Windows Server 2003 retirement: 8 top tips for a safe migration

On 14 July 2015, Microsoft ended the “Extended Support” for Windows Server 2003. From this point on, the company will not release updates or patches for this operating system. Also, security gaps will not be closed anymore.

To support enterprises in the migration process, Daniel Model, sales engineering manager at Acronis presents the eight following migration tips:

1. Consider a migration to Windows Server 2012 R2

Microsoft presumably will support the latest version of Windows Server 2012 R2 until 2020. The “Mainstream Support” for the older Windows Server 2008 version has already ended and customers are now getting “Extended Support” by Microsoft only.

This means it is just a matter of time until the migration from the 2008 to a newer version is necessary.

2. Create a complete list of applications and workloads

This inventory list should compile all software components that are affected by the migration to a newer Windows server version, including drivers. Especially with these Windows, admins need to check if the new operating system provides later versions for the server hardware, or used peripheral devices.

It might also be necessary to clarify if new server and peripheral systems such as printers, all-in-one devices, or scanners need to be acquired.

3. Develop migration scenarios for different server types

For Active Directory and Exchange Server IT, admin need to take special measures, especially in terms of the sequence of the system migration.

4. Examine if new server hardware is needed

Windows Server 2003 is still running on a server with 32 bit processors, while Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2016 require 64 bit CPUs. Administrators need to consider exchanging server platforms that are older than three years.

New systems will also support more recent hardware components such as Solid State Drives (SSDs) and provide enough performance resources for upcoming Windows Server generations and virtualisation projects.

5. Create a comprehensive back-up of the Windows 2003 environment

This offers a “way back” in case any issues with the migration occur by using, back-up solutions such as Acronis Backup Advanced support disk imaging. Therefore, admins can restore data, operating system, applications and hidden partitions if the migration fails, even on new server hardware.

6. Convert the backup to a virtual machine

Solutions such as Acronis Backup Advanced offer to convert back-ups into virtual machines (VM). This has two major advantages: Firstly, the virtual Windows server can be used as a reference point for reinstallation. This can be essential as Windows Server 2008 and 2012 R2 include new features as dynamic access control which can cause issues with older applications.

On the other hand, the VM provides the possibility for a temporary “roll back” to the older server version. In case of major technical problems in the migration process, the IT department can therefore remain productive and spend the time focusing on error analysis and solutions.

7. Accelerate the migration with a master image

With a master image a new operating system, basic applications and settings can be deployed simultaneously to multiple server systems.

Tools such as Acronis Snap Deploy support Windows administrators to create this image and roll it out to all windows systems. It is especially useful if the tool includes an integrated PXE server that enables the new installed server to boot via the network.

8. Plan and realise the data migration

The deployment of an image back-up ensures that all data for the migration are secured. Occasionally it happens with Exchange 2003, for example, that SSL certificates are forgotten and are not part of the back-up.

In addition, it is important that the deployed back-up solution provides a high level of flexibility, offering to restore single documents and applications, as well as the restoration of the whole system.

Window Server 2003 has provided a good job in many companies and organisations during the last 12 years. But, retirement creeps up on everyone and now it is the turn this trusty old operating system.

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