Channel Preps for Windows Server 2003 End of Life

By Gina Roos
Windows server 2003 migration

Microsoft is ending support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015. This means Microsoft will no longer issue security updates for the operating system, leaving many companies, particularly small and midsize businesses (SMBs) open to security risks and breaches.

One of the roles of a trusted channel partner—IT distributor, reseller, cloud provider or managed service provider (MSP)—is to assist their SMB customers during any kind of migration transition, helping them plan and implement a migration strategy to protect their IT infrastructure. In this case, it is helping them plan and implement their migration from Windows Server 2003 to a new infrastructure, such as Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft Azure or Office 365, which will improve the efficiency and performance of the business.

Demand is starting to surface for next-generation systems and services although the pipeline for migration to these newer systems has been slower than expected, said many channel players.

A recent assessment analysis by Softchoice, a North American IT solutions and managed services provider (MSP), found that 21 percent of servers scanned in the first half of 2015 were still running Windows Server 2003. It was a surprising finding, indicating a lack of urgency among organizations to upgrade their systems, said Softchoice.

Softchoice's TechCheck analysis of nearly 90,000 servers at more than 200 organizations also found that only 7 percent of them have fully migrated to newer operating systems, up from 3 percent in 2014. The biggest risks companies will face for still running Windows Server 2003 after end of support include non-compliance with industry or government regulations and the inability to process credit card transactions, said Softchoice.

There are several verticals, such as health care and finance, where this is a critical conversation, due to compliance issues and potential security gaps that may exist after end of support, said Brian Davis, senior vice president, U.S. marketing, Tech Data. "The urgency is going to depend on the specific industry and maybe the specific applications that are running."

Despite the fast-approaching deadline, channel partners still have an opportunity to help their SMB customers mitigate risk before the end date. Part of their role is to help their customers make the decision to either upgrade their current hardware and software environment, move workloads to a private or public cloud, or implement a hybrid solution. This involves creating a migration roadmap and supporting them wherever they have security gaps in the interim if a migration can't be made before the deadline.

The first step to help SMB customers who don't have a migration path is to conduct an assessment, agreed channel partners.

"One of the challenges is being able to understand what the existing environment is and what applications are running," said Davis.

"The end-user client is looking for guidance. They've been running their current environment for quite a long time so they are looking for a number of things—assessing which of those apps they will be able to keep on-premise in the new environment, which applications they might need to move into—most likely—a public cloud environment where they are paying for infrastructure-as-a-service and continuing to run the application, or they may be faced with a decision to terminate that specific application and upgrade to a new one that provides the same functionality," added Davis.

"One of the things channel partners can do and should be doing is helping clients start with an assessment of their current state," agreed Keith Groom, director of Microsoft Solutions at Softchoice, one of North America's largest Microsoft resellers.

Channel providers, like Tech Data and Softchoice, have developed their own methodologies and programs to help in the migration.

For example, Tech Data created a dedicated portal, Windows Server 2003 Migration Hub, to help educate its reseller partners on what is involved in helping customers deal with Windows Server 2003 end of support. The program provides solution providers with end-of-life (EOL) support, security patches, technical support and content updates.

In addition, it gives resellers new sales opportunities, leads and marketing tools to maximize business opportunities during the migration. "As with any kind of transformation, it creates opportunities at many levels from re-architecting to migrating, and to ongoing support of an aging system," said Davis.

In addition, with the recent acquisition of Signature Technology Group (STG), a provider of data center and professional services in North America, Tech Data's reseller partners have access to professional services that can help them with assessment, design and migration.

An assessment is an important part of the process, Groom agreed. "Once you have that data from the assessment, you can put the different applications and workloads into various categories so you can prioritize them by role, by [how critical they are] and by business requirements, and from there, define their current state," he said.

"We developed a very specific assessment methodology [TechCheck], where we can do a very quick assessment of what applications and servers are at risk and help them identify and prioritize them so they can create a migration schedule," said Groom.

Softchoice can help identify the best solutions, whether that is leveraging a public cloud, virtualization options or upgrading/refreshing the infrastructure. It's an assessment and consulting process around their applications environment infrastructure, explained Groom.

"It's not like a typical refresh," he added. "This is very different because clients can have a whole new plethora of options open to them. For example, they can retire an application and buy a SaaS application to replace a functionality. They might decide to move that app to the cloud and then they need to decide which cloud platform to move it to, and how are they going to manage the application that sits in the cloud. They are unsure of the right path."

However, Groom said they are not putting 10 options on the table. "We are helping them narrow their choices, not create a bunch of confusion."

The value and differentiation of Softchoice's tool is how the company analyzes and creates actionable reporting for the client, said Groom. "We'll give them a deliverable that says here is the data and here are our conclusions and recommendations based on the data. Other partners can add value around similar methodologies, creating customer insights from the data."

"There are the four major options clients have—refresh hardware/software, move to the cloud—they might need to set up a private cloud or hybrid IT infrastructure, or they might just shut off the application and pay for a SaaS to replace it. The degree to which you can help customers narrow down on a path would be my best advice for partners," said Groom.

However, no channel player is willing to rush the migration. Some say it may be more cost-effective to pay for the support versus making rushed decisions to upgrade to a new environment before the deadline. Other Band-Aid solutions include shutting down the server to mitigate risk from non-compliance or to turn off or virtualize legacy apps.

"We want our partners to be smart about it and get all their customers migrated over, but we don't want to do it in a way that exposes any of them. I'd rather move somebody a couple of weeks after EOL as long as I have a good plan for them and are communicating with them and have everything backed up," said Dave Maffei, vice president of global channel sales at Carbonite.

Carbonite, a provider of cloud and hybrid business-continuity solutions for SMBs, including cloud backup and disaster recovery, said it plays a significant role in helping its channel partners with the setup and migration to a new environment. One feature that isn't widely known about the Carbonite tool is that its server backup platform is a hybrid-based technology, so it offers both cloud and local backups, which is key during the migration process.

"All of that data needs to be safe and secure and backed up before you start the process of the migration," said Maffei. "You then need to execute the migration seamlessly and successfully and be able to remediate and find where there were gaps in the migration."

Maffei points to Gartner estimates that close to 8 million of the 25 million installations of Windows Server 2003 have not been upgraded yet. This means 20 percent of them will be unmigrated by the time of end of life, which is a sizable number of SMBs that will be left very exposed, he said.

While Maffei believes the numbers are conservative, he said channel partners have an opportunity to be a strategic advisor. "Our channel partners need to pay extra attention across the spectrum of their customers to ensure that they aren't just porting over the highest revenue ones [using the 80/20 rule] or most progressive ones but the laggards in terms of adopting new technology because those are the ones who are going to be most at risk as this product goes EOL," said Maffei. "It's that small customer that you're not thinking of that you put at the end of the migration list that could end up hurting you the most if they have a problem."

Gina Roos, a Channel Insider contributor, focuses on technology and the channel.

This article was originally published on 2015-07-02