Perhaps the biggest single disadvantage of not upgrading to a new system is the opportunity cost. The world was a different place when Windows Server 2003 was launched, argues Vinay Nair, senior product marketing manager for Windows Server in Microsoft Canada.
“In 2003, Facebook wasn’t even founded yet,” he said. “Now, it’s a dominant social program that changes the way that we interact from a social perspective. Are your apps taking advantage of that for your business?”
The same argument goes for mobility. The iPhone was still four years away when Windows Server 2003 was launched. Now, mobile innovation plays an important part in corporate culture.
“Given the engagement levels of those two trends alone, not to mention cloud or big data, or any of the other things at the cusp of explosive growth today – you have to ask yourself, if you have such a big part of your installed base that’s on older technology, then are you really innovating?” he adds.
Hundreds of new features have been introduced into Windows Server in the last 12 years, but some of the most significant will be important for IT administrators trying to provide an efficient and well-managed service behind the scenes.
One example is virtualization. Hyper-V has become a mainstay in the operating system, and provides opportunities to drive down TCO, both in terms of hardware expenditure, and management complexity.
Other features will also be helpful for admins, such as cluster-aware updating to ease patch management.
Other features introduced into Windows Server after 2003 folded what were previously third-party functions directly into the operating system. Examples include BranchCache, which brings WAN optimisation into the mix for organisations with lots of branch offices around the country.
Then, there are features in modern Windows clients that are only supported by later versions of Windows Server. These include DirectAccess, the secure remote connectivity technology supported by enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Windows 8, which enable users to connect automatically to corporate intranets – but not if those intranets are controlled by Windows Server 2003.
Another example of the opportunity cost of sticking with the older OS version is 32-bit software. The addressable space for physical memory in a 32-bit system architecture is only 4 GB, but that jumps by an order of magnitude on a 64-bit system.
This also increases the potential continuous memory for a single application, bumping business software performance. 64-bit software also increases the number of general-purpose registers, which increases bus performance.
“While there was a variant of Windows Server 2003 that was 64-bit, many of the current installations are 32-bit,” said Paul LaChance, consulting strategist and global portfolio manager for data center platforms consulting at HP Technology Services. “Moving to Windows Server 2012 R2 will provide a 64-bit platform to build on for the coming years.”
Planning for your migration
What should CIOs be doing to migrate to a later version of Windows Server? The first step is discovery, in which IT teams create a complete inventory of the systems they have, and the workloads that they’re running.
Then, assessment will help the IT team to understand the impact of assessment. By the end of this phase, they should understand who in the business owns that application, and the risk that migration will present to them.
The third phase, targeting, involves deciding where you’ll move those workloads, and then preparing the workloads for migration to the new servers. Finally, the fourth and final stage is where you pull the trigger.
Deciding where to move the workload gives you the opportunity to optimize your current infrastructure, said LaChance. “There were no tablets, smartphones or clouds when Windows Server 2003 was first launched, so you need to think about how the data is consumed and by whom as you plan for the next 3-5 years,” he points out.
Consider the cloud
Windows Server 2012 has an Azure pack, which makes it easier to move some applications into the cloud. Don’t overlook this option, says East.
“Hybrid IT provides organizations the greatest opportunity to increase flexibility and scalability, while ensuring a high-level of control is kept in the hands of the IT team,” he said. “Historically the preserve of larger enterprises, SMEs can now adopt this approach and benefit from a more cost effective infrastructure that enables them to respond more quickly to market and industry trends.”
This is a good example of how we can turn lemons into lemonade. Whichever way you cut it, operating system upgrade and application migration is a pretty sour experience.
It will cost you money, and time.
However, if you take the opportunity to see how you can enhance your existing infrastructure, driving efficiencies into your IT management and providing better services for users, then you can at least come out of the other side smiling – even if it takes a bit of a grind to get there. ®
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