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It’s the end of life as we know it for Windows Server 2003
Can you survive without support?
Windows Server 2003 will pass out of Microsoft support on July 14, 2015. Different organisations report different numbers, but all agree that there are millions of Server 2003 servers still running in the wild.
Microsoft says there are 11 million Server 2003 servers still running. Gartner says eight million. Several internet searches bring up various other numbers, but I think it is safe to say somewhere between five and 15 million Server 2003 servers are still out there.
My hunch is that Gartner is under-estimating here. The analyst focuses on enterprises and on the whole wouldn’t care if small businesses were all to get flushed into the sun. A Spiceworks poll of workplaces reports that 57 per cent of respondents have at least one Server 2003 instance still running.
One study looking at un-migrated numbers specific to the UK finds 400,000 units yet to receive TLC there. I have as yet been unable to find numbers for my own country, Canada, but my straw polls say it will be a lot more than people think.
Another poll from late last year says one fifth of businesses will miss the mark.
Among my own client base there are probably 40 or so units left in the wild, and only about 20 of those can be migrated. Once upon a time Server 2003 was the last gasp for applications that should have been ported when Windows NT met its maker. Now, years later, the time has come again for some of my clients, and despite repeated warnings they are not ready.
There are a number of reasons why people don’t want to migrate: familiarity with the older operating system; money; and in many cases the complexity of the workloads running on those Server 2003 instances.
Many of those servers probably have not had much attention paid to them in years aside from periodic patching. Administrators responsible for the workloads running on them may well have moved on, and their replacements may be theoretically aware of how to migrate data and settings but have have never had the time to practice doing it.
Tales of the unexpected
Of course, if you don’t migrate you have two options: choose to run your operating system without security patches, or cough up for emergency support.
The cost of support for Server 2003 will be higher than it was for dragging instances of XP past their due date. Think £600+ per server for the first year, and rising for every year after that, though you an probably bank a discount if you are a big customer.
Weird things can happen during migrations. Take this domain controller bug. Even if things are mostly straightforward, there is really no substitute for experience.
Over the past several years many sysadmins have done Server 2003 migrations. Unfortunately, there are not that many of us who can legitimately say we have done hundreds or even thousands of them. This has led to fear in the channel that one of the things holding migrations back is simply a lack of systems administrators with the skills and experience to do the job.
Fortunately the internet is full of practical guides to migration, so if you end up having to do this on your own you won’t be left out in the cold.
To July and beyond
Microsoft’s official Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ is here. If you need to talk to Microsoft about extending support past the Server 2003 deadline, that’s the place to start.
When planning your migration away from Server 2003 it is worth bearing in mind the end of support dates for its successor operating systems.
Windows Server 2003 in most flavours meets its end on July 14, 2015. Windows Server 2008 support ends January 14, 2020, while Windows Server 2012 support ends January 10, 2023.
Windows Server 2016 is coming out soon, presumably in 2016. It will come with a new nano version. For some it is rather frustrating to have this new version coming out next year and yet have Windows Server 2003 expiring this year. So close, and yet so far.
For those who want to hop on Server 2016 as soon as it lands, Microsoft has Software Assurance as an option. Pay more, buy into the whole subscription concept for licensing and get access to upgrades as soon as they appear.
What everyone needs to remember is that Server 2003 doesn’t suddenly stop working when support expires. It will continue doing its thing – but there will be an increased risk of security incidents past that date.
Every bad guy who has been sitting on hidden vulnerabilities is going to pull them out and go to town. Unlike Windows XP Server 2003 won’t cling around, zombie-like, at high numbers for years.
Companies will upgrade their servers. Those that don’t will lock them down behind so many defences that nobody outside those organisations will ever know that a Server 2003 unit exists.
Right after support ends there will be a surge of attack attempts, malware and other trouble. This will last only so long and then it will simply taper off as the bad guys move on to more lucrative targets.
But let’s not get too doom-laden. Contrary to what you will be told by those with a vested interest in selling you new severs, it is entirely possible to defend an out-of-support operating system.
There is no path by which you save money by not upgrading your Server 2003 box and yet remain secure
What you need to know before you even consider trying to do so is that if you do it properly you will spend a heck of a lot more defending the operating system than you would on the cost of a new licence.
There is no path by which you save money by not upgrading your Server 2003 box and yet remain secure. If you think you can defend such a box with free tools you are deluding yourself and anyone who listens to you.
Of course, the other thing to consider is that in many cases the cost of migration is more than simply the cost of a new server and new operating system licence. Where the workload in question is on the complex side, administrators probably don’t know how to migrate it or as migrations delve deep into the inner workings of Windows additional costs will appear.
These can be as simple as the cost of calling the application developer’s support line and paying it to help you migrate. It can also evolve into multi-vendor support fiascos that can really run the meter, or require bringing in outside consultants charging some quite exorbitant fees.
Most migrations away from Server 2003 will be easy. Some will be hard. A few simply won’t be possible at all.
Cry for help
If you are a small business needing help migrating away from Server 2003 IT network Spiceworks is perhaps the best place to find a local service provider. It has a list which will help you to find a provider operating in your area – one that charges you rates you can afford.
It is a place to start, but it covers anyone who chooses to list themselves as a service provider and there is no vetting of any kind. But although that may sound like a dire warning, there are great companies to be found on the Spiceworks IT providers list.
I strongly recommend cross checking these companies against the Microsoft partner list. This will give you a decent idea of how much a company is committed to the Microsoft ecosystem. A search on Spiceworks will also give you a good idea of the competence (and personality traits) of the people who work there.
My local managed provider of choice, Optrics, is on both lists. And no, this is not just a plug for my mates; these folks have certainly done well by me, but even skilled and experienced systems administrators need help from time to time.
There are plenty of aspects of IT that I don’t have the experience to handle, or the time to learn. None of us can do it all, and none of us should be afraid to seek help if we feel our Server 2003 migrations involve a little more than we can handle.
Larger companies are not likely to find what they need in the Spiceworks or Microsoft partner lists. The bigger you get the more you need to start engaging name brand managed providers.
Before hitting Google I recommend having a conversation with your application’s developers first. Most problems in migrating away from Server 2003 are related to specific workload incompatibilities. Your application developer may know of a company with experience of handling migrations of its software. If there is such a team out there, go with the pros.
If what you need is help migrating the more in-depth Windows features and coping with esoteric issues, then any old managed IT service provider will not do. What you want is a Microsoft MVP.
July 14 is coming up fast. Will you be ready in time?
Microsoft users are advised to upgrade from Windows XP and Office 2003. Support Ends 8th April 2014
Windows XP was great, and many users still love the operating system, but…it’s more than a decade old. At the rate technology evolves, that makes Windows XP a near-relic. Although it may still appear to work fine, the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t really apply to Windows XP. It’s broken in many ways, and when Microsoft officially stops supporting it next April, it really will be broken.
You don’t even need to upgrade to Windows 8. Windows 7 would be fine. Whether you or a stubborn holdout you know still needs convincing, these three reasons should do the trick.
From a 10,000-foot view, Windows XP seems productive enough. It runs the applications you need it to run. It checks email. It surfs the Web. When you take a closer look, though, the newer versions of Windows have features that help you work more efficiently.
Aero Snap, which appeared in Windows 7, makes maximizing, minimizing, and organizing windows as simple as dragging them to the edge of the display. You can drag up to maximize, drag down to minimize, and drag to the left or right to snap the window to the respective half of the display. When you first start using Aero Snap, it seems like a novelty with little real value, but it quickly becomes second nature. After using Aero Snap for awhile, you’ll discover that it streamlines your work, and you’ll regret all the time you spent dragging windows here and there in XP.
Windows 8 has another feature that can save you even more time. File History is similar to the Time Machine function in Mac OS X. It scans your files every hour and stores copies of the incremental changes over time. If you accidentally overwrite a crucial presentation, or you decide to scrap your changes and want to go back to the way things were a few hours ago, it’s easy to restore a file from any point in the history.
Another timesaver in Windows 8 is Automatic Maintenance. Managing the little things that keep your PC tuned and optimized—like defragmenting your storage, antimalware scans, updating the operating system, and performing diagnostic tests—can be tedious. Automatic Maintenance takes care of all of those things for you while you sleep.
Once you get used to the features in Windows 7 or Windows 8, you’ll wonder how you got by without them for so long.
Using an operating system that’s more than a decade old can also paint you into a corner when it comes to the peripherals and devices you can use with it. As new technologies are developed, they’re generally engineered with the latest operating systems in mind, and unlikely to be supported on Windows XP.
USB 3.0 is a prime example. Most USB 3.0 devices will still work—in a technical sense—with Windows XP because they’re backward-compatible. However, they will fall back to USB 2.0 compatibility and transfer data at about one-tenth of the potential speed of USB 3.0. Also note that even USB 3.0 is getting long in the tooth and will eventually be replaced by even faster technologies that Windows XP will not be able to take advantage of.
Whether you’re looking at wireless printers, Bluetooth keyboards, or 4K monitors, it will be challenging if not impossible to find drivers and support to make new technologies work with Windows XP.
This is the big one. Windows XP is inherently more risky even now, and when Microsoft stops supporting the venerable OS next April, your PC will be virtually defenseless.
Just last week, Microsoft released a security advisory warning users about a zero-day vulnerability in Windows XP. The flaw is reportedly being actively exploited in the wild, but it doesn’t affect the newer versions of Windows.
Security experts believe that cybercriminals may already be hoarding Windows XP flaws, waiting hungrily for the expiration of Microsoft support. At that point, there will be no more Patch Tuesday security bulletins, and no patches or updates from Microsoft to address critical security concerns in Windows XP. It will be open season.
Tim Rains, director of Trustworthy Computing for Microsoft, has warned Windows XP users of another potential concern. Attackers often wait for a vendor to release a patch and then reverse-engineer it to discover the flaw and craft an exploit to take advantage of it. Once Microsoft support for Windows XP expires, malware developers will reverse-engineer Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Windows 8 patches and then verify whether those same flaws exist in Windows XP. In many cases, they will—and there will be no patch available to protect Windows XP.
The most recent Security Intelligence Report from Microsoft shows that when exposed to a similar volume of potential threats, Windows XP SP3 has a malware infection rate nearly double that of Windows 7, and a whopping 650 percent greater than 64-bit Windows 8. Windows XP systems are more likely to be compromised than ones running newer versions of Windows, the effects of the compromise are typically more insidious, and eradicating the threat and resolving a malware incident takes longer.
Windows XP was an awesome operating system. It was arguably the single best version in the history of the operating system. Windows 7 is a worthy successor to the Windows XP legacy, though, and Windows 8.1 is a tremendous operating system as well. Also, by clinging to Windows XP, you’re missing out on new features and technologies that could help you work more efficiently and simplify your life. Even if that doesn’t sway you, though, the reality is that Windows XP is going to be a security nightmare when support ends, and continuing to use it will be impractical—if not impossible.
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If you’re an Area Manager requiring assistance, a new licensee requiring advice or a long term tenant requiring support please do not hesitate to contact us as we would be delighted to help.