This article is brought to you by ComputerworldUK in association with Intel IT Center

Official support for Windows Server 2003 is coming to an end on July 14, 2015, but millions of instances are still running worldwide. It remains a major issue for IT professionals, but was largely unmentioned by vendors displaying at the recent CEBIT technology conference in Germany. 

Despite substantial publicity from Microsoft and technology partners like Intel and Dell over the past year, and warnings from analyst houses of the security and interoperability problems of continuing to use the legacy operating system, it was the elephant in the room at the giant trade show.

According to a recent survey on March 2015, Windows Server 2003 is still running in 61 percent of businesses, despite the looming deadline. The survey of 1,300 IT professionals comes from IT network Spiceworks as part of its new report: The Great IT Upgrade.

Regardless, the upgrade issue affects both public and private sectors and businesses and organisations of all sizes. “This migration will impact millions of IT professionals and nearly every technology segment including hardware, software, cloud, mobile and services,” comments Sanjay Castelino, VP of marketing at Spiceworks.

Intel research confirms the scale of the problem. It has found 70% of UK organisations that operate Windows Server 2003 use it to run business applications, other than email.

So, why the inaction, and what are the options for those who haven’t made the switch? IT professionals aren’t stupid and they don’t run unnecessary risk.

The Spiceworks research showed a general awareness of the issues. Nearly all of the IT professional surveyed said they were aware that Windows Server 2003 is approaching its end of life; and three quarters of those who haven’t migrated plan to do so before the deadline.

It also found, roughly two thirds of IT professionals who are making the move are migrating to the newest, most advanced Windows Server operating system available: Windows server 2012 R2.

Many IT leaders are making server virtualisation a part of their migration, whether moving apps from physical servers to virtual machines or upgrading Windows server 2003 virtual machines in their virtual infrastructure.

The aspirations from the move were clear: to get the latest and best version of Windows Server; to gain software standardisation and ease of management; because the licences were already owned; for features and functionality; and to gain virtualised capabilities.

This ties in with Microsoft’s messaging around migrating to Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft Azure or Office 365. The vendor says, enterprises can achieve concrete benefits including improved performance, reduced maintenance requirements and increased agility and speed of business response. 

However, there are also real barriers to a full migration, which have to be faced.

Many organisations continue running applications on the old platform because they are core enterprise apps and they run perfectly well as they are. For some organisations the cost of migration could be prohibitive or theymay not be equipped to face the complexity of moving to a new platform or rewriting code.

But the mantra of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,’ does not apply here. Time and budgets need to be found. It is no longer tenable to stay with Windows Server 2003.

Windows Server 2003 will increasingly become a target for hackers and, therefore, poses a greater security and compliance risk.

As Microsoft stops maintenance, the software will become increasingly unreliable, requiring more downtime and management. There will be performance issues and data loss, and eventually hardware incompatibility and operating costs will make it difficult to continue running the legacy equipment.

Both the risks and the costs of extended or customer support are likely to rise exponentially as time goes on. Microsoft has confirmed it will be charging $600 per server for any extended support beyond end of life.

A few businesses may be tempted by the do nothing and run the risk option, but if disaster doesn’t strike, auditors and supply chain partners will soon sound the alarm bells.

Most organisations, however, can see the business benefits of migrating from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 R2. These include greater functionality, interoperability, and features such as cloud and mobile integration.

Migrating a file server workload to the new platform requires more than simply copying the files from the old computer to the new. IT professionals need to keep in mind things like file and folder permissions, quotas, auditing, deduplication, file and folder compression, and EFS encryption. In addition, business applications may need to be upgraded or replaced, and there may be a need for application integration or extension.

There are other options - moving to the cloud. The choices available include moving to Platform as a Service – spinning up Windows Server 2012 instances on Windows Azure and using Office 365, for example.

Or, you could select a hybrid solution – moving some apps to the cloud and deploying some on Windows Server 2012 in the data centre. Again, this could present a good opportunity to modernise and upgrade the server hardware.

Both Microsoft and Intel offer migration help and templates; for example, Intel offers free tools and resources to help with migration, such as the Intel Xeon Processor-Based Server Refresh Savings Estimator. This enables businesses to model server refresh activity and see the cost and maintenance impact of implementing new hardware.

IT organisations don’t need to be caught between a rock and a hard place. The most compelling reason to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 R2 is its rich feature set. As a cloud-ready platform, it gives you an infrastructure that is prepared for future growth and expansion. The software is also optimised for the latest Intel Xeon processor platforms, such as the Intel Xeon Processor E7 family, giving far greater performance than ever before.

It also supports larger, higher performance virtual machines, I/O optimisation, greater energy efficiency and simplified licensing.

When it comes to Windows Server migration, there are many reasons to update and mounting problems for those who stay.