5 ways to prep for the end of Windows Server 2003

University, IT industry discuss how institutions can best prepare for the switchover

server-Windows-2003Microsoft is ending its support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015, affecting 24 million systems, according to Microsoft statistics.

Though Microsoft won’t divulge the market share that represents, most of those affected servers are expected to be in large and small businesses, with a smaller percentage in higher education.

While the servers themselves will continue to work after the end of support, continuing with these servers is inviting crashes or information compromises, according to technical experts and the U.S. government.

The danger of operating an unsupported server, according to an alert from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (U.S.-CERT) is the risk of viruses and other security threats, which could lead to “loss of confidentiality, integrity and or availability of data [and] system resources.”

While the end of support won’t impact colleges and universities as much as it will their corporate counterparts, there are still some of these older servers in higher education; meaning IT managers will have to determine how they will manage the migration to either Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012. Microsoft has yet to announce when its next version of Windows Server will be available.

(Next page: Best practices; what the Indiana University of Pennsylvania faces)

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with about 14,000 students across its three campuses, provides an example of some of the issues surrounding the migration of Windows Server 2003.

The university runs about 150 servers, 90 of which run Windows, all but a handful of which run Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 according to Ben Dadson, the university’s coordinator of desktop and IT services. Those servers still operating 2003 have yet to be upgraded because they are still operating with older versions of SQL that are not supported by Windows Server 2008 or 2012, according to Dadson.

The few servers still running the older version of Microsoft Server are doing so because they have some applications that have yet to be upgraded to be supported by the newer versions, said Dadson, who is notifying vendors to upgrade those applications by March 31, 2015, or he will look for alternate solutions.

While he expects most vendors to comply or to find acceptable alternates, Dadson is concerned that one Windows 2003 Server, which the university uses to control some heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on university grounds, will not get the needed vendor upgrade and that an appropriate substitute replacement will not be ready by the deadline. If that happens, he plans to firewall the server from the internet, meaning that users will need to connect via a virtual private network until the server upgrade is complete.

Most that are still operating Windows Server 2003 are doing so for the same reason as Dadson—they have applications not supported by the new Windows servers, according to Andrew Hertenstien, manager of the Microsoft Data Center Azure solution for En Pointe Technologies, Gardena, Calif.

Some of these applications were developed by companies no longer in existence, says Hertenstein, who questions the use of any applications developed by now extinct companies. Other applications have not been upgraded from the 16-bit architecture of Windows Server 2003 to the 32-bit architecture of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012.

Other applications were never upgraded because they work, so users saw no previous reason to upgrade, adds David Mayer, practice director for Insight Enterprises, Inc., Tempe, Ariz.

Best practices

Dadson, Mayer and Hertenstein offer the following best practices for upgrading from 2003 to newer versions of Microsoft Server:

  • Conduct a full inventory of network resources: Know what servers are where and what operating system(s) they use (a machine running in a virtual environment may run more than one version of Microsoft Server). Know which, and how, servers are interconnected with each other and with other network equipment, as well as the “owner” (i.e., College of Law) of each server.
  • Use virtualization during migration, enabling the operation of the older 2003 version until the newer version is up and running and applications are tested.
  • Start the implementation early. While the switchover to one of the newer flavors of Windows Server should take only a couple of days, there can be unexpected delays in moving and upgrading applications for the new environment.
  • Conduct the migration during a slow time, such as spring break.
  • If, as in the possibility of the server running the Indiana of University of Pennsylvania HVAC application, a server can’t be upgraded by the deadline, make sure it is prevented from connecting to the internet.

Additionally, Microsoft offers an online planning assistant to help with the migration.

Phillip Britt is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.

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