Windows Server 2003: Prerequisites for a migration

You have certainly heard a lot about the end of Windows XP but much less about his big brother for servers whose announced end of support did not make as much noise.

The main reason for this is that servers running on 2003 continue to work, run, and work. The OS is solid, very solid even, and very few patches have been released (in fact almost none since 10 years).

As for the application running on this platform, it is more than proven and requires almost no maintenance. So much for the explanation of this silence. And yet we will have to migrate and leave behind this good old Windows Server 2003 .

Here are some tips and some big questions to ask yourself to start this project.

Which servers under Windows Server 2003 must migrate?

The exercise requires some prioritization. Consider the following:

Will I have to upgrade my hardware?

Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 are certainly more resource-intensive than the 2003 version, but not that much. Nevertheless, the hardware support is very different between these two generations (read below).

Your servers that already have hardware capabilities to run the new OS should be the first to migrate.

Take a good look at storage which can also be a discriminating criterion here.

Do you want to consolidate your server farm?

Windows Server 2003 came out before the democratization of virtualization. Which means that you certainly have 2003 machines running tasks and solutions without exploiting their full capabilities.

As a result, you can expect a consolidation ratio of 4: 1 or even 5: 1 by carrying these workloads on VMs that will run on a single target server in 2012 R2. The resulting hardware savings can greatly reduce the addition of migration.

Do you want to migrate to the cloud?

If you have, say, Exchange 2003, the migration could be an opportunity to save money (and avoid headaches) by switching directly to a hosted and managed Exchange instance by a provider.

Or, outright, upgrade to Microsoft’s SaaS offering: Office 365 .

What happens if a software dependency on Windows Server 2003 forces you to stay on that same OS?
This is often the case for industrial equipment. The server that controls large devices (such as numerically controlled machine tools or other specialized devices) runs a locked version of Windows Server that is supported only in a manufacturer-defined state.

In this case, the main threat to these machines that will remain under Windows Server 2003 will be the Internet connection.

In most cases, simply installing an Air gap or an Air wall – physical or virtual – between the machine and the network will allow you to mitigate 90% of the attack surface against Windows Server 2003. It will then become impossible to installing malware from the web and – another benefit – this will make the machine park much less vulnerable to internal infections.

This solution certainly increases the manpower needed to administer the servers that you configure in this way, but this compromise is certainly worth it.

Or consider an extension of the support (an option nevertheless very expensive, the price of it will indeed increase over time).

Have you thought about the new material specificities?

Even though Windows Server 2003 is 12 years old, you may have deployed it to younger servers (purchased in 2006, for example).

Yes but now, this version 2003 is one of the last two of the OS to support the 32-bit architecture. If this is the case with your machines, and you want to recycle servers purchased in 2005 or 2006 with a newer version of Windows, you’ll have to think twice.

And for good reason, Windows Server 2008 R2 and later versions ( 2012 and 2012 R2 ) only run on 64-bit architectures.

If you want to give new life to your old machines, it is perfectly possible, but in another way: perhaps with Windows Server 2008 (the original, not the R2) or with a Linux distribution.

In any case, you will certainly have to take the bull by the horns and buy new servers for the migration. That said, it could cost you less than you think. Especially if you decide to consolidate your workloads as mentioned above.

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