A key challenge involved in upgrading from Windows Server 2003 to the newest version, Server 2012, is that the 2012 edition is built on 64-bit architecture, said David Mayer, director of Microsoft solutions for Insight Enterprise. That means older, 32-bit software won’t run on the new server platform.

Mayer recommends that campus IT leaders check with their software vendors to make sure they have versions that will run on Windows Server 2012. If not, installing Windows Server 2008 edition might be a “fallback option,” he said, because Server 2008 will run some 32-bit applications.

The first step in transitioning from Windows Server 2003 is to undertake a thorough audit of your IT systems to understand which servers and applications are currently running on the platform, Mayer said. Then, you’ll need to create a migration plan that aims to eliminate downtime.

Insight can help colleges and universities with this process for a fee, and Microsoft also offers resources that can help. “We have seen customers trying to make the move themselves, but this can lead to unintended consequences,” Mayer said.

Paige Francis, chief information officer for Fairfield University in Connecticut, said it’s important for colleges and universities to support their IT teams in being proactive, as opposed to reactive, with technology upgrades.

“I’ve found the longer you put the inevitable off, the more difficult the task becomes,” she said.

Fairfield University has been migrating from Windows 2003 to newer platforms for the past two years, said Bryan Skowera, director of network infrastructure. The university’s Information Technology Services department has replaced or retired most of its Windows 2003 servers already and plans to remove the remaining Windows 2003 servers from production “in the next few months.”

If your campus IT department is stretched thin and you notice delays in migrating to newer systems in a timely manner, “talk to your technical team and ask if they need outside assistance in getting the ball rolling,” Francis advises. “I think we’ve all seen valuable staff leave over less than a confusing, last-minute, reactive and mandatory migration.”