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Windows Server 2003 End of Support: A Major Opportunity

9 Apr 2015 by Shay Moser

People may be calling it an oncoming disaster, but you should call it a, “Major opportunity.” In fact, that’s how you should be presenting it to your customers as well.

“Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support is right around the corner… This is one of the largest IT opportunities of this decade, and the next opportunity to innovate not only in the datacenter, but also in the delivery and production of applications that drive today’s businesses,” begins the first in a series of blog posts from the Microsoft Server and Cloud Platform Team entitled, “Best Practices for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support Migration” on the TechNet Server & cloud blog from August 2014.

Withdrawal of Extended Support – What it Means

Microsoft will withdraw extended support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015.

Windows Server 2003: Why You Should Get Current,” a white paper produced by International Data Corporation (IDC) in July 2014, provides extensive details as to why those still using the venerable server platform must migrate to either Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Azure before that date. Compelling reasons to migrate presented by this white paper include:

  • Lack of patches/updates/non-security fixes
  • Elimination of security fixes
  • Lack of support
  • Application support challenges
  • Compliance issues
  • Inability to leverage modern cloud options from Microsoft and other vendors

Put simply, the known lack of security updates and patches for Windows Server 2003 will make those servers running after July 14, 2015, the premier target for hackers.

The Window for Windows Server Upgrade Is Closing

With under 100 days left, until extended support is withdrawn, Microsoft estimates that server migration will take at least 200 days, and application migration may take more than 300 days.

Clearly, those customers still running Windows Server 2003 will need your help accelerating that migration.

The Opportunity for You, the IT Service Provider

Redmond Magazine, in a September 19, 2014, article reported that “The total installed base of Windows Server 2003 remains massive, making migrations an important security issue for the entire industry. As of July, Microsoft reported that globally there are 24 million instances — half physical, half virtual — of Windows Server 2003 running on 12 million physical servers. There are 9.4 million Windows Server 2003 instances in North America. Worldwide, Windows Server 2003 accounted for 39% of the Windows Server installed base, according to Microsoft data.”

According to Microsoft, 94% of companies currently using Windows Server 2003 intend to migrate their applications to a newer version of Windows Server, as well as Microsoft Azure.

Six months have gone by since that report, but the number of customers needing your help remains high. The help they’ll need from you includes a long list of consultative, deployment, migration and support services. Using the Microsoft Four-Step Migration Planning Process as a model, these services include:

Discover – Catalog your software and workloads

Best Practices for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support Migration – Part 2” on the TechNet Server & Cloud blog covers the importance of beginning with an in-depth Discovery process to identify and evaluate every application that is currently running on and dependent upon Windows Server 2003.

Before you start thinking that you already know this, or that it will be simple, the post points out how surprised many people are by how many Windows 2003 servers they have in their environment, and how many are outside of their management infrastructure. This can create compliance and operational challenges if any are left behind during your migration.

You’ll want to keep track of how many and which Windows Server roles, Microsoft applications, applications from other vendors, and how many custom applications you have running and what resources each of them require. You’ll find opportunities to move some workloads to cloud-based servers, a few that may have to remain on physical servers of their own, applications that must be modified to run in new environments, and you many even find a few you can retire and stop thinking about.

In many environments, you’ll need to consider not only the requirements of your users, but also of your developers. SQL Server 2005 will lose extended support shortly after Windows Server 2003, on April 12, 2016. To avoid making modifications twice, you may want to take this occasion to upgrade and make modifications for both.

Assess – Categorize applications and workloads

Best Practices for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support Migration – Part 4” takes the results from the Discovery phase and puts them to work. The required Assessment phase will be somewhat unique given how different the environment was back in 2003. There were no virtual servers, so there will be no existing provisioning data to base anything on. This creates an extraordinary opportunity to create a very pure perspective on each application. Just remember that this will also require extraordinary amounts of time.

As you transition the workloads from their current dedicated physical server locations, you’ll need to determine the utilization, importance, sustainability, outputs, stakeholders and much more about each application. You’ll have to provide sufficient data to make cogent determinations as to which applications become virtualized and which need to remain alone on dedicated hardware, if any.

You can also see this as an opportunity to dig all the skeletons out of their closets. Over the lifetime of a server, many seemingly strange things can happen. Perhaps it was just simpler to create another instance of an application at some point rather than find the existing one. Applications that used to be mission-critical but are no longer may still have massive resources assigned to them simply because nobody bothered to go in and reconfigure.

You may even find servers and applications that nobody has any record of. Past departmental managers may have elected to boldly go where no IT department would allow them to and install their own applications outside the aegis of the IT department. Some may be time bombs waiting to ruin your day.

At the end, the Server & Cloud Team recommends you characterize workloads by type, by criticality, by complexity and by risk. This fourth post offers templates that may be very useful in accomplishing this.

Target – Identify your destination(s)

Best Practices for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support Migration – Part 5” continues to discuss the required assessments. And the focus is on reviewing the applications currently running on your Windows Server 2003, and what kind of changes or adjustments will be required to successfully run each one on a modern, secure, fully compliant server operating system.

This, of course, takes us back to the “It’s not broken” conundrum. For many, there is actually an underlying fear that making any changes to an application that has been successfully and continuously running for more than a decade will cause them to fair irreparably and strand the company operations without access to these foundational programs.

It will be even more important for Windows Server 2003 users to avoid the exposure to entire servers worth of applications and data that will be created by the lack of upgrades or updates starting July 14, 2015.

This post details six available strategies available to those who need to transition applications from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft Azure, SaaS applications like Office 365 or other solution platforms. They strongly suggest that you tag each application according to which of these will be your best solution:

  • Rehost: In this situation, you are not “touching” the architecture of the application, but are moving it to a supported OS. You would have identified during the first part of the Assessment phase that these types of applications are compatible with a modern operating system. This option allows you to simply move the application layer off of Windows Server 2003 and run the application upon Windows Server 2012 R2 or Microsoft Azure IaaS.
  • Refactor:    In addition to running your applications within Microsoft Azure’s IaaS offering, you can also consider the move to Microsoft Azure PaaS. Here you can use the services made available to your developers so that they may rework the applications or can move to a PaaS delivery model like Azure websites.
  • Revise:    You are going to have applications that are just plain “legacy”, and they are not going to be compatible with any “supported” OS.  That being said, development teams will need to be ready to review application requirements, and either modify or extend the code so that the application may run on a supported OS. Visual Studio Online offers you an easier way to host your entire organization on a single account.
  • Rebuild:   If you have an application that is not compatible, and can also not be “revised”, then it is time to “rebuild”. If you have an internal development team, they should be on point for this project. Consider the move to Microsoft Azure and Visual Studio Online for the development phase. This will speed up your project, and you can either move the application back to your on-premises environment or continue to run the application within Microsoft Azure.
  • Replace:   Another option for applications that are no longer supported, is the option to “replace”. There are numerous third -party applications available today to support a plethora of activities. Investigating the third-party software options can help decrease the number of development projects so that you can truly focus on those that require customization for your business.
  • Retire:   In addition to identifying the remediation process you’ll take for each application, you’ll also find that there are certain applications that will need to be retired. This may appear to be the easiest, but do note, that if there are departments still using those applications, then you will need to identify the team that will retire the application and ensure that any business processes are supported via a new application

Migrate – Make the Move

Many service providers make the mistake of thinking that this is where the process begins. Far from it. Before you start making money moving all of your client’s workloads away from Windows Server 2003, you’ll have already racked up substantial appropriate fees from the initial consulting required to accomplish the Discovery, Assessment, and Targeting processes.

The Opportunities for Your Customer

Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Cloud and Enterprise Marketing Takeshi Numoto posted “For customers still using Windows Server 2003, now is the time to migrate” on The Official Microsoft Blog on February 3, 2015.

Contrary to the urgent warnings of others, Numoto takes a much calmer approach, focusing more on the opportunities presented by the upgrade rather than the dire results of failure to make a change. Thanking customers for choosing Windows Server 2003, Numoto observes that “It’s been said that all endings are really beginnings, and technology is no exception. As the speed of technology innovation increases, the more our products needs to evolve to keep pace.”

Making a compelling case that today’s applications require the upgrade, he points out, “If you put the standards of 2003 next to the scale and scope of applications today, there just isn’t any comparison.”

Offering up case studies ranging from large enterprises to small businesses, Numoto discusses the compelling advantages of moving to Windows Server 2012 R2 and Microsoft Azure with calm assurance.

Rather than invoking potential dire consequences, Takeshi Numoto sums up his excellent perspective my stating, “Upgrading servers is not just a maintenance task. It provides an opportunity to deliver significant business value.”

Microsoft positions the retirement of its longest-lasting server platform after 12 years as a time of great opportunity for improvement. Twelve years of technology advances have added more than 140 new features into Windows Server 2012 R2 that weren’t even thought of in 2003. The real opportunity is to innovate new approaches and new solutions for your business. As the “Best Practices for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Support Migration” reports:

The opportunities to advance are not marked by mere lift-and-shift actions, but the consideration of how each and every application, workload, embedded system, is or is not meeting the demands of today. This is a leaps and bounds moment that will require effort on all fronts of IT, and once embraced, will benefit IT, the business, employees and customers in ways that were not previously possible. This is your moment to innovate within infrastructure and applications.”

Learn how we can help you with your customers’ Windows Server 2003 migration, from discovery to implementation.