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The End of an Era – Windows 2003 Server

Posted by Bunmi Sowande on Jul 11, 2015 8:17:58 AM


On July 15th, Windows 2003 will be officially end of life. Following in the footsteps of Windows XP, the IT industry is facing up to face up to migrating from a fairly stable, widely used and trusted Operating System.
According to a recent survey:

  • 61% of companies are still running at least one instance of Windows Server 2003 in their environment (representing millions of installations across physical and virtualised infrastructures)
  • 8% of IT professionals have no plans to migrate

Baby Steps – In the beginning

Launched in April 2003, Windows 2003 Server was a massive success. While its predecessor (Windows 2000) introduced the concept of Active Directory, majority of IT professionals took the step from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows Server 2003. This was partially due to better deployment support.

My first two full-time jobs involved this very migration (and the associated migration of Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003 Server).  However, the world very different back then. For one thing, virtualisation was in its infancy. Only 55 percent of US homes were connected to the Internet.
In the world of Technology - Apple introduced iTunes to the world. The Concorde made its last commercial flight.

IT Security has rapidly evolved since then, Windows 2003 didn’t get a built-in Firewall until Service Pack 1 in 2005. Patch Tuesday didn’t start till October 2003. Microsoft has taken a very different approach to security since then, and Windows 2008 and 2012 Server were both built with security as a major consideration.
Time to say goodbye

Just like with Windows XP last year, I feel like I am losing an old friend, I must have deployed hundreds of Windows 2003 Servers over the last 12 years. But what are the implications of the Operating System going into this phase?

Don't be caught out of support!

The main concern is security. Just like with Windows XP last year, we are talking about millions of servers that will never be patched again, will never be updated again and could possibly be prone to hackers. However, there are other issues around software compatibility, compliance risks and support – service providers will most likely force their customers to move to a supported Operating System.

Consider the fact that:

  • The last Service Pack was released in 2007
  • Regular “mainstream” support ended three years ago - The product is actually on “extended support”

So why are there over a million servers running live applications running on an out of date Operating System?

In my experience, there are two main reasons for not upgrading:

  • Application Compatibility - Some people are running applications that are no longer supported by their vendors and do not work on more modern Operating Systems
  • Hardware Compatibility – Chances are if you’re running an Operating System that is over 10 years old, the hardware might be of a similar age. Windows 2003 Server was the last 32 bit server OS from Microsoft aside from Windows 2008 which leaned towards 64 bit offerings.

In both these cases, people might not have a choice about upgrading.
Even though the end of life date has been known for years, there are several organisations currently in the process of migrating. It’s funny, we should actually be talking about and planning for end of life for Server 2008 and Windows 7, 2020 is just round the corner !

The final wave of virtualisation?

As people look to move their workloads from Windows 2003 Server, there are a number of options available. You can upgrade to Windows Server 2008 or 2012, or to the cloud.
Virtualization took off in a big way after 2003, and as a result, a lot of the Windows 2003 server installations are probably sitting on legacy 32 bit physical servers.

As a result, it is very likely that these workloads will be migrated to modern virtual servers. At the end of all of this, we will see several enterprise datacentres finally becoming 100% virtualised.

Image source:  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/windows-server-2003/

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