If you’re still running Windows Server 2003, you failed

Windows Server 2003 was a reliable and stable choice for a virtual infrastructure -- more than 10 years ago. If you’re still using it today, you’ve let your company down.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is a common mantra, but if you’re still using Windows Server 2003, it is broke and you haven’t fixed it.

Sadly, you’re not alone. Many companies share this huge security and performance weakness in their infrastructure that can hurt business continuity, but they still fight against resolving the problem. Is it a failure of IT or a failure of business leadership? Finger pointing doesn’t help to solve the problem and neither does denying that Windows Server 2003 needs to be removed.

Windows Server 2003 was released on April 24, 2003 and quickly became a proven, stable product. Eleven years later, it is not the product your business should be depending on for business continuity, performance or security and Microsoft will end support on July 14, 2015. So, let’s take a look from an IT perspective on why this problem still exists and how to resolve it.

Excuse No. 1: We don’t need to upgrade

I hear this a lot from conference attendees and students as they sheepishly try to explain why Server 2003 is still on their network. What you’re really trying to claim is that you have found no valid business reason to utilize any of the new technologies added to the product over the last 11 years, including improvements to storage, clustering, Server Message Block, Hyper-V, performance and security with Core. Are you sure that none of this would help your business? Are you sure you even know the details of the new features of a server release and how they apply to your business?

Excuse No. 2: We don’t have the money to upgrade

Are you under an enterprise agreement with Microsoft? Have you contacted your software vendor or Microsoft to determine the cost? Sure, it's not cheap, but balance that cost against the features that Windows Server 2012 R2 can bring to the business. Windows Server 2012 R2 can have a real positive economic impact on your business.

Excuse No. 3: We have old applications that can’t be upgraded

This is the most common response I receive from IT pros when it comes to upgrading from Server 2003. Many companies face this issue, so it's not new. Many companies avoid this issue by requiring application vendors to sign an agreement to support future operating system versions, but it's true that some applications slipped through and now hold you and your business hostage. Even with the best application purchasing policies, let's face it, the economic crisis of 2008 forced a lot of application vendors out of business. For a variety of reasons, we have all faced this problem.

Solving this is not easy or cheap or without risk, but keep this in mind: This problem will not go away until you solve it. This means you need to find a way to move forward without harming business operations. This might involve:

  • Getting a new application to replace the one holding you hostage.
  • Having developers update the application, if possible.
  • At worst, moving the application to its most isolated occurrence. In other words, many IT pros will reduce the amount of servers for the application and then virtualize Server 2003, choosing to scale performance with as few VMs as possible. This is also a risk mitigation strategy while a new application is being rolled out to the company.

Keep in mind that you should have recognized this problem  when Windows Server 2008 was released in February of 2008. If you had started a process to deal with the problem application back then, you would have had six years to amortize the cost, perform the migration, and avoid the end of life problem of Server 2003. It is the IT department’s responsibility to drive timely solutions to support the best health of the business and its future health.

Microsoft has been trying to help you

Microsoft has been trying to reach IT pros and help them with the pain involved in migrating off Server 2003. Is anyone listening? There have been free roadshows in many cities with experts to discuss the process and answer questions, but attendance has been less than stellar. In fact, I was invited to speak along with several others to help our local community here in Phoenix, Arizona. The result? No one signed up.

If IT doesn't want free help, I'm not sure all the information in the world will be of much use, but if you’re looking for resources on upgrading, start with Mirosoft’s guide to migrating off Server 2003.

Take responsibility and provide leadership

By now, you have realized the rapid tempo that Microsoft and other vendors are taking to move products forward. The reason is not the cynical belief that it's about money and licensing. The truth is that the fast pace is needed to support new technologies that increase business continuity and agility in an ever more dangerous security environment. Driving your business to understand the benefits and risks of staying current is part of our job.

Imagine what happens when a severe security breach occurs, such as the recent breach a Home Depot. The loss of customer trust, the cost of investigation and remediation – all consequences that could have been prevented. Imagine what happens when the business suffers because IT cannot effectively articulate the features available in current releases that will improve performance, stability and security.

We are IT pros and this is part of our job. If you’re still running Windows Server 2003, you are not supporting the health and future of the business.

This was last published in October 2014

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