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Win Server 2003 custom support: That's NOT going to be fun

Forrester: Forget profits, Microsoft just won't want to do this

Microsoft could make a mint from charging businesses for custom support once Windows Server 2003 goes end of life next summer - but it may not make financial sense or be that easy to do so.

There are millions of servers globally still running the 13 year-old OS with one in five customers forecast to miss the 14 July deadline when Microsoft turns off extended support.

This means no more general updates - the company issued 37 critical security patches in 2013. Customers therefore could be at risk: or so tech vendors with a vested interest would certainly have us believe.

Forrester veep and principal analyst Richard Fichera told us he does not have a menu of support as “most of the engagements” will involve some level of custom pricing, “and they will be incredibly expensive”.

When XP support ended this year, Microsoft charged customers $200 per seat for the first year of additional support, $400 for year two and $800 for year three. A bunch of NHS Trusts coughed and bought it for a year.

“Possibly market pressure will force some modification of this policy, but I think it is less likely than with previous transitions for several reasons,” says Fichera.

This will be a support programme that Microsoft simply doesn’t want to offer, the analyst reckons, as revenues will be offset by the fact that legacy support for an aged OS will mean customers do not move to new products.

He said it will “continue to perpetuate an island of customers who can never truly buy into the forward-looking Microsoft strategy”.

Staff devoted to the custom support will have a “high implicit opportunity cost - instead of supporting a dead-end legacy they could be contributing to Microsoft's future battles with Google, Facebook and Apple”.

A shortage of skills is another typical factor vendors have to wrestle with in post-support scenarios, and given the age of WS2003 this could be felt acutely.

“I seriously question how well they [Microsoft] can staff and execute a large support program for this product,” said the Forrester man.

“All in all, I think that the price [of support] is almost immaterial. The disadvantages of staying with this OS are so manifest that anyone staying with it is assuming a high risk for technical problems, security exposure and, in today's regulatory climate, legal exposure to both regulatory bodies and private lawsuits.”

There were estimated to be 2.7 million WS2003 servers in operation in Europe some months back, and more recently it was estimate there were 400k in the UK.

The level of refresh activity has yet to emerge in any real volumes but HP CFO Cathie Lesjak told the Barclays Global Technology Conference that the company expects replacements to “ramp through 2015”.

However she warned the swap-out will not be a one-for-one exchange on servers: “Both because some of the older servers are going to be replaced with the newer and more powerful servers, plus there's the shift to cloud.”

Microsoft has so far refused to give any guidance on the price of custom support. ®

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