Less than a year remains until Microsoft halts support for Windows Server 2003. Just check the ominous countdown clock on their official migration website. With many systems still running Server 2003, including a plethora of 32-bit applications, now is the time to start a migration plan, if you haven't already.
Proper support for Server 2003 actually ended in 2010. The extended support period that following has included paid support options, security updates, and access to the Microsoft Knowledge Base. In just a few months, these will no longer be available. But the bigger problem may be software running in these environments: applications, databases, and security measures. It's very possible that many of these apps are past their support lifecycles as well, meaning they need to be migrated or upgraded to new versions or equivalents. Regulated industries and data may also be out of compliance once support has ended.
Here's how to prepare for Windows Server 2003 end of life and migrating to Windows 2012 (or a different operating system or hypervisor):
1) Figure out what your end environment will look like. Lay out goals for directories, operating systems, and what physical or virtual hardware you might need. Thinking about moving to cloud or linking to hybrid cloud? Want to decommission some or all of your data center while you're at it? Staying in-house on legacy hardware? These are all considerations.
2) Inventory your existing systems and applications to get a solid grip on your Server 2003 environment. There are some inventory tools available from Microsoft, Dell, and HP. Sort apps and services into several buckets depending on how much work and cost will be involved in moving them. Some can be retired, some might be low cost but high effort, etc. Find any replacement applications for those that need replacement, and research new versions of apps, security models, and management tools. If you're thinking about cloud, check public or service provider versions as well as licensing details for in-house deployments.
3) Start thinking cloud—"virtualize first" is pretty standard thinking and can help you reduce your server footprint. Apps that will be public or customer-facing can easily move to PaaS or IaaS. Internal virtualization will also help you develop a more efficient environment. First think about risk, though. Apps with high security requirements can be virtualized but some administrators may prefer to maintain control over them.
4) Create backups and rate each app by how vital and risky it is to migrate. Start spinning up VMs and physical servers and installing your software. Validate services before decommissioning old systems. You may want to save a backup until you have time to troubleshoot. Inventory your new environment and check utilization levels.
Now is the time to start the process or risk vulnerability when security updates halt. For more information on upgrading Windows 2003, see the following articles: