The July 14 deadline for the end of Windows Server 2003 support is fast approaching, leaving many channel partners with an impending sense of doom. After all, millions of Windows Server 2003 machines have been running applications reliably for years, and the prospect of migrating those applications to new environments within the next six months is a daunting one. However, there is good news in this scenario: While migrating applications undoubtedly will require lots of planning work, channel partners that make the initial effort up front will find that life after Windows Server 2003 brings with it a host of opportunities.
Just how many servers are running Windows Server 2003 is a moving target, yet it is safe to say that millions of machines are affected. According to estimates by IT market research firm IDC, there should be fewer than 2 million Windows Server 2003 instances by the time support ends. Among those laggards, there may be a significant number of SMBs. “Many industry analysts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of SMBs use Microsoft technology,” says Greg O’Connor, president and CEO of AppZero, an Andover, Mass.-based provider of software that helps organizations move applications between machines. For channel partners, this means the market for migration expertise among SMBs is significant.
Of course, opportunities can arise only when channel partners convince their customers that migration is warranted. This shouldn’t be difficult given the myriad reasons why staying with Server 2003 post-support is vexing. First and foremost, an unsupported OS is an unpatched OS, and security vulnerabilities will remain unaddressed as a result. “In 2013, there were 37 critical updates to Server 2003,” says Melanie Gass, president of CenterPoint Solution LLC, an IT training and consulting firm in South Orange, N.J. “After support, you will miss out on updates.” Without patches, retailers and other organizations that conduct online credit card transactions will encounter compliance and corporate governance problems.
For other organizations, the danger is less obvious. O’Connor believes vulnerabilities will increase over time. “The Microsoft OSs are built on the same kernel,” he says. “When a patch is issued for current versions, it can lead to a roadmap where you would find exploits in a previous version.” In the case of Windows Server 2003, such a previous version will not be updated once support ends—and thus the vulnerabilities could increase with each patch issued to a current OS. Long term, there will be additional maintenance tasks and costs to the point where organizations “may have to pay fees that are more than the value of the server,” Gass says.
Migration Process Delay
Despite the potential pitfalls, many SMBs may not even have started the migration process. One chief reason: a general lack of awareness. For more than a decade, Windows Server 2003 may have been reliably running at organizations. “The first rule of IT: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” says Earl Follis, senior analyst with research firm SSG-NOW. The IT pros who initially installed the OS and wrote applications for it may be long gone, potentially leaving current IT managers in the dark about what server OS is running where. Another obstacle: “There may be compatibility issues with third-party applications,” Follis says. “Custom integrations to Windows 2003 were written 10 years ago and these applications won’t run on Windows 2012—or will need a lot of work to do so.”
Many partners themselves have a difficult time with migration projects, “because they don’t know what to upgrade to,” contends Gass. And finally, “Most Windows Server 2003 installations run behind a firewall; they are not used for surfing the Web and they don’t usually have Acrobat Reader or Flash—things that become a catapult into a Windows box for exploitation,” says Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. As a result, many organizations downplay the potential risks, which often do appear lower. “That said, organizations really should move to something newer,” Miller contends.