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End of Life Is Near for Windows Server 2003

By Edward Gately

July 14th is likely weighing heavily on the minds of millions of users, primarily business users, who rely on Windows Server 2003 environments.

As of that date, Microsoft will no longer provide any updates to support, modify or secure the 12-year-old operating system.

Carl Claunch, Gartner’s vice president and distinguished analyst, tells Channel Partners the urgent need for migration presents an opportunity for partners “who can help their customers to prioritize, speed up migrations for critical services and help them bolster their defenses.”

“Opportunities to accomplish more transformational changes, such as rewriting or replacing services with those on newer, supported operating systems, either in the cloud or in the data center, have mostly disappeared as any such transformational change will take longer to accomplish than a straight-line, direct migration to a newer WS version,” he said.

Businesses that do not update in time will be vulnerable to data loss, security threats, failure to comply with new and existing regulations, and unforeseen costs, ultimately risking serious disruptions to essential business operations, said Dave Maffei, Carbonite’s vice president of global channel sales.

Those with Windows Server 2003 systems after the deadline “are a cross section of the entire market — involving large and small alike, every industry sector and across the gamut from the most well-funded and staffed groups to the most budget-constrained,” Claunch said.

“All those who operate systems without support face the risk that at some unpredictable future moment, attacks may succeed that compromise the systems running on WS2003, yet without corrective patches the only solution may be permanent shutdown of the services running on those servers,” he said.

With Windows Server 2003 end of life (EOL) approaching, many businesses are making plans to migrate to a newer operating system, Maffei said.

“Windows Server 2012 R2 is an updated system that offers the most significant business benefits for a channel partner’s client,” he said. “However, this involves many key decision points, including what precisely to upgrade, how to securely back up and protect existing data and what new processes to put in place after the migration.”

Users run the risk of an extended outage of any compromised systems as migrating services to a newer or other supported environment takes time, Claunch said.

“Users should prioritize based on the impact of an unforecasted, immediate shutdown of services, then build a plan for the steps to take should those situations occur,” he said. “The likelihood of an attack that can’t be blocked is

unknown. Enterprises may run the servers for years without a problem, or may be struck later this year. New vulnerabilities might affect portions of WS2003 that the enterprise is not using, or be blocked by firewalls or other tools, causing no impact to those that run without support.”

However, it is about as likely that the vulnerability will be more serious, and difficult or impossible to block without making changes to the code of Windows Server itself, Claunch said.

Full server backup is an essential component of the user’s migration strategy, Maffei said. This is an “insurance plan” protecting businesses from accidental loss of user data that can occur during a major software transition, he said.

“It’s best to use system state, file system, database and application specific backups to comprehensively protect data,” he said. “It’s also important to have the option to roll back during migration to recover any data that may have been corrupted or lost.

According to the Spiceworks 2015 IT Budget Report, IT professionals are feeling the crunch as about 67 percent cite EOL as a driving force behind new purchases.

“Windows 2003 EOL presents an ideal opportunity for channel partners, as nearly 5.5 million businesses currently using Windows 2003 will be replacing their current hardware with updated hardware,” Maffei said. “Channel partners have the chance to sell in EOL hardware and software upgrades, which in turn, helps increase channel partners’ Average Order Value (AOV).”


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