On July 14, 2015, Microsoft ended all support for Windows Server 2003. This wasn’t unexpected. Microsoft had signaled it back in July, 2010 when it ceased offering mainstream support and had issued regular warnings leading up to the July 14 deadline.

It turns out, though, that despite Microsoft's best efforts, many organizations weren’t listening. Organizations continue to run it, leaving their companies vulnerable to hackers in the process. And one of the ongoing use-case scenarios for the system is on computers used as file servers.

According to Jonathan Levine, Chief Technology Officer with Intermedia, a provider of IT services in the cloud, many of its small-to-medium (SMB) enterprise customers have been calling, looking for ways to replace these file servers before their entire data infrastructure comes tumbling down.

File Server Problems

So why is the end-of-life of Windows Server 2003 a problem for those running file servers on top of it?

The quick version: organizations use a computer to act as a file server to store and manage their data in a central location. People within the organization’s network can access these files and transfer them from one computer to another, or one user to another.

Network administrators can configure one computer to act as a dedicated fileserver. They can also set up computers as non-dedicated file servers, which means it can also double as a normal workstation. If that computer carrying or managing the data is running on Windows Server 2003 (WS2003), you have a real problem.

No More Support

Given the many years' warning Microsoft gave on the end of support for WS2003, it is hard to muster up sympathy for organizations still using it.  

The mainstream support which ended in 2010 offered security updates, hotfixes and no-charge incident support, among other things.

The extended support which followed cost a bundle and included things like paid per-incident support, security updates and paid-for hotfix support. So it was possible to keep WS2003 up-to-date and secure, but it was expensive.

The July 14 cut off opened organizations still running WS2003 up to a world of hurt. IDC outlined some of the risks associated with the continued use of unsupported servers and in particular WS2003, including:

  • No patches, updates or non-security fixes
  • No support from Microsoft (or anyone else)
  • Inability to work with other applications running on the organization’s infrastructure
  • Compliance issues created by lack of security updates
  • Inability to connect to recent cloud offerings

How Big A Problem?

It is hard to know for sure how many organizations are in this predicament, but Levine told CMSWire that many of his customers face this issue.

“We see customers that are coming to us now that are still Windows 2003-server based. Any time you have change in technology like an end-of-life, it’s an obvious point in time for people to think of what do to next,” he said.

“There is the path of going to Windows Server 2012. But then you have to wait for the end of life with that to replace it and go through all problems again.”

Netcraft, an Internet services company based in the UK, issued results from a survey in August which found that 175 million websites are being served directly from Windows Server 2003 computers.

Most of these sites (73 percent) are served by Microsoft Internet Information Services 6.0, which is the version of IIS that shipped with Windows Server 2003.

While no specifics were offered on companies using Windows 2003 as a file sever, it demonstrates how pervasive its use is.

Austin-based Spiceworks, a professional network for the IT industry, also ran a survey of 1300 IT professionals using WS 2003 in the middle of March — four months before the end-of-life. It found that 61 percent of the organizations in its network have at least one instance of WS 2003 and that at least eight percent of those had no intention of upgrading to a newer server.

Of that eight percent, 85 percent said they were concerned with security vulnerability, 72 percent were concerned with software compatibility and 66 percent cited concerns with compliance risks. 

On top of the eight percent, a further 12 percent believed it would take them at least a year after end-of-life to move, while a further 10 percent said they didn’t know how long it would take. Three percent said it would take more than a year.

There's Something to Be Said for Loyalty, But ...

All of this means, that a lot of organizations are still using WS2003. So what options do they have? 

They don't lack for choices. Since the beginning of the year, different vendors have offered their spin on it, including Linux vendors, and even VMWare, in an effort to pry people away from the  Microsoft ecosystem.

However, Microsoft has got its fair share of alternatives. The obvious one would be to move to Windows Server 2012 R2. Alternatively a move to Microsoft’s cloud offerings on Azure, or Office 365 could also do the trick.

This appears to be an instance where the cloud comes into its own. Numerous vendors offer enterprise-grade file servers and storage capabilities.

And yet many of the organizations still running WS2003 already have a solution in place in their company. For those that already use cloud-based storage:

“It is a very small step from cloud based back-up to cloud-based sync and share. Cloud–based backup systems are not necessarily sync and share systems. However, any of the sync and share systems you get into the organization offers back-up systems," Levine said. “It’s a relatively straightforward and economical solution to this problem.”

This isn't to advocate for any particular solution — only individual organizations can pick what works for them. But whatever way you look at it, whatever research you read or whoever you talk to, the one thing that all agree on is this — it’s time to bury Windows Server 2003 for good.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  the other Martin Taylor