If you’re one of the 8 million businesses worldwide (or 11 million, depending on who you ask) still relying on Windows Server 2003, then you probably feel July 14 looming dangerously close. That’s the day extended support ends for Standard, Enterprise, and Data Center editions of the OS. And, since it’s already been almost a year since Gartner Research said that anyone not already in the process of migrating wasn’t going to make the deadline, you might be wondering if it’s time to start panicking—or if you can get away with letting your old system ride, at least for a while. So what’s really going to happen if you’re still on the expired OS when the deadline arrives?
Well, you can relax a little—but just a little. It’s not like you’re entire system is going to explode when the clock strikes midnight. But you can count on the issues you run into getting continually worse as time goes on. All the bad things that are going to happen fall into roughly three categories:
1. You’ll Stop Getting Updates and Patches.
This means Microsoft is no longer going to be sending out fixes for any bugs that get reported. It also could mean downtime for your business if your critical software is running on the old OS. Though most of the updates and patches probably won’t have a major impact individually, their effects will add up over time. And, just to give you an idea how often really important updates are made, in 2013 Microsoft released 37 that they labeled as critical. The other problem you’ll likely run into sooner or later is that any new software you install may not integrate properly into the old system. So, basically, you’re looking at a bunch of glitches and performance issues, which are unlikely to be serious at first, but will become increasingly likely to pose bigger problems with time.
2. You May Have Issues with Industry Compliance Standards and Regulations.
Depending on what industry you’re in, you may have to adhere to privacy and other kinds of regulatory standards. If you were to get audited after July 14 and you’re still on Windows Server 2003, there’s a good chance you’d be looking at some penalties. This is because without all those patches being automatically installed there are all kinds of holes opening up in your security.
3. You’ll Be More Exposed to Security Threats.
The security issues go beyond adherence to regulations. You also may be leaving critical data and software exposed. This means a potential loss of sensitive information, as well as an increased danger of system failures and downtime. With extended support, you could simply pick up the phone and have someone address any of these issues. But, if you want to reserve that option after July 14, you’ll need a custom support agreement, and these agreements come with about a $200,000 a year price tag.
So, even though your business won’t be violently thrust back into the dark ages if you don’t migrate all your workloads before the end-of-support date, you will have to migrate eventually.
What you’ll eventually need to do:
1. Assess Your Server Requirements.
You don’t start major migrations by just buying some new servers, configuring them with a more up-to-date operating system, and then diving right in to transferring your files and software. Instead, you’ll want to begin by taking a comprehensive inventory of everything you’ll be migrating, so you can know exactly what you’ll be getting into.
2. Choose the Best Option.
Once you know what you’ll be moving, you’ll have a better sense of which infrastructure solutions will best suit your business’s needs. Microsoft asked the independent tech research institute Forrester to look into what kind of payoff companies could expect from upgrading from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012. They found that the average business would save enough to cover the cost in six months, and the total risk-adjusted ROI is 270%. But you have lot of cloud and hybrid options for hosting your workloads these days, so it’s not a simple matter of signing on for an updated version of the OS.
3. Migrate Your Workloads.
Now you’re ready to move. Obviously, the duration of the project will depend on the number and size of your workloads, but you’re probably looking at six months at least and possibly as long as a year. That’s why so many businesses are starting to panic as the expiration date for extended support approaches.
So it probably won’t do much good to start panicking, but doing nothing over the course of time will definitely cause some damage. If you’d like some more details, Microsoft has put together a helpful guide of what steps to take if you’re still stuck on the expiring OS.