WS2003 end of life – Is your business ready?

Mark Scaife, head of technical development, Phoenix IT, looks at what the forthcoming support switch off for WS2003 means for the channel's customers

The fast approaching 14 July when Microsoft will end the support of its legacy Windows Server 2003 (WS2003) has become a widely discussed topic over the past couple of months. 

While this has been recognised in the IT community as the turning point for business IT, the number of businesses that have not yet woken up to this issue remains high, with an estimated nine million servers still running WS2003. Companies that want to keep their business secure and compliant still have time to make a change and have the following options to choose from:

1. Continue using Windows Server 2003

It is possible for a business to continue running a WS2003 after the last free patch is put out on the 14 July. However, if your business is in a regulated industry you will not be compliant as Government regulations specify that company servers have to be run on a supported system. Insurance companies have also told client companies they have to work in secure environments.

Although it would be possible for some smaller companies to continue running WS2003 for up to six months, this is not advisable as the server will be more vulnerable to security breaches. Customised support for patching critical security breaches will be available from Microsoft, but is estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

2. Upgrade or migrate your server

Hardware in the IT industry generally has a three year lifespan, and most servers running WS2003 are four to eight years old. This leads to another option available for businesses which is to upgrade their servers and / or migrate to a more advanced physical or virtual operating system, such as Windows Server 2012. This may be a good option for a company looking for an opportunity to conduct a whole business upgrade.

If you are planning a complete server upgrade, it is important to note that migrating applications to WS2012 can often take several months. However, migrating to WS2012 which is the first ‘cloud aware’ operating system will make future moves and integration into the cloud simpler.

3. Move to the Cloud

The other realistic option for a business looking to move away from WS2003 is to make the jump straight into the cloud or adopt a hybrid model. There are a number of cloud options available to businesses, from Microsoft’s Azure to Phoenix’s Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) CloudSure UK.

Shifting business operations to the cloud has many benefits, from enhanced protection from business disruptive events, lower cost set-up, to freeing up IT staff to focus on areas of the business other than routine maintenance and monitoring.

However, this transition does not come without some hurdles to jump. It is important to remember that it’s an application migration, not an operating system upgrade. Examinations are required to evaluate your workloads, build a clear strategy, train staff and engage with business leaders where required.

While WS2003 end of life has become a major headache for many businesses in the UK, there are real benefits for companies looking to upgrade their IT or take advantage of the rapidly evolving cloud. It is important for businesses to keep in mind that it takes time to come up with a plan, as well as for the actual migration process itself. 

Also, it is not just a decision for IT departments to make - a board-level consideration is required. It is strongly recommended for companies that are unsure as to how WS2003 end of life will affect their business to set up a consultation with a trusted IT services provider that will help you to understand and select the best migration option for your business. 

The time to act is now, so that your business is not exposed come 14 July.

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