Windows Server 2003 End of Life: What to Know

By John Bath

Over Memorial Day weekend I got a chance to visit home and see my family for a bit. It was a nice time, and, as usual, my mom had a few questions to ask about computer problems she was having. “It’s been so slow! The screen just goes black and I can’t do anything. It’s been like this all day.” After rebooting the computer, I saw that it had missed quite a few system updates. 81 of them, actually.

For a Windows computer less than a year old, the impact of this was pretty astounding. And these updates were all missed by accident! What would we do if they weren’t available at all?

This thought brought to mind the upcoming End of Support date for Windows Server 2003, July 14th, 2015; only 46 days, 14 hours and 45 minutes away (At the time of this writing). I know this because of a countdown clock I have on my desk, mailed to me by Lenovo. It seems everyone is concerned about this date, and if the anecdote above was no indication, it is for a very good reason.

On this date, Microsoft will end its support of the 13 year old server OS. This means that they will no longer be obligated to provide patches and fixes, nor provide any kind of customer support. Similar to a computer lacking system and security updates that keep it up to speed, a server without updates to support it experiences a whole host of problems:

  • Reduced performance
  • Instability
  • Vulnerability to attack

On top of that, going unsupported creates a few outside risks that can hurt a business. No support or steady stream fixes means you may not be compliant with industry standards, which can open a business up to audits and fines.

So what are you supposed to do? Well, finding a suitable replacement as soon as possible is a must. Any server upgrade and migration plan requires a considerable amount of planning to find the right solution, and there are several different options to choose from.

So, what are they?

The first and most obvious is to upgrade your server software to a newer version. There have been four versions of Windows Server released since 2003, each with their own successive improvements.

These improvements, however, will come with their own set of system requirements that a server built for 2003 may not be able to handle. In many cases, part upgrades or new server purchases may be necessary.

Furthermore, depending on the server software you upgrade to, you would only be buying yourself between 5 and 8 years before you need to repeat the process again. Just like 2003, these operating systems will eventually come to end of support.

As a second options, businesses facing end of life can move their system into the cloud. For example, a business running Exchange 2003 could to migrate to Office 365’s Exchange Online. In addition to hosting the email of a business the platform comes with its own set of benefits, such as usage of the most current Microsoft Office suite and personal cloud storage. In the case of file servers replacement, Office 365’s SharePoint Online can potentially do the job as well.

For other server resources, such as SQL databases, applications, websites, large files servers, etc, Microsoft Azure is the alternative. Azure serves as a cloud host for your datacenter, and through a remote desktop allows access as on a physical server.

As cloud platforms, both Office 365 and Microsoft Azure have their fair share of benefits. Since the two platforms are both run through a subscription service, users are always entitled to the most up to date version of the software, eliminating the need for any sort of upgrade down the line. Another is that the cloud grants anywhere access to data, regardless of the location or device.

Businesses can also opt to update to a hybrid environment, which includes both on-premises and cloud infrastructure. Going for hybrid offers the best of both worlds in many ways, such as anywhere access and control over a physical datacenter. For example, a business can move its email to Office 365 and put its file system on Windows Server 2012. Establishing a connection between the two through Azure Active Directory keeps these two systems in sync. Similarly, a business may choose to keep its resources onsite, but utilize Azure for backup and disaster recovery.

Which of these options is for me?

It depends. If you’re an organization that demands control over the information you have stored on your servers (such as physical access to them), then you may want to stick with on-premises and upgrade to a new server, or consider the hybrid option. Organizations that are especially large (several thousand users) may also see the benefit of hosting their own information onsite due to bandwidth costs.

Meanwhile, small and midsize businesses without great need to keep data onsite would want to consider the cloud. Without the need to maintain a physical server, operating costs are significantly reduced, offering new business growth opportunities. The added utility of cloud services, like Office 365, also provide new opportunities to save on software licensing costs and increase overall agility.

Overall, Windows 2003’s upcoming end of support date is a necessary hurdle that many businesses worldwide must soon confront. And while certainly a challenge, there are numerous opportunities to improve systems to be better than before due to advancements in server technology. By getting starting now, businesses can avoid potential issues with their system past the July 14th date.

As a gold certified Microsoft Cloud Partner, Metro CSG can help you move away from the aging server software and find the solution that would best help your business. If you’re currently looking for help in that regard, contact us today! We would be happy to help you.

My mom’s computer is fine now, by the way. Updating for a few hours was rough but got everything moving smoothly. It’s amazing what fixes like that can do.

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