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

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.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor on

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.

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.


Editorial standards


How much RAM does your Windows 11 PC need?

How much RAM does your Windows 11 PC need?

What is ChatGPT and why does it matter? Here's what you need to know
chat bot

What is ChatGPT and why does it matter? Here's what you need to know

How to nail the 'Do you have any questions for me?' part of the interview
job interview

How to nail the 'Do you have any questions for me?' part of the interview