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Windows Server 2003 and the industry refresh that never was

Despite cloud FUD, tight budgets and security scares, everyone flips MS the bird

Tight budgets and the cloud were among the reasons companies didn’t sign off migration projects for Windows Server 2003 in their droves, as customers ignored big vendors' security scare tactics.

So say some of the largest tech suppliers in the market, who had estimated a bit of a server sales bump both before and after Microsoft shuttered support for the 13-year old operating system on 14 July.

Tom Richards, CEO at CDW, described the end-of-life impact for WS03 as “kind of a mild breeze at our back.”

“A lot of the customers,” he said, “had really started preparing for the Win Server 2003 expiration late last year, it has carried into this year, but I also think there's what I would call a natural refresh going on.”

He said newer technologies such as converged infrastructure were causing customers to stop and think about their infrastructure. “It [WS03] hasn’t been such a big driver”.

According to HP last December, there were 400k physical servers running WS03 in the UK and roughly 120k remained in the wilds as Microsoft withdrew standard support.

Colin Brown, managing director at Softcat, told us CDW’s assessment was “pretty accurate”.

“There was activity in the last 12 to 18 months and then in the last quarter a little trickle of sales as some people began to panic, but there was no tsunami of upgrades.”

He reckons a number of customers made a "tactical move” to shift applications off dusty servers and into the cloud.

“The cloud was a big reason for organisations not going out to buy new servers/software as it gives customers a good alternative to just having to upgrade to a newer version. As always, customers will take the chance to purge and consolidate old applications as well, so I think most IT departments were on top of this move and hence most didn’t panic.”

Both Microsoft and HP were insistent companies that hadn’t refreshed after 14 July are exposing themselves to all sorts of security attacks, and that up-to-date patches and firmware are needed.

Piers Covill, general manager for solutions architecture at SCC’s UK Professional Services unit, said there were numerous reasons for customers not moving from WS03.

“Companies tend to do a lot of the bigger infrastructure upgrades with refreshes of the desktops, [but] Windows 8 was not received with universal acclaim so thgere's been a bit of a lull,” he told us.

He agreed customers were happy to review alternatives including the cloud and felt they have security well in hand.

“Customers were fed up with being told by Microsoft that the world was going to end on 14 July, this might be a uniquely British thing. Microsoft is genuinely surprised customers are not moving in higher numbers,” said Covill.

Brown at Softcat said he understood sales of Microsoft custom support agreements “experienced a big uptick in July.”

This is not something Microsoft wants to promote as it has bigger fish to fry than use developer resources to write code for a creaking OS, as Forrester pointed out previously.

Custom support was believed to cost around $600 per server for the first year, but it emerged more recently that Microsoft is actually paying addicts to come off WS03 sooner than they planned.

Errol Rasit, managing veep for the data centre and infrastructure management group at Gartner, said it continued to get 70 per cent of the requests on WS03 that it received at the peak period.

“It is still a hot topic,” he said.

He said enterprise spending remained “relatively damp” and there is no “vast growth in server budgets” to allow customers to fund WS03 upgrades and continue with other projects.

Microsoft refused to comment. ®

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