Is application virtualization the answer for Windows Server 2003 users?

AppZero is collaborating with Microsoft to persuade users of Windows Server 2003 to update before Microsoft stops supporting the operating system using AppZero's application virtualization technology.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Not too long ago AppZero chief executive Greg O'Connor explained to me that Microsoft and AppZero were working together to help companies still running windows applications on Windows Server 2003 to run their applications on a newer version of the operating system.

O'Connor pointed out that AppZero's "up level" app migration makes it possible to quickly and easily move applications from old, bare metal machines running outdated versions of the Windows OS to any server, anywhere — cloud or data center-running newer operating systems such as Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012.

What is the problem?

O'Connor offered the following statistics that were gathered from a number of sources to help me understand the industry pain that AppZero hopes to address:

  • 75 percent of the machines in the Fortune 5000 are Windows Server machines
  • 55 percent of the Window Servers in production are Windows Server 2003, totaling 12-13 million machines
  • July 14, 2015 is Microsoft's planned date to end support for Windows Server 2003
  • Less than 25 percent of the Fortune 5000 IT survey have a plan for WS2003 end of support

It's O'Connor's position that companies still using Windows 2003 Server should be making plans right now to migrate off of that operating system. He would point out that AppZero's application virtualization tools are a very good way to easily move on.

What is application virtualization?

As pointed out in my O'Reilly Media book, Virtualization: A Manager's Guide, server-side application virtualization offers a number of benefits including the following: 

  • Greater application isolation — Organizations need to make incompatible applications run side-by-side on the same system. This requirement can arise when the applications were purchased from third parties and require support of different versions of the same tools. Typically new versions of application development and run time tools replace older versions when they are installed. This can cause older applications to fail.
  • Operating system independence — Applications designed for an earlier version of an operation must be made to work with a newer version. Running applications in a virtual environment can significantly extend the life cycle of an application, giving the organization time to update the application or find a replacement for the application.
  • Improved availability — Applications provide critical functions and the organization will suffer great harm if those functions become unavailable for any reason. Applications can be made to fail over from one server to another.
  • Improved performance or scalability — Applications must perform faster or be able to service larger numbers of users. Server-based application virtualization products often include a workload management function, allowing the same application to automatically be started on multiple systems, to either improve application performance or allow more people to access the application simultaneously.
  • Cost reduction — It is necessary to reduce the cost for provisioning, installation, updating, and administrating applications. It is far easier and less costly to provision systems, install software, update software, and the like if it can be done from a central location. Once encapsulated, or placed in a virtual environment, applications can more easily be copied to remote systems or streamed to remote systems when required.

In this case, AppZero's tools address both application isolation and operating system independence.

Is application vitalization really a panacea?

As pointed out in my post "Is application virtualization the answer for users of XP?", the answer to the question "Is application virtualization a panacea for this problem?" is "no."

Application virtualization can make it possible for an older application to run on a newer operating system. The technology doesn't have the ability to address all compatibility issues. Here are a few situations that aren't helped by the addition of application virtualization:

  • The application provider's software license or terms and conditions prohibit the use of application virtualization. While the technology may work, customers would not be able to obtain support in this environment.
  • The application provider may not support the old application on the new operating system. If the application supplier still exists, it may require a version of software designed for and tested with the new operating system.
  • The application may require a specific device or set of devices that are not supported by the new operating system. A database application might be tied to a specific storage device or storage server that are not supported in the new environment.
  • The user interface will still look like it did under the older operating system and that may look strange in the new environment or not work well.

While application virtualization can be a wonderful solution and simplify the transition to a new operating system, it can't be considered a panacea. There are times that it would be wise to start over with tools and applications designed for the new operating system.

It may also be wise to consider moving from Windows Server 2003 to a different operating system entirely. This might mean migrating to a new set of applications or tools. It might also mean moving from a physical host to a cloud services environment. 

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