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To a provide a catalyst for channel partners looking to help customers migrate from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 to a more modern instance of Windows Server, Hewlett-Packard, in conjunction with Microsoft, announced a new channel program designed to help partners take advantage of an estimated $10 billion market opportunity.

With support from Microsoft for Windows Server 2003 scheduled to be dropped this time next year. Jim Ganthier, vice president of global marketing for HP Servers Division, said it takes about 200 days to migrate an instance of Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 or 2012.

In addition to facilitating that process with additional financing and training, channel partners are being given discounted access to HP SMB Flex-Bundles that come with a license that enables customers to use the Microsoft Azure cloud as a backup solution for Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 running on HP servers.

“We don’t see other vendors dong much to help channel partners take advantage of the Windows Server 2003 upgrade opportunity,” Ganthier said. “We think out approach will result in a 40 percent total cost in reduction for the customer.”

To provide some additional incentives to solution providers that can drive that upgrade business in the direction of HP, Ganthier said solution providers that partner with HP are also eligible to be paid $10,000 for each Windows Server 2003 customer assessment they complete.

For solution providers, the numerous instances of Windows Server 2003 that are still running creates a welcome opportunity to drive an upgrade conversation with customers.

“There’s a lot of Windows Server 2003 out there,” says Mike Strohl, CEO of Entisys, a solution provider that partners with HP. “I would say that at least half our customers have one or more instances.”

On average, it takes about six months to migrate a Windows Server 2003 platform to another Windows server operating system, Strohl said. He gives HP a lot of credit for creating a channel program designed to help spur those migrations in a way that benefits the company’s channel partners.

“This program is a catalyst for us at least to get started with,” said Strohl. “The nice thing about HP programs these days is everything seems to be integrated with every other program.”

That’s critical because as much as 30 percent of the Windows Server 2003 installed base is likely to move into the cloud, he said.

The challenge facing HP and its partners is how much of that business will be managed directly by them versus Microsoft and possibly another partner on the Azure cloud computing platform.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.