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The Windows Server 2003 Fear Factor

As the July 14 end of support deadline looms for Microsoft Windows Server 2003, solution providers have their work cut out for them.

With the 20 million to 30 million instances of Microsoft Server 2003 that are still running facing a looming July 14 end of life support deadline, the next few months should be quite busy for any solution provider that has Microsoft operating system migration expertise.

The challenge, of course, is that most of the customers running this version of an operating system, which is based on technologies that are more than a decade old, are technology laggards. For reasons that range from other budget priorities to applications that the business refuses to give up, a huge portion of the Microsoft Windows Server installed base is adverse to upgrades.

Worse yet, it takes about 200 days to migrate an entire Windows Server environment, which is about as many days there are left before the deadline. And just to make matters even more interesting, there are not enough people with Windows Server migration expertise to go around.

This wouldn’t be such a dire situation if it wasn’t for that fact that end of life support for Windows Server 2003 represents a clear and present danger to a customer’s business. Microsoft (MSFT) will stop supporting Windows Server 2003 but it will continue to issue patches for its Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012. Michael Tweddle, executive director for Windows management at Dell, noted that it won’t take much effort for hackers to reverse-engineer those patches to figure out what vulnerability to exploit on an unpatched instance of Windows Server 2003. As such, it’s only a matter of time before those systems get hacked.

Most of the organizations still running Windows Server 2003 probably are looking to buy some time by opting to run Windows Server 2003 as a guest operating system that runs on top of a virtual machine. The theory is the virtual machine will provide a layer of isolation for Windows Server 2003. That will work to a degree, but there’s still enough of Windows Server 2003 exposed to the outside world that will result in unpatched Windows Server 2003 systems to present a tempting target.

As is often the case in the channel, the great irony here is that while demand for Windows migration services has never been higher, there’s a general shortage of people with the skills required to do the actual job. Alan West, president and CEO of XMS Solutions, said he can’t hire enough people with Windows Server migration expertise, which only serves to limit the number of customers he can help make the migration before the July 14 deadline.

The simple fact of the matter is that many customers are not going to make that deadline, and it’s hard to see how any of this is going to turn out particularly well. Microsoft and its channel partners will, of course, make a lot of money in the first half of 2015 driving this long overdue migration. But after July 14 there most certainly still will be millions of instances of Windows Server 2003 still running, which, no matter how you look at it from an IT security perspective, doesn’t bode particularly well for anybody in the second half of 2015.

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