Why 1.6 million people will miss Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 date with fate

You want to do what? Again?!


Upgraded your Windows Server 2003 yet? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Gartner reckons there are eight million Windows Server 2003 OS instances in operation, and SI Avanade reckons that of those instances, a full 20 per cent – 1.6 million – will blow past the 14 July end-of-support date.

What happens six months from now, on 14 July? That's the date Microsoft issues its last security fix ever for Window Server 2003 – the end of extended support from the server operating system's maker.

That means any new hacks built or vulnerabilities discovered in Windows Server 2003 and those running the legacy server OS will be facing them on their own.

It’s a problem if your server systems hold data of any kind – which they will – and could be accessed directly or indirectly from the internet.

Server systems are generally thought isolated from external attackers, but last year’s attack on Sony Pictures put an end to that illusion.

Sony’s internal financial and employee systems were compromised and employees’ personal data snaffled by hackers. Sony’s only response was to take the systems offline.

This becomes of even greater concern if you work in a regulated industry like finance or pharmaceutical, where watchdogs will levy fines if you put customers’ data at risk.

The last time we jumped though this upgrade hoop was in April 2014, when Microsoft ended extended support for Windows XP.

XP had been running on millions of machines worldwide, tens of thousands in the UK government alone.

Of course the number of Windows Server 2003 instances is small in comparison to the numbers of Windows XP overall, but the problem is actually bigger.

A 2013 survey of Fortune 1000 IT pros by AppZero, touted by Microsoft, reckons more than half had 100 or more Windows 2003 servers.

Windows Servers run systems that are the beating heart of organisations - ERP, finance, accounting, manufacturing and more.

The consensus among those The Reg has spoken with is that despite the mission-criticality of Windows Server systems, people are holding off moving.

Aidan Finn is technical sales lead for value-added reseller MicroWarehouse and a Microsoft MVP.

He coaches and trains partners who work with end users on implementing Microsoft technologies. An expert on Windows Server and Windows Server virtualisation, Finn admits to a sense of unease on the topic of moving off Windows Server 2003.

"When I look at the kind of people that have this issue, it's not just companies that tend to be under-funded, low skilled or slow to do things, it's every kind of company – including extremely well-funded, very leading edge IT organisations. It is businesses from the smallest to the largest, it's evenly spread around the planet and industry segments."

“When I talk to people, they are pretty non-committal about upgrades,” Finn told The Reg just before Christmas. “I have a feeling of unease about it, that come January, February and March I expect there will be a lot or work happening and a lot of pressure.”

Application migration specialist Camwood is jittery, too. The firm was busy on Windows XP upgrades and had about 10 Windows Server 2003 projects currently underway when we spoke.

Camwood solutions architect Ed Shepley told us: “We had a fairly decent flurry from people when [end of support] was announced for Windows XP.

“We were kept quite busy before XP and expected a similar pace for Server 2003 but we found people have a different challenge.”

Nick East, chief executive of IT provider Zynstra, told The Reg that 50 to 60 per cent of customers who have contacted his firm about migration are still only at the talking stage.

Just a small fraction have finished, with about 10 to 20 per cent “on the journey", he said.

All of which is a problem, because according to Gartner, the “typical” migration runs between nine to 15 months – from research to upgrade, test and rollout.

Translation: if you haven’t started now, you won’t make July’s deadline.

Given the importance of such systems, why aren’t people moving sooner? One problem is the sheer complexity and importance of the systems we're talking about. The workloads on Windows Server 2003 are the really big thorny ones. Email servers, web hosting or file serving have likely already been migrated to Windows Server 2008 R2. The hard stuff is what’s left – which firms seem to have been putting off.

One such example is a specific line-of-business app running on SQL Server on Windows Server 2003 for a particular vertical sector – with plug-ins to ERP and CRM that are also tied to the customer.

East draws a picture: “Such a system will have been super reliable and has been running in the business for some time and its bound up with everything – ordering, logistics, supply, customer support and perhaps there’s no good way to move it into the cloud. Then, perhaps, there are applications that are integrated to lots of other things in the business; you move one part and you have to move lots of other processes, too.”

Complicated and critical by their nature, these systems have only grown in complexity during the 15 years of Windows Server 2003’s life.

Throw out the yardstick

A difficult migration project by any normal yardstick is made harder by step change in systems architectures – from 32-bit Windows Server 2003 to 64-bit Windows Server 2012. Further, since Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has put Hyper-V in the server software for free, introducing possible new opportunities in virtualisation.

IT departments are also facing kickback and delay from the business side of the house in terms of securing the pounds and pence required to finance the change.

Another upgrade, just over a year after Windows XP? On systems that are out of sight of the average business user? IT departments likely found getting approval and budget for Windows XP hard enough – and that was right in the faces of most of those who were responsible for OKing such projects.

Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Carl Claunch said: "When I look at the kind of people that have this issue, it's not just companies that tend to be under-funded, low-skilled or slow to do things – it's every kind of company, including extremely well-funded, very leading edge IT organisations. It is businesses from the smallest to the largest, it's evenly spread around the planet and industry segments."

There’s a firm consensus there will be a late rush as July’s date approaches. And you won’t see wholesale server estates migrate, but rather specific apps say insiders.

Finn predicts movement as the support deadline enters the six-month time frame and people realise there’s no way out.


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022