10 things to consider as you move away from Windows Server 2003

10 things to consider as you move away from Windows Server 2003

Summary: If you've ever worked in corporate IT, you know that nothing happens very fast. That's why you need to get started now in moving away from Windows Server 2003. It officially dies July 14, 2015.


I know how hard it is to let go. I kept my trusty Windows XP for at least three years past the point where I should have moved on to something new. I finally moved to Windows 7. And now as you may know from my series of posts (see Related Stories at the end of this post), I've switched to a Mac mini as my primary workstation. Change is difficult. I'm a good example of an IT guy who supposedly loves change but hates to change.

Crazy isn't it? You read it correctly. I love change but I hate to change.

I like to watch change. I like to be an agent of change. I like to participate in change. I'm a huge proponent of change.

But I really hate to change.

You probably feel the same way.

Read this

Windows Server 2012 R2: Screenshots

Windows Server 2012 R2: Screenshots

The 'Blue' upgrade to Windows Server 2012, R2, looks much like its predecessor, but there are plenty of changes when you look at the fine detail.

Windows Server 2003 is a great operating system. No argument there. Windows XP was pretty awesome too.

But all good things come to an end and XP is almost there as is Windows Server 2003.

It's time to let go and upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2 or even, as crazy as it sounds, to Windows Server 2012.

If you start your Windows Server 2003 upgrade migration now, you'll be finished by the time Microsoft takes it off the endangered species list and places it into mothballs. You have approximately 18 months for the project but you have to begin immediately.

Here are the ten things to consider as you plan your migration:

  • New hardware
  • Virtualization
  • Consolidation
  • New security models
  • Application migration
  • New management tools
  • Training
  • Licensing
  • Time
  • Personnel

While I don't have the space to cover each of these ten in detail here, I'll give you my strategy for this project.

  1. Take a server inventory - Find out exactly how many Windows Server 2003 systems you have on your network.
  2. Extract the hardware profile for each system - Collect CPU, memory, and disk space information.
  3. Gather utilization data - If you've kept up with utilization and performance on these systems, create a new list of ones that have utilization numbers under 50 percent.
  4. Decommission systems that are no longer required for business - There's no point in keeping unused, replaced, or retired systems on the books. Get rid of them. Don't forget to wipe local drives with DBAN* before you dispose of or return your systems.
  5. Create a list of services from Step 3 that can be consolidated or moved to newer existing systems.
  6. Assess the feasibility of moving those underutilized workloads to virtual machines (VMs). Don't overbuild your VMs. Use resources as necessary. Remember that if your system is underutilized as a physical machine, you don't have to create an exact replacement or equivalent system to take over its job on a VM. Think small.
  7. Consider the remaining systems from your lists for migration to larger VMs or to physical machines because of utilization.
  8. Remember that you can attach SAN to VMs as well as physical systems so you don't have to lose any data in the migration from physical to virtual.
  9. Once you've validated services on your VMs or new physical systems, decommission and remove the old systems.
  10. Take a new server inventory, assess utilization, and adust as necessary.

Of course there's a caveat to this situation that you need to be aware of. Moving from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 R2 or to Windows Server 2012 requires newer hardware and more of it, whether it's virtual or physical. You can't get away with using a 20GB system disk and you can't squeak by with 4GB of RAM. Both of the newer operating systems require 4GB just to run their basic services. Start with 8GB of RAM and 50GB of system disk space. As for processor power, I suggest a minimum of two CPUs.

Again, those are just starting points. Assess your utilization thoughtfully. A spike of 100 percent utilization, even for a couple of hours per day doesn't necessarily warrant more vCPUs. You want decent performance for your systems, so you'll need to monitor CPU, memory, and disk I/O during the migration phase.

But the time is now to begin your migration away from Windows Server 2003. I know it's a lot to ask when you're also moving away from Windows XP on the desktop, but it has to be done. You have 18 months. Start now and you won't have to feel rushed or pressured. July 14, 2015 is your deadline and your finish line. And no matter how much you hate change or hate to change, that date will still come for all of us. Windows Server 2003's days are numbered.

I've given you a framework that you can build on for your own Windows Server 2003 sunset project. Talk back and let me know how yours is going.

*DBAN - Darik's Boot and Nuke disk.


Topics: Microsoft, Windows, Windows Server


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • im sure they will right after they address the NT4 servers


    I'm not kidding.
    • @greywolf7

      I know. Very sad.
      • It is sad.

        That Microsoft can not make an OS that makes people WANT to move off of their old warez. At least a decent percentage of businesses and consumers has finally given Microsoft the old heave-ho!
        • These are mostly business decisions that have nothing to do with MS

          Old Apps and Services that maybe have a couple important users that the business will not allow IT to disrupt. No mater how minor some change would be required to upgrade to a later OS and the business will not allocate any funds and or developer time to do it or its an App that was purchased from a 3rd party that's either out of business or discontinued the product. IT can threaten them until the cows come home but they wont budge or free up one red cent to do what needs to be done. That's reality.
        • It is sad.

          That DontUseMicrosoftAtAll can not make a comment with the OK from his bosses in Mountain View.

          While people buy MS's server software to the tune of billions because it's a server OS that we the people want, you get to play the troll once again for your bosses because it's the highlight of your entire life; the wannabe on the outside looking in, upset that so many companies are not giving MS the old heave ho no matter how hard you troll.

          The really sad thing (and I mean this 100% honestly) is that I'm guessing you're really, really proud to be a shill and a troll.

          If you were in IT, you would never ask or make the foolish comments that you do.
        • If you're talking about people still running NT4....

          "It is sad that Microsoft can not make an OS that makes people WANT to move off of their old warez."

          Apparently no other operating system appeals to people running NT4, either, otherwise they would have switched, wouldn't they?

          Sounds more like they are plenty happy with their NT4 systems.
        • Stupid comment!

          I look after a number of Windows Server 2003 machines. Each is 100% reliable, and runs indefinitely without problems. When I do have to change something, its easy and there is lots of support available. This is what I want from a server. As with XP, people are struggling to find reasons to replace computers that *just work*.
  • Also want to test 64-bit compatability

    Many Win 2k3 systems are 32-bit, running older applications. Not all work in 64 bit, so Server 2008 may be required for a bit as well until it can either be upgraded or replaced.
    Stuart Becktell
  • @Stuart Becktell

    Actually, if a system is 64-bit, it is 32-bit compatible. So, you can still use 32-bit software with 64-bit systems.
    • @Khess

      Not always, many programs have issues. It should work, but my experience has proven that isn't 100% true.
      Stuart Becktell
    • You have to be careful

      .NET programs may be designed with 32 bit dependencies, but compiled for the "All CPUs" target. In some cases, this will cause an app to blow up, for instance if it relies on JET 4.0 drivers. (There are no 64 bit JET drivers.)

      The developers' fault, but a real enough problem anyway.
  • Quite a few Servers running just fine with 2 GB of Memory...

    they may not be doing large processing or other things, but 2 GB will do reasonably well, at least for VMware based servers.
    • sorry, should have stated Windows 2008 R2 64-bit servers ...

      running with 2 GB (this is with full GUI, not headless).
  • I disgree about

    Memory requirements. I have plenty of 2008R2 and 2012 and 2012R2 serverss and running on 2 GB without any issues, server core runs happily on 1 GB.

    These are of course not Exchange or MSSQL servers, but a file server for instance, runs fine on 2gb and supporting a few hundred users.
    • @sjaak327

      Glad that's working for you because if you figure 16MB RAM per user and you have 300 users, that is 4.8GB. Saving files, searching for files, retrieving files, virus scanning of those files, backup of files--all takes RAM. Do you have Index Server running? Microsoft recommends 2GB or greater and that's just as an OS. Good luck.
      • where did you see the 2 GB?

        I think officially it's actually just 512 MB for Server 2012 R2:


        I'm sure it's supported because the smallest VM you can create on Azure is 768 MB... Not that it takes into all these user's overhead that you've mentioned in consideration, but the OS itself is quite lightweight to start.

        If it's just a medium size org DC/DNS/Web server, 1GB - 1.5 GB RAM is quite normal for a Server 2012 deployment Just sayin...
        • @Samic

          Look at Microsoft's recommended hardware. 512MB is minimum, which is just silly. They recommend 2GB or more, with emphasis on more. No one in the real world runs a Windows Server 2008 R2 system that does anything with only 2GB of RAM. That's just not realistic. Even low-end desktop/laptop systems are coming with 4GB standard. My Mac mini has 4GB RAM.
          • I did say

            I run several file servers at 2 GB, this is indeed in the real world. In fact I know of several companies that run file servers at this amount of memory. Your typical dc runs at 1 GB. There is no need to run these at higher amounts of memory, as all these severs do is authenticate users and run dns.

            I run virtualization, where workloads like these run absolutely fine and with good performance.
  • 2012 is the dumbest thing out of Redmond since MS Bob

    I personally love Server 2008 R2. When I encounter a 2003 system I find it kind of archaic compared to 2008 R2. I would say right now, 2008 R2 is the perfect server operating system.

    2012 however has to be the dumbest thing Microsoft has produced since MS Bob. I wonder who's idea it was to put a tablet/smartphone interface on a server. When is anybody going to use a touch screen on a server? Pure idiocy.
  • Did I miss it?

    Where in your plan does one actually get the application moved from WS 2003? Virtualizing or moving to newer hardware doesn't address the OS end-of-life issue.