Is sticking with Windows Server 2003 worth the risk?

Ross MacKenzie

The withdrawal of support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14 has been called the “year’s biggest security threat”. Can you get away with ignoring yet another server ‘end of life’?

You might assume that upgrading your company’s WS 2003 legacy system will be a stressful and expensive process. It’s easy to see why the risky approach of continuing unchanged might be tempting to some.

The harsh reality is that doing nothing is a bigger gamble than you realise. Whilst there may be a short transitory period, this poses less of a business-critical threat than leaving things as they are.

You will be vulnerable to attack and loss of compliance

If companies as wealthy (and well protected) as Sony, Target and Apple can be victims of hacks, then your company is too

Ash Patel, Cobweb Solutions’ Director of Business Transformation, puts it bluntly: “Arguably the biggest impact of end of life is that Microsoft will stop providing security updates. In the simplest terms, this means that every company still using Windows Server 2003 after July 14 will be putting its sensitive data at risk.”

Tech Radar went so far as to report the Windows Server 2003 end of life as this year’s “biggest security threat”.

Security doesn’t start and end with hacks and exploitations. Like many businesses, yours might be governed by regulations, standardisations and certifications.

Increasingly, your company’s IT systems are assessed when granting it certified status. This is especially the case if your business operates within the legal, finance, healthcare and insurance sectors, with ISO, FSA, CQC and SAR to appease.

Reliance on legacy systems could mean a failure to achieve these qualifications, which in turn could mean losing business. The best scenario is a depleted bottom line – the worst is complete oblivion.

Performance will suffer

Companies fearing migration worry about the potential downtime it will cause. Although steps can be taken to ensure this problem is minimised, the same cannot be said for sticking with legacy systems. It won’t take long for short-term gains to be heavily outweighed by long-term pain.

Ash Patel comments: “Once end of life has passed, companies still running Windows Server 2003 will be prone to regular and prolonged periods of downtime. This hits your tech team hardest, as they have to postpone business objectives to focus instead on fixing issues as and when they crop up.”

This is not just a waste of your team’s expertise and time – it sets your business plans back months or even years.

As with security, this will only end one way for the company still using Windows Server 2003 – with stagnation and lost revenue.

Costs will increase

Legacy systems can also slow down performance across a company’s entire IT network. In 2013 alone, Microsoft released 37 critical updates for Windows Server 2003. Windows released updates that addressed specific, critical problems three times every month. Without the support, you can expect IT performance and by default, company productivity to plummet.

Fordyce Letter research found that businesses using legacy systems could lose £130 per machine per year. Gartner, meanwhile, estimated a cost of £1,028 per server each year. So, a business running 1,000 computers and 30 servers can expect to lose £160,840 every year.

A risk too big to ignore

Deploying Windows Server 2003 beyond its impending end of life date is a dangerous strategy. The risks and obstacles will only grow; security, cost and performance are just three of the areas in which you can expect to encounter issues. Migration, therefore, is imperative.

Ash Patel is emphatic in advising your planning over the coming weeks: “Taking decisive action is business critical, but this shouldn’t be see as just another ‘tick in the box’ upgrade exercise. It is a great opportunity to review your IT infrastructure and look at how the compelling benefits of the cloud can improve the way a business operates. With automatic updates you can also say goodbye to end of life issues.” 



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