Now that there are less than 187 days until Microsoft stops supporting Windows Server (WS) 2003 R2, the gallows are coming into view, your pulse is racing and soon even non-technical senior executives concerned about your organization’s ability to be regulatory compliant will ask, “What’s our plan?”  The former is an exaggeration, but this Y2K-like inflection point is going to be a big concern to your executives.

For most organizations their options for eliminating WS 2003, 2003 R2 and the old hardware are clear – migrate the applications to a newer version of Windows Server running on a new physical server or in virtual machines (VMs) on a newer, powerful hypervisor host.  Ideally, you’ll also want to replace those older apps with comparable, cloud-based Software as a Service solutions, or migrate the apps to a new OS in cloud-based VMs such as Microsoft Azure Infrastructure as a Service.

Unfortunately, as IT budgets have continued to shrink or hold steady, I’ve talked with many IT staffs who don’t have that luxury.  They have been forced to make do with what they have – older server hardware running WS 2003.  I’m writing this post for those of you in this latter position.

Trying to reuse hardware that is older than 2008 will require so many parts to be replaced the only item that will be left is the server’s cabinet/shell.  The advances in powerful multi-core, power-aware processors, from Intel and AMD over the last five years, have continued at a frenetic pace.  Because of their interdependencies on each other, replacing the processor(s) also means the motherboard, RAM and RAID controller have to go.  Those drives are waiting to fail, having long since passed their life expectancy.

WS 2012 and 2012 R2 both support being 100% virtualized as do almost all new applications.  Since virtualization has so many benefits, even your old cabinet isn’t going to serve as a very practical hypervisor host.

My advice is to spend your budget on at least two new beefy servers with modern components to use as virtualization hosts.  WS 2008 R2 – 2012 R2 greatly enhance the underlying hardware by lowering the heat that’s generated, saving electricity, leveraging the sophisticated on-board chips and taking full advantage of every last cycle in the processor(s).

While physical to virtual (P2V) virtualization tools can migrate the OS and its applications into VMs running on a new host server, it only postpones the inevitable – WS 2003 R2 still needs to be eradicated.  I’ve talked with a number of customers who’ve asked if they can in-place upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2 or newer and then run P2V on that server.  It depends.  While Microsoft supports upgrading WS 2003 SP2 or WS 2003 R2 to WS 2008 R2 (reference link), for most of you this isn’t an option.

In 2003, the processor in your server dictated which Windows Server 2003 “version” you had to use.  If you had a 32-bit processor, you were required to run the IA-32 version (AKA x86) of the OS.  Since x86 was the processor at the time, WS 2003 x86 was by far the most widely used version of the OS.  If you needed >3GB of (expensive) RAM, you had two 64-bit processor options – Itanium and AMD64 (x64).  Microsoft developed a specific version of Windows Server 2003 for both Itanium and x64, but x86 Windows Server binaries cannot be upgraded to x64 Windows Server.  Beginning with WS 2008 R2, x64 is now the only version of Windows Server that Microsoft develops.

Learn more about how one organization made a business case for server refresh.