Do nothing or turn servers off.
Should have been upgraded already – easy, quick wins!
Running critical/custom applications that will need “white gloves” to move.
Now take action on each of these buckets. Your assessment and requirements should help you identify the best approach to ensure a successful migration. Key things to consider during your assessment:
Can you get to a better platform? Should you migrate from physical servers to virtualized servers, or to a private or public cloud?
Would VM snapshots and backups give you a way to recover if needed?
Would you be able to get by without security updates, patches or fixes?
Have you considered isolating these servers?
2. Migrate yourself or with the help of a migration partner. This will require careful planning to ensure a successful migration. Here are some things to keep in mind when defining your upgrade or migration strategy.
Systems and applications have made a transition from 32-bit to 64-bit. The benefits include improved performance and greater scalability, but this transition might require application and product changes on your end. Assess and identify potential blockers, such as 16-bit and 32-bit applications. If you must rebuild, consider a cloud-first application.
While older applications may work in the new environment, it might not make the best use of the new computing environment. Keep in mind vendor licensing and support in the new environment (e.g. Cloud) for your applications.
Custom applications may need to be re-architected. These changes are likely to have an impact on file sizes and file formats as well.
Some older graphics, storage, and networking devices may no longer be available or supported. Alternatives for these components should be considered before they become a stumbling block.
Why consider upgrading to Windows Server 2008 or migrating to Windows Server 2012? Better performance, enhanced security compliance features, and easier management, are just a few of the benefits that come with this upgrade.
3. Engage the help of a Managed Services partner with migration planning and support. This approach is recommended for complex workloads, if you have extreme time constraints or require a complete re-architecting for your new environment. This is also recommended if you can’t do the legwork to complete the testing and certification of the new operating system – while maintaining your current environment and the needs of the business – or need to get your admins trained on the new administrative interfaces.
Engaging a partner like Rackspace with your assessment and planning needs gives you access to a deep bench of professional services and specialists that handle all the planning and heavy lifting to get you into a better performing and sustainable environment. Rackspace is a five-time Microsoft Partner of the Year, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, and has extensive expertise in Microsoft technologies. Rackspace runs 85% of all hosted SharePoint licensing and manages over 500,000 seats of Microsoft Exchange – and also offers Hyper-V Server and Microsoft Cloud Platform to help you virtualize and consolidate your servers to maximize your investments. You can reach a team of Microsoft specialists at 1-844-856-5650, via email or learn more about Windows Server 2003 Migration Services here.
Rob Throop, Support Architect, Rackspace
Rob Throop has over 20 years of experience working with Windows systems and applications. He joined Rackspace in 2006 as a Sr. Windows Systems Engineer and has served in various technical support roles, most recently as a Senior Manager of Fanatical Support. Rob currently leads the Windows Server 2003 migrations project team at Rackspace and serves as a Support Architect for strategic accounts. Prior to Rackspace, he held roles as a Lead Systems Architect and Windows Engineer at FileNet and Sprint PCS.