Microsoft to end support for Windows Server 2003

Windows Server 2003Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 is on Microsoft’s phase out list, and this could be terrible news for IT leaders who have been dragging their feet.

Microsoft will end extended support for the 12-year-old operating system this coming Tuesday (July 14). That will leave clients without security patches and other updates for any applications still running under Windows Server 2003. The company says there were nearly 24 million instances of Windows Server 2003 running in July 2014, however it hasn’t released more recent numbers as the end-of-support date approaches.

According to Mike Schutz, Microsoft’s general manager of cloud platform marketing, the good news is that a majority of the clients Microsoft has spoken with have migrated “the vast percentage” of their server workloads off Windows Server 2003. In any case, that still implies that there are holdouts who will be left to protect their own servers as Microsoft sever their security development.

Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company that has its US operations situated in New Jersey, is one such company. Mike Stager, the company’s senior director of server, storage and recovery, said in an interview that the company is currently attempting to secure the segment of its server fleet that’s still running Windows Server 2003. That is the initial step in Sanofi’s transition plan to move away from the old software, which will take the following “couple of years” to finish. Stager said the company began on this path “very late,” which is the reason they are so far behind in quitting the Windows Server 2003 operating system.

“We are a very large company with over 12,000 x86 servers, and I’m going to say that to my knowledge, we’re no different than any other large company where application lifecycling does not seem to be at the forefront,” Stager said. “It’s really more deploying new applications, and what has been lost in the mix has been our ability to stay on top of the operating system versions.” That has resulted to the company having a vast percentage of its systems running on the expiring Windows Server 2003 OS.

Users probably won’t feel quite a bit from the impact of the Windows Server migration as they did when Microsoft cut off support for Windows XP. Buyers are not affected by the end of support for the server OS, said Al Gillen, IDC’s program vice president of system software.

From an IT viewpoint, Stager said that the server changes at Sanofi will, at least in the short term, be less troublesome to the company’s end users than having to swap out their desktop workstations while ensuring that multiple applications continue to run on a new operating system simultaneously.

Windows Server 2003Microsoft is attempting to make that transition as simple as possible by giving resources on its website to help IT administrators assess their alternatives for migration. What’s more, he said Microsoft has various partner companies with migration expertise that companies could work with.

Stager said that companies without a transition plan need to figure out how they’re going to secure their environments, and then focus on moving applications. Only then can they move away from the old server OS. Moreover, IT departments need to get the company’s application developers on board with the shift immediately.

“Get to the applications team as quickly as possible,” Stager said. “Make sure that they’re aware of what has to happen and why. I find that applications teams don’t always have the full picture because in a large company, communications aren’t always as efficient as they could be.”

One choice for organizations that are stuck with Windows Server 2003 and have a Premier Support plan is to pay Microsoft for an extended support contract that will give them security fixes for a limited period of time. It’s a costly fix, unfortunately, as those extended service contracts are “not for the faint of wallet,” Gillen pointed out in a report on the transition.

That is borne out by the experience of the US Navy, which is paying Microsoft $9.1 million for a contract that gives them extended support for Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003.

Schutz said that an added benefit of moving away from Windows Server 2003 is that IT administrators can take two birds with one stone. Furthermore, they can move away from SQL Server 2005, which will lose extended support on April 12, 2016. A lot of the present instances of SQL Server 2005 are running on Windows Server 2003, so it makes sense for companies to move them all at once.

Concerning Sanofi, Stager said the company is also taking this opportunity to create methods that will guarantee it won’t fall into the same situation again.

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