This Old Windows Server 2003 House

One of my recent blog posts commenting on OS support limiting application lifetimes stimulated a conversation with my colleagues about the upcoming End of Life (EOL) for the Windows Server 2003 (WS2003) Operating System. Despite this end of life being known for some time, various reports show a huge number of instances of WS2003 are still in use. One colleague wondered when it would become the burning issue – even for the most oblivious. I doubt it will. There doesn’t seem to be a collective vision that WS2003 “houses” will burst into flames the day after EOL on July 14, 2015. I think a visual of an old house on crumbling subsiding foundations might be a more illuminating analogy.

Just like a real building with a crumbling foundation, the first consequence will be building inspectors (PCI, SOX) limiting the risk by banning public use. The lack of availability for security patches for WS2003 will make it ineligible for financial transactions, as an example, and unwise for any public-facing systems. Even if the servers are not directly involved, they should be safely fenced away from the street (the network) where the public (data) may pass.
Paraphrasing another colleague’s observation into the old building analogy helps explain why organizations are still using WS2003:

  • It has been a wonderful stable house so organizations have been reluctant to impose change to their environment.
  • There is no treatment you can do to the foundation (OS upgrade) but rather a new foundation (fresh install) is required and you need to jack up the house (application) and then try to settle it back down into the new foundation. The leaders that assume there is a treatment underestimate the effort required, and those leaders that do understand realize the budget impacts but can’t get enough money allocated before it becomes a crisis.
  • Finally, there are (application) reinstallation compatibility issues driving risk and complexity that would be like in our old house analogy having to interface between cast iron and plastic plumbing, or rewiring to meet new electrical standards. Processor and memory advances (32 to 64-bit address space) and modern security controls (like enforcing in the OS that program data and program files (trusted space) are in different file trees) cause old apps to fail in ways that are difficult to anticipate and resolve.
    While there still are a lot of WS2003 servers running out there, I suspect that most organizations have already moved important applications off WS2003 during functional upgrades, leaving behind the applications that never reached compelling business cases. What organizations need to do now is get a plan for the rest.

CSC offers an Application Transformation Accelerator service that will give an organization the business function informed view of what the servers are doing and a plan for migration or rationalization – akin to an architect’s renovation plans for our old house.

For those systems that are not being used for new input but rather “just kept as reference” Portfolio Rationalization Services have useful shutdown approaches, like archiving all possible queries into a searchable document management system (storage and search has gotten a lot cheaper in the decade since those systems were built).

In many cases, newer systems might have similar functionality that can be used to replace that which is on the WS2003 systems, or it might be available as SaaS.

There will be some custom applications that won’t run on newer OS’s because of differing framework and security approaches that are still necessary for the businesses. For those, Migration Services have multiple automated ways of converting: from VB to .Net, ASP to .Net, MS Access to .Net, Cold Fusion to .Net, and .Net upgrades with the added benefit of being able to run on virtual hardware or in the Azure cloud.

Practically, organizations might be able to live in their old house longer than July 14th because it’s going to be a slow crumble. But sooner or later, if it’s not addressed, your business’s welcome mat might just disappear overnight, along with the front veranda!

By CSC’s Application Modernization Team

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