The July 14, 2015, deadline for which Microsoft will end support for Windows Server 2003 is final and will not be extended. And with fewer than 100 days to go, the software vendor is intensifying its efforts to encourage enterprises in Asia-Pacific to move to its latest version of the platform, Windows Server 2012 R2, or Azure.
End of support means there will be no security updates, no compliance, and no safe haven, cautioned Vasily Malanin, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific datacenter product management lead for cloud and enterprise, during a media briefing in Singapore.
Noting that all software requires some form of maintenance, he said 37 critical updates were released in 2013 for Windows Server 2003 and its R3 version. These will no longer be provided for organizations still running the OS after July 14, Malanin said, adding that these servers will not pass compliance audits. For instance, the lack of PCI compliance (Payment Cards Industry) would mean Visa and MasterCard would refuse to do business with retailers that run Server 2003 systems.
There also would be no safe haven support for applications running on the OS likely would be discontinued, he said.
And while enterprises have the option of signing up for custom service contracts that will allow them to receive patches and updates, these would be costly and include a migration path to the latest Windows Server release, Malanin noted.
Such contracts also were available for Windows XP customers after Microsoft ended support for the platform in April last year. The vendor later reduced its prices for providing custom support, leading to suggestions it was extending a lifeline for Windows XP. In January 2015, it said it would continue to supply anti-malware signatures for their products on Windows XP until April 15, 2015.
A report by The Register estimated some Windows Server 2003 clients could pay up to US$600 per server to continue receiving patches from Microsoft, though the vendor wouldn't verify the number in an earlier ZDNet post.
When support for Windows XP ended, various organizations in China made significant efforts to continue operating on the platform. The Chinese government, for instance, deployed security products built specifically to protect the Microsoft OS, saying it was too expensive to migrate to Windows 8. Major Chinese tech vendors including Tencent, Kingsoft, and Sogou, also offered technical aid related to system upgrades and security features for Windows XP.
Asked if Microsoft was expecting similar efforts to surface with Server 2003, Malanin would only reiterate that custom support contracts were typically expensive and would not run indefinitely, so organizations should have a migration strategy.
"We had feedback from some customers who were expecting a similar legacy that we had with Windows XP, [but] I need to emphasize there's no plan to extend support [beyond the July 14 deadline]," he said.
More than half of APAC firms still running Server 2003
Citing data from Spiceworks, the Microsoft executive said 59.8 percent of Asia-Pacific organizations still had at least one instance of Server 2003 running in their environment in March 2015, compared to 64.5 percent in June 2014.
In Singapore, this figure stood at 66 percent in March 2015--the highest among other markets in the region--down from 73 percent in June 2014. Some 62 percent in Malaysia had at least one instance of Server 2003 in their organization as of March 2015, while this figure stood at 61 percent each for Thailand and New Zealand, 58 percent in Indonesia, 57 percent in Australia, and 54 percent in the Philippines.
For one organization, it was "purely a logical decision" to migrate. Manufacturing company, Ghim Li Global, took the opportunity to phase out the retiring Windows Server platform and deploy virtualization when it moved its data center site in Singapore.
Timothy Ngui, Ghim Li's CIO and senior vice president for corporate services, said the company made the decision to modernize its datacenter environment and adopt hybrid solutions. It was running a combination of Server 2003 and 2008, and has moved to the Datacenter edition of Server 2012. It is also gradually reducing its server count, currently at 38, by not having to deploy new hardware even when its user base grows, said Ngui, who estimated this meant the company would avoid having to expand its server network by a third.
The migration to Server 2012 took Ghim Li 60 days to complete, from conceptualization to actual deployment, and more than 15 applications were ported over to the OS, said the executive, who was also present at the media briefing.
The main challenge the company faced was pushing its software developer to have its products certified for the migration, Ngui said, adding that the ISV (independent software vendor) had become too comfortable with the Server 2003 platform and had to be urged to prep its applications for the migration.
Simon Piff, associate vice president for enterprise infrastructure at IDC Asia-Pacific, urged organizations to seek out alternatives if their ISVs were unable to provide the necessary support to help them move to a virtualized environment.
Piff, who also spoke at the media briefing, said organizations had gained from moving to Server 2012, with 75 percent of Asia-Pacific businesses experiencing improved performance that allowed their applications to run faster. Citing an IDC study of organizations in the region, he added that 62 percent saw improved security and patch management, resulting in fewer unplanned downtime.
The analyst also urged businesses to avoid signing on custom service contracts to extend support for their Server 2003 systems, because these were designed typically for organizations that operated a significant number of servers and were unable to meet the end-of-support deadline.
"It's also very expensive and doesn't make sense unless your server size is massive," Piff said, adding that software vendors would not support applications that ran on a server OS that was no longer in compliance.