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Start packing your bags for a Windows Server 2003 migration

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Windows Server 2003 is due to reach the end of its life in July next year. Microsoft will no longer support the software, which means no further patches or security updates and a security risk and compliance headache for businesses.

A surprising number of companies will be affected unless they get their act together and prepare to migrate to Windows Server 2012.

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Analysts estimate there are more than 10 million machines still running WS2003, despite strenuous efforts by Microsoft to make customers aware that they need to address the issue.

Ignorance is bliss

Many organisations are simply not prepared for the withdrawal of support and are not yet taking the necessary steps to migrate their applications and data to a newer operating system.

Application migration specialist AppZero ran a survey last year of 150 Fortune 1000 companies. It found that more than half had more than 100 WS2003 machines in service and only a quarter had an upgrade plan in place.

Alarmingly, over a quarter didn’t even know when the support of WS2003 was due to end.

The survey also found a fair amount of uncertainty about how the migration should be managed: 40 per cent of respondents had not yet decided whether they would move to the cloud as part of the upgrade.

Of the remainder, 38 per cent said they would move all or some of their applications to the cloud and 22 per cent said they would not move to the cloud at all.

To illustrate the potential scale of the problem for a business, Microsoft Consulting Services solutions architect Conrad Sidey cites the example of a global financial services organisation that recently came to Microsoft for help.

Face the facts

It had more than 1,000 business applications and core infrastructure components running on 20,000 Windows 2003 servers, both physical and virtual, and some were more than 10 years old.

Microsoft ran a pilot scheme with the company to assess 100 applications, interviewing application owners and producing recommendations for each one. Applications were prioritised according to the best course of remediation, business value and ease of migration.

It also produced a business case that spelled out the effort, costs, duration and benefits involved in remediating the company’s entire WS2003 estate.

Each application is in effect a small project in its own right

“A lot of these Windows 2003 servers had been around since 2003, with aging hardware that may not support modern operating systems,” says Sidey.

“What can be consolidated? What can be rationalised? What can be virtualised? Each application and the Windows 2003 servers on which it is hosted is in effect a small project in its own right and needs to be considered in that way.”

Microsoft recommends a four-step approach to migrating from WS2003: discovery of the existing environment; assessment of workloads; pinpointing where those workloads can move to; and finally the migration itself.

Of course businesses often don’t know the extent of their IT estate, let alone where they have WS2003 in that estate according to Tony Lock, programme director at analyst firm Freeform Dynamics.

Ready for retirement

“It’s not just what applications and services you have, it’s also the relationships between them that are important,” he says.

“Because of the length of time they have been deployed, the way that some of these applications and services feed off each other might not be in people’s heads any more. Getting a clear picture of what you have is vital.”

An understanding of their impact on the business allows IT to prioritise where it remediates. Lock believes the discovery exercise is worth undertaking even if a business thinks its exposure is very limited.

It might find there are servers deployed which no one is using, he points out, in which case discovery may become a cost-saving exercise.

Indeed when Microsoft worked with another customer on a WS2003 migration recently, it found that of the business's 27,000 servers it had 9,000 that could be retired.

Julius Davies, data centre technology specialist at Microsoft, also advises businesses to use the migration from WS2003 as an opportunity to start making decisions about the future.

“The business will end up with a better understanding of how to manage the lifecycle of services, because we really need to move away from thinking of an application or service as something that you deploy and forget about,” he says.

To learn more about how to plan your Windows Server migration sign up for a free QA Webinar training session on 21 July: Migrating from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012.

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