Why you need to upgrade to Microsoft Windows Server 2012… now

Steve Evans

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Support for Windows Server 2003 ends in July this year, so upgrade plans have to start now. But what are the main differences between Server 2003 and the most recent version, Windows Server 2012?

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 is, at the time of writing, just over 12 years old. In the technology industry that is considered ancient, well past its best. When it first came out, we had no iPhone, no Facebook, no Twitter, and Yahoo.com and AOL.com were the biggest destinations on the internet. There were just a fraction of the number of mobile devices there are today, and the amount of data being generated was tiny compared to today.

So it comes as no surprise that Microsoft is now ditching Windows Server 2003. On 14 July, 2015 Microsoft will officially stop supporting it, leaving potentially millions of servers across the world vulnerable. Is sticking with 2003 an option? No, it is not. The end of support means just that; Microsoft will no longer offer patches, updates or upgrades. Vulnerabilities will therefore be left unpatched, leaving any business running Server 2003 open to attacks.

Security is one of the main benefits of migrating to the newest version of Microsoft Windows Server, according to a whitepaper from analyst group IDC. “Customers that go beyond the termination of extended support place themselves at potential security risks and potentially in a regulatory noncompliance situation,” the whitepaper warns.

“Even if regulatory compliance is not a concern, the security improvements that Windows Server 2012 R2 offers are worth adopting if just to help defend against industrial espionage,” IDC adds.

It is not just the lack of security that makes moving away from Windows Server 2003 a priority. The IT industry has changed massively since Server 2003’s introduction, and Windows Server 2012 (and indeed Windows Server 2008 before it) is much better equipped at dealing with a modern enterprise IT infrastructure.

Let’s look at virtualisation, for example. Many servers today are virtualised, in contrast with the IT environment back in 2003. Windows Server 2012 has virtualisation functionality included in the form of Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacentre, which according to Microsoft simplifies deployment in a virtualised environment. This will help to keep on top of licensing as well as increase CAPEX savings as virtual machines (VMs) increase in number.

Continuing on the virtualisation theme, the inclusion of Hyper-V, Microsoft’s hypervisor technology for Windows Server 2008, made it much easier for businesses to create their own VMs. That was back in its early days and since then the technology has gone through several iterations, becoming more and more impressive each time.

In Windows Server 2012, Hyper-V has been revamped. New features include network virtualisation, multi-tenancy, storage resource pools, cross-premise connectivity and cloud backup. These are now all standard features that many businesses rely on day in and day out, but they were not available as part of Windows Server 2003.

One of the key updates to Hyper-V introduced in Windows Server 2012 is the Replica feature. This can replicate a VM in a primary site to one in a secondary site, providing backup and disaster recovery help, particularly to smaller businesses that are using the technology. If an outage does occur, recovery can be led from a secondary site with minimal downtime experienced. Again, these are features that businesses these days simply must have if they are to avoid disaster.

Now closely tied with virtualisation, cloud computing was, of course, a much smaller part of the industry back in Windows Server 2003’s day. To reflect its ascendancy, Windows Server 2012 has placed a much greater emphasis on cloud computing capabilities, specifically around its Microsoft Azure platform for public or hybrid cloud environments.

Windows Server 2012 is much better positioned to help with cloud deployments, including getting applications to the cloud. Features in Server 2012 enable businesses to build, deploy and scale applications and websites via the cloud.

In addition to this, updates to Active Directory in post-2003 versions of Windows Server mean IT departments can now manage mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. In older versions, Active Directory was limited to PCs, meaning IT could only really control and apply policies to those. In today’s enterprises that simply wouldn’t be acceptable.

Beyond the well-documented security issues that surface with end of support for all products  not just Windows Server 2003  there are countless reasons why businesses should be looking to migrate to a new, more modern platform. The limited functionality of Windows Server 2003 is no longer really fit for modern businesses embracing trends such as mobility, big data, virtualisation and cloud computing.

Much like companies are rapidly moving away from Windows XP now that Microsoft has ended support, the same will no doubt soon be true for those still using Windows Server 2003. And, although a migration project like this can seem a complicated, expensive and time-consuming task, the business will definitely feel the benefit of a platform such as Microsoft Windows Server 2012.