How you can make a painless upgrade from Windows Server 2003

It has been over 12 years since Windows Server 2003 was released. In the interim, there was a R2 version in late 2005, a successor, Windows Server 2008, and then another successor, Windows Server 2012.

However, according to Garner, there were still eight million copies of Windows Server 2003 in use in February of this year, despite it being based on the code foundation of Windows XP, which itself dates back even further to 2001.

This wouldn't necessarily be a problem, if the features of Windows Server 2003 still meet your company's need. The x64 Datacenter version supports up to 64 physical CPUs and 1TB of RAM, and the various versions include support for distributed file systems, Internet Information Services 6.0, an improved Active Directory, amongst many other capabilities.

But on 14 July, as a belated parallel to the end of extended support for Windows XP on 14 April in 2014, Microsoft will no longer be providing security updates for Windows Server 2003 either. This has even greater implications for current users than it did for those soldiering on with Windows XP.

The lack of security updates is much more significant for a server than a desktop. If a desktop gets compromised, there could be some very important personal data there, but it's still just one individual's system. But a server could host data and applications used by hundreds or even thousands of people. Since Windows Server 2003 was engineered very much with Internet connectivity in mind, it's highly likely that servers using it will be accessible online, making them open to attack. Even if a system isn't actually compromised, some industry regulators, for example in finance or pharmaceuticals, will fine companies that put customer data at risk. Companies in these industries are expected to ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable, and will be penalised if they don't.

Beyond the security risk is the loss of modern features by sticking to a 12-year-old server operating system. The world of computing moves very quickly, particularly where the Internet is concerned. Neither YouTube nor Facebook existed when Windows Server 2003 was released, and nobody was predicting how rapidly end users would switch from desktops and notebooks to tablets and smartphones. Cloud services were scarcely conceived of either, and the virtualisation that supports many of these Internet facilities was not a standard server feature.

Despite all this, companies in a complete cross-section of business sectors have been delaying upgrade for years. These aren't just small companies for whom the cost of upgrade might be prohibitive.

A 2013 survey of Fortune 1000 companies recorded that more than half had 100 or more Windows Server 2003 systems still running. The problem is that these servers have generally been left alone because they are running complex workloads, for example a database linked to multiple business systems such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning. A system that has been running for 12 years will almost certainly have grown in complexity over this time, making the company even more reluctant to upgrade, if things have been working just fine over this period. The upgrade could also involve a switch from 32-bit to 64-bit operating environments.

The loss of security updates will force the hands of those companies dragging their heels. But there are plenty of positive reasons why updating to Windows Server 2012 will have many benefits as well. There's a new file system called ReFS, which includes automatic integrity checking, so this doesn't need to be performed manually, built in handling of hard disk failure and redundancy, support for very long path and filenames, as well as storage virtualisation and pooling. Windows Server 2012 can be run in modes with or without a GUI, or switched between these modes without reinstallation. IP address management is available, for both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. With R2 of Windows Server 2012, support has been integrated for Office 365 too.

Although this isn't specifically a new feature of Windows Server 2012, virtualisation using Hyper-V will also be a possibility post upgrade, and has been improved in this version. There's network virtualisation, multi-tenancy, plus support for storage resource pools, cross-premises connectivity and cloud backup. Each virtual machine can have up to 64 virtual processors, 1TB of RAM, and 64TB of virtual disk space. So potent virtualisation will be one of the key benefits of upgrading to 2012, opening the way for contemporary approaches to server provision. There's much greater scalability overall, too, with support for up to 64 physical processors but 640 virtual ones (although only 320 with Hyper-V enabled), 4TB of memory and 64 failover cluster nodes.

According to Gartner, migration can take anywhere between nine to 15 months from initial research to completed rollout. So companies that aren't well on the way are far past the deadline, and Windows Server 2012 doesn't directly support upgrade from Server 2003 either. Fortunately, you can still smooth the experience by working with an experienced partner. The upgrade will unquestionably involve new hardware, because server technology has moved on considerably in 12 years as well. So a partner that can provide a strong provision in this area is essential too.

HP has been working with Microsoft to provide tailored assistance to those companies running many different applications on different servers, and specifically for mid-sized companies that lack the expertise in house for the upgrade, but have a greater server complexity than a small business. HP will help a company audit the numbers and types of applications being run on Windows Server 2003. This can easily be underestimated, as these can accrue considerably over 12 years of usage. Assistance will then be given about what to migrate, and where virtualisation will fit into the picture.

Along with its channel partners, of which there are 200,000 worldwide, HP has exactly what any business needs to plan, design, implement, manage and support migration. There's a dual-usage period available, where servers can be acquired and deployed, but no payment needs to be made until they are up and running.

HP Asset Recovery Services for Servers ensures data is removed securely on hardware disposed of, and any resale value recovered once it is sold on. HP has assisted thousands of companies with the migration from Windows Server 2003 already, providing reassurance that the advice offered is the most expert available.

A migration partner needs to combine technology expertise, project management, business consulting, and IT investment services, and HP has decades of experience in every one of these areas, taking the pain out of upgrading from Windows Server 2003 to 2012.

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