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So you’ve missed the Windows Server 2003 deadline – What now?

Yesterday (14 July), Microsoft ended support for its 12-year-old operating system, Windows Server 2003.

With more than 60 per cent of businesses (as of Q1 2015) still running the outdated operating system - down from as many as 11 million machines this time last year - businesses all over the world have found themselves asking, what do we do next?

To answer this question, we spoke to Adrian Foxall, CEO of the application migration firm Camwood. Over the last ten years, Adrian has helped hundreds of enterprises and public sector organisations migrate their application estates and keep their IT functions up-to-date.

According to Adrian, businesses that are yet to make the switch are left with one of only four options:

1. Do nothing – Stay on Server 2003:

While this is by far the worst option, it is the one that literally thousands of UK businesses will be choosing over the next two weeks. While it seems unlikely that these businesses will suffer a catastrophic cyber attack on 14 July, they are still unnecessarily opening themselves up to long-term threats.

For every loophole that goes unpatched over the next 12 months, businesses will be placing both themselves and their customers’ data at risk. In addition to this, the companies that chose not to update their servers may also find themselves unable to comply with the latest applications and data protection legislation, potentially opening up the business to legal action and costly fines.

In summary: Staying on Windows Server 2003 is not only bad for customers; it’s also bad for business.

2. Shuffle to Server 2008:

While hardly a cutting edge alternative to 2003, Server 2008 does provide a number of advantages over its defunct predecessor. Developed from the Windows Vista code base, 2008 offers significantly improved performance and security management, along with simplified diagnostic and recovery tools.

While these aspects are all vastly superior to Windows Server 2003, it does appear counterintuitive to “upgrade” to an operating system that is already seven years out of date. That said, however, upgrading to 2008 may actually prove a more sensible strategy than many would have us believe. Given that most Server 2003 applications will still run on 2008, upgrading to this OS can act as a helpful stepping stone for those business that have not yet had the chance to get their application estates in order.

The ability to get off of Server 2003 and onto 2008 provides a useful window in which IT departments can prepare and rationalise their application estates ready for the later move to Server 2012.

In summary: A good stepping stone to Server 2012, but very much a short-term solution.

3. Shift to Server 2012:

Compared to both 2008 and 2003, Server 2012 offers a staggering array of new tools, features and upgrades. Topping the list of these various benefits is the OS’ implementation of quick and easy “Deduplication” protocols. By finding and eliminating duplicate files, this process can generate up to 70 per cent of additional storage, opening up hundreds or even thousands of extra gigabytes of space.

In addition to the technical advantages of Server 2012, business leaders will also receive the added benefit of being able to sleep easy in their beds, safe in the knowledge that their IT systems are up-to-date and 100 per cent compliant with the latest legislation (at least from an OS point of view). This will help businesses to cut costs on bespoke licences, extended support fees, and even reduce the risk of potential legal action.

While 2012 is by far the OS of choice; the biggest problem for those making the switch is a lack of application support for Server 2003 software. For those businesses that have grown accustomed to running outdated applications on a 12-year-old OS, there is a good chance that much of the software they use on day-to-day basis will no longer be supported. As a result, these businesses will be forced to find viable alternatives, invest in bespoke replacements, or simply rationalise and remove those apps that no longer function.

While this can prove frustrating for both employees and IT, it is vital process for those that wish to keep their systems secure, and up-to-date.

In summary: If you want to keep your business in line with the times, Server 2012 is the place to be.

4. Leap to the Cloud:

While Windows Server 2012 has proved the operating system of choice for this year’s migration, those looking to get one step ahead of the game are already starting to host their servers and infrastructure within the Cloud. While some sectors remain concerned about the data protection implications of hosting their data online – with government and financial institutions proving particularly problematic – most businesses feel increasingly comfortable with the security and stability offered by external Cloud providers.

In terms of the benefits of Cloud hosting, not only are these servers more economically efficient (particularly in terms of stability-to-cost ratios), but they also offer near unlimited scalability with very little additional management. Best of all, for those advanced users, you could even look at developing a private cloud server which still runs on Server 2012 - providing by far the best of both worlds.

In summary: Sooner or later, your business is going to make the switch to Cloud Computing. Why not get in early and start the process now?

Playing the long game

If we look at the immediate future, the end of support for Windows Server 2003 offers businesses a number of options in how they chose to manage this deadline. But looking ahead, there is only one real choice for businesses in how they handle OS upgrades and migrations.

Regardless of which operating system businesses decide to use, the real lesson learnt from Server 2003 is that IT departments need to be prepared for these switches in future.

Year on year, the time between migrations has grown ever shorter. As such, rather than waiting until the last minute to manage and migrate their apps, businesses need to undertake an on-going strategy of Application Portfolio Management (APM) in order to keep their systems permanently up-to-date.

This is the best alternative to the situation we find ourselves in with Server 2003 – ensuring that the latest big switchover is also your last.

To find out more about the alternatives to Server 2003, download Camwood’s whitepaper report: “Server 2003 is dead… what are you going to do”.

Adrian Foxall, CEO of Camwood

Windows server 2003