Windows Server 2003, Bye-Bye

by Kenneth Hess

With mainstream support now over for Windows Server 2003, it's time to evaluate your options. If you think you have good choices to replace the Windows OS, you might be in for a nasty surprise.

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Windows Server 2003 is the server realm equivalent of Windows XP. As is the case with XP, it's hard to let go. But, what will you choose to replace it? Windows Server 2008 has promise. What about Linux? And, if you choose Linux, which distribution will work best for you? Have you considered a commercial Unix to cure what ails your data center? Whichever one you choose, you'd better hurry. Windows Server 2003, as much as you love it, is beyond Microsoft's end of life for mainstream support. That date passed you by on July 13, 2010. (Extended support, however, will be available through March 2015.)

Your next choice will affect your data center strategy for the next five to 10 years.

Make sure its an informed one.

If you can't quite make the leap from Windows Server 2003 to the somewhat alien Windows Server 2008 offerings, you're not alone. In fact, two years into the Windows Server 2008 life cycle finds corporate IT executives scrambling for answers in a "reluctant to upgrade" effort when considering Microsoft's latest server OS. It's frightening to face the unknowns of upgrading when confronting the threat of major hardware upgrades, application incompatibilities and the ever-present plague of security problems. All this uncertainty, plus a still-suffering economy, makes you want to think outside the proprietary vendor box.

Windows Server 2008

Microsoft's vast and persuasive marketing engine has convinced you that Redmond's way is the only way, and that it alone is the purveyor of all that works in the data center. Microsoft is a powerful company that's learned some tough lessons, often at customers' expense, but it has improved its position and OSes. Microsoft's lock-in is costly in terms of licensing, software support and required hardware upgrades with each new release. Before upgrading, ask the tough questions about compatibility, workarounds and compromises that you'll have to make when taking that upgrade step.

Anti-Microsoft sentiments aside, Windows Server 2008 offers the new Windows 7 style interface, big performance improvements, security enhancements and true Type 1 hypervisor virtualization. Don't let the fear of upgrade paralyze you. Plenty of trailblazers have made the sacrifices, discovered the pitfalls and provided the answers to the common list of problems during their upgrade trials. Remember, Microsoft's personnel are always there to help you through the rough spots.


Linux isn't just for running Web services or open source database servers anymore. It provides an array of services, capabilities for enterprises including Web services, network services, databases, NFS shares, CIFS shares, print services, network intrusion detection, performance monitoring, log services and .NET hosted websites and services. Yes, that's correct; .NET sites and services. Thanks to Novell and dozens of volunteer developers, the Mono Project allows .NET developers to use Microsoft's Visual Studio and Linux as they would for equivalent Windows hosted sites.

Linux supports all major programming languages, including C#, Oracle databases and just about every possible network service or enterprise database, with the exception of SQL Server. However, Linux does run the closely related Sybase Server from which Microsoft derived SQL Server. Switching to Linux isn't as difficult as you might believe. Any of the major vendors can direct you in your pursuit to do so.

Commercial Unix

Commercial Unix isn't as flexible to transition to as Linux, but it's still possible. The major commercial Unix vendors (i.e., IBM, HP and Oracle) will gladly assist you in making the attempt, but be warned that the end result, while more stable and scalable than its Windows counterpart, might cost you significantly more than Windows and Linux combined.

Windows Server 2003's mainstream support has halted, but the luster of the beloved OS hasn't faded. Its replacement may change the face of your data center for years to come. There are no easy answers for a replacement, but if you must save money, there is an alternative: Linux. Commercially supported distributions and related consulting services can make a significant positive effect on your hardware and software budget. Red Hat, Novell and Canonical make compelling and financially attractive arguments for making the switch to a Linux-based service offering.

The major Unix vendors produce proprietary hardware on which you run their Unix flavors that provides you with a comfortable, stable, high-performance solution but with considerable financial consequences. However, if you fear vendor lock-in more than the price tag, this solution isn't for you. At least with a Microsoft or a Linux solution, you can still choose your own hardware vendor.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday Jul 23rd 2010
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