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Windows Server 2003 End Of Life: The Silver Lining

There’s an IT storm on the horizon: the impending Windows 2003 end-of-life date. According to HP, there are nearly 11 million servers running Windows 2003 today and with the official July 14 end-of-life/support date rapidly approaching, many organizations will likely be scrambling for safe harbor in the form of a conversion to Windows 2012 or a migration to a cloud-based solution.  

In fact, a recent ESG survey of 497 IT decision makers at organizations still using Windows Server 2003 (W2K3) revealed that the most common migration strategy involved upgrading to Windows Server 2012 and reinstalling applications on that platform. However, it's important to note that the majority of these respondents (60%) indicated that they would take a multi-pronged approach for upgrading their W2K3 systems. 

For example, 35% said they would redeploy at least some of their Windows 2003-based applications into a public cloud environment, with another third planning to replace some aspects of their on-premises system with SaaS applications (note that multiple responses were accepted and were not mutually exclusive). Those companies that are really behind the eight-ball with their application migration plans could be more likely to opt for the relative convenience of re-hosting their applications in the cloud.

While the Windows Server 2003 end-of-life event can certainly place a fair amount of undue stress on IT professionals, there is a potential silver lining here. Since many organizations will be opening up the coffers to reduce their exposure of operating on an unsupported platform, this is an opportunity for forward-thinking IT planners to address a number of problem areas in the data center.

Data protection. According to ESG research, nearly 70% of organizations are already using some form of SaaS application in their environment. And with many planning to leverage SaaS to displace some of their existing W2K3 footprint, there will be more corporate data residing in the cloud.

Many believe that their SaaS provider backs up their data. As my colleague, Jason Buffington has written about in the past, this is only partially true. The fact is that SaaS providers typically don’t provide any data recovery SLAs and if a restore request is made, it’s done on a “best effort” basis and it can cost a lot. For this reason, it's important for IT administrators to layer in a purchase of a SaaS backup tool to protect any of their SaaS data.

Application performance monitoring (APM). Some applications will reside on-premise, while others will be SaaS-based or hosted in the cloud by a third party. Regardless of where applications are hosted, in most cases, internal IT will still be on the hook for maintaining application service level agreements (SLAs).

Since legacy APM tools typically don’t provide visibility into both on-premise apps and cloud-based apps, IT can end up wasting a lot of time fighting fires when performance issues arise. And, of course, this can come at the direct expense of end-user satisfaction. Consider APM tools that eliminate the performance blind spots across hybrid cloud application environments.

Security. Not surprisingly, security topped the list as the single most important spending priority for IT planners in ESG’s 2015 IT Spending Intentions survey. ESG’s lead security analyst Jon Oltsik has been beating the drum for years that many IT organizations lack the essential security skill sets in house to fend off the seemingly endless security threats that pervade cyberspace. In a recent blog, Jon noted that enterprises continue to maintain security strategies from around 2005.

With security compliance being a top-of-mind issue across the C-suite, the W2K3 EOL is an ideal opportunity to get engaged with professional services organizations that specialize in application and data security. It’s equally important, however to include training and security education and certification programs into the budget so that IT can start to build the internal expertise required to mitigate risk.

The Windows Server 2003 end-of-life event, combined with the surge in adoption of SaaS and cloud-based applications and all the attendant data protection, application performance monitoring, and hybrid cloud security challenges, makes for something of a perfect storm for IT organizations. How they weather it will depend on how well they can tact their hybrid cloud vessels through these swirling headwinds. 

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