Planning Server Migrations – The Role of IT Asset Management Practice Before, During and After

By Ed Cartier

In April of 2012 Microsoft announced that support for Windows Server 2003 would end on April 14, 2015, and the only two supported server operating systems would be Windows Server 2008/R2 and Windows Server 2012. Why is this a big deal, and why should IT managers care? The US Department of Homeland Security answered the question, saying that “systems which do not receive regular security updates are at far greater risk of compromise, both through malicious attacks and data exfiltration.” The agency, through the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, warned that IT departments may encounter compatibility problems with both hardware and software, as vendors end support for Windows Server 2003 software products. They also stated that running Windows Server 2003 past the end of support may put the organization out of compliance with private, industry and government regulatory agencies.

As of July, Microsoft reported that there are 24 million instances of Windows Server 2003 running on 12 million physical servers worldwide. There are 9.4 million Windows Server 2003 instances in North America alone. Worldwide, Windows Server 2003 accounted for 39 percent of the Windows Server installed base, according to Microsoft data. That’s a big problem, one that will affect nearly every major organization across the globe. In fact, the Cloud Industry Forum described the migration to a supported operating system as “most significant IT refresh opportunity this century.” The organization estimates that about 1,000 servers per day will need upgrading up to the cut-off date.

Planning and ITAM

By now, as the end of support (EOS) date draws near, every IT department should have its server operating system migration plans in place. (Microsoft even has a count-down clock on its website.) Organizations with robust IT asset management practices and tools in place will have a much easier time developing and implementing those plans. Information from robust IT asset management software will enable IT professionals to accurately determine what hardware assets can be immediately migrated to a supported operating system, what devices need to be upgraded and which ones need to be replaced. Just as with the move from XP to Windows 7, some systems will simply not be able to run the new server OS. Naturally, systems running Windows Server 2008/R2 and Linux or other UNIX derivatives would be unaffected; however, moving to Windows Server 2012 will require good intelligence on systems configurations and locations.

Microsoft lists the following as minimum system requirements for Windows Server 2012:

  • 1.4 GHz 64-bit processor
  • 512 MB of RAM (However, if a virtual machine is created with the minimum supported hardware parameters of one processor core and 512 MB RAM, setup will fail on the attempt to install this release on the virtual machine
  • 32 GB of free disk space (Be aware that 32 GB should be considered an absolute minimum value for successful installation)
  • Gigabit (10/100/1000baseT) Ethernet adapter
  • DVD drive (if you intend to install the operating system from DVD media)

The following items are not strictly required, but are necessary for certain features:

  • Super VGA (1024 x 768) or higher-resolution monitor
  • Keyboard and Microsoft® mouse (or other compatible pointing device)
  • Internet access

With potentially hundreds of physical and virtual servers in a data center, determining what systems have the requisite configurations can be a daunting task. Similarly, it is important for IT managers to know what systems are not affected by the Windows Server 2003 EOS date. Simply replacing every server is an expensive choice and difficult to justify even in the best economic times. However, the information that is regularly collected by an asset management solution immediately provides IT management with the ability to make informed and economically feasible decisions. Data points such as each system’s operating system, configuration (CPU, memory, disk space and capacity, etc.) and lifecycle status (new, fully depreciated, slated for replacement, etc.) can easily be reported for each server in the network.

Migration and ITAM

A developed IT asset management system can also be helpful in scheduling the migration. In a recent interview with Redmond Magazine, David Mayer, Practice Director of Microsoft Solutions for Insight Enterprise said that most companies are in the planning stages of moving to Windows Server 2012. However, project scheduling will become an issue. He noted that, “For a customer with 100 or more servers, we’re looking at a project that will go anywhere from a minimum of three months to some that will be in the 18-month timeframe. For those that aren’t going to make the deadline, we start to segregate their server environment — these are the high-risk servers, then medium and below.” Having complete data center configuration information readily available, as generated by an IT asset management toolset, will be key for companies developing their project schedules.

The scheduling and migration issue becomes even more critical for companies in regulated industries. As reported in FierceCIO, “companies that continue to run Windows Server 2003 past the date will start to fail standard compliance audits, given that some regulations such as HIPAA, PCI and SOX requires regulated industries to run on supported platforms.” Determining what systems are in compliance, and planning all mandated upgrades, is greatly simplified with the data supplied by an asset management solution.

After the EOS

When past the EOS date, IT managers will need to continue to identify systems that are still running server 2003. There will be additional costs and security issues associated with operating those servers and managing them will become an important function. In the same interview mentioned before, David Mayer noted that “They’re [companies running server 2003] going to have to take extra steps if they’re planning to keep that server after support goes away. Gartner put out a brief a few months back and they said that organizations that plan to continue to run [Windows Server] 2003 past the deadline should budget $1,500 per year per server. That would be kind of a catch-all budgetary number. A flexible suite of IT asset management tools will enable IT professionals to maintain a focus on those devices and more effectively keep them running and secure, and/or plan to replace the obsolete OS.

Software Implications

Beyond identifying hardware configuration issues, there is the ever-present problem of software compatibility and licensing. Just as was the case with moving from XP to windows, not all existing software will operate on Windows Server 2012. With so many servers being dedicated to a single application, a full catalog of installed software (including version and patch levels) as well as legacy or “home-grown” applications will be necessary to effect a successful migration. In some cases, the software maintenance agreement may cover upgrades to a version that is compatible with the new OS. In other cases, a new software licensing agreement may be required, or movement to a cloud-based SaaS solution may be optimal. Custom software will probably need to be modified or rewritten. In all of these situations, the inventory and licensing information provided by a software asset management (SAM) tool will be critical.

There is no question that the end of support for Windows Server 2003 and the release of Windows Server 2012 will impact companies worldwide. Any technology conversion is complicated and expensive. However, with the right tools, organizations will be able to streamline plans, improve execution and conserve budget dollars.

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