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Are You Still Running Windows Server 2003?


Has it really been a decade since Windows Server 2003 hit the market? Technology has come a long way in 10 years. Think about it: today’s servers run workloads for mobile application hosting, social collaboration platforms, streaming video and web hosting. That’s a far cry from a time where only 55 percent of US homes were connected to the Internet. One thing that hasn’t changed on the server front, though, is the requirement for 24/7 performance.

But what happens to performance if a strategic vendor stops supporting your operating system?

As Microsoft plans to end support for Windows Server 2003 in 2015, now is the perfect time to migrate your workloads to Server 2012 so you don’t get left in the cold when support ends.

10 Years Ago

To put it into perspective, here are a few of technology highlights from 2003:

  • The Camera Phone: 2003 was the year that camera phones took off. Time magazine suggested that this technology invention was as profound as the Internet. “Like the Internet before them, camera phones open up a new and surprisingly spontaneous way to communicate,” wrote Anita Hamilton for Time magazine.
  • iTunes: In 2003, Apple transformed the music industry with the introduction of iTunes. Today the iTunes store generates enough revenue to make it one of Apple’s crown jewels.
  • The Xbox: In 2003 Xbox Live redefined how people played games together through the Internet. Xbox Live enabled game play on an international level. While it officially launched late in 2002, Xbox Live use surged in 2003 and altered the course of online gaming.

Think of how far we’ve come since these game-changing launches. Now, think of how each specific offering has been updated and has evolved to solidify its place in the technology hall of fame.

Consider this for the Windows Server 2003 OS which deployed that same year:

  • The last Service Pack was more than six years ago
  • Regular “mainstream” support ended three years ago
  • The product is now on “extended support”
  • Final support ends in 24 months

Performance, security and server management issues on this platform will continue to escalate, which will cost you time and money. Also, to run a secure IT infrastructure that meets the legal and regulatory requirements of many organizations, you will have to pour resources into monitoring and isolating any servers that run Windows Server 2003.

Server 2003 won’t suddenly stop working as soon as support expires. Your Windows Server 2003 workloads will keep on running and your users will still be able to access the resources they require. However, there are a number of issues to be aware of.


Without support, Windows Server 2003 will cost more to operate as will the workloads you run on it. Keeping these systems online will result in mounting operational expenses.

There are also capital expense discussions to be had concerning end of support. For instance, upfront costs of required tools – intrusion detection systems, more advanced firewalls, network segmentation and so forth – are such that buying new Server 2012 licenses is almost guaranteed to be cheaper.


Regardless of the path you choose to discuss this with the IT powers that be, the importance of end of support cannot be ignored. When support ends in 2015, bug fixes basically stop. New vulnerabilities won’t be addressed and your Server 2003 systems will become a massive security risk.


The legal requirement to have an independent audit performed at regular intervals if you run outdated software is another consideration for an increasing number of businesses. Those audits can be pricey, often clocking in at more than the cost of new licenses.

Options To Consider

For many, the transition mechanism will be virtualization. If your Windows Server 2003 instance isn’t virtualized already, you can utilize our hosting experience at Rackspace to help ensure a modern architecture is part of your migration. We can convert both physical boxes and other types of virtual machines. With full support for our hybrid cloud offering, now is a good time to consider an upgrade to Windows Server 2012 for better performance, enhanced security and compliance features, and easier management. When you migrate to Rackspace with a managed service level, you will get the best a four-time Microsoft hosting partner of year can bring.

Recommendations From Rackspace

For some, the pain of an upgrade lies in the legwork of testing and certification of the new operating system, getting apps ported and training admins on the new administrative interfaces.

For others, the pain comes from the amount of assessment and recommended options to get precious funding. It’s true: the jump from Server 2003 to Server 2012 is a big one from a technology perspective. But Rackspace or our partners can help with this difficult transition by offering the following recommendations:

Learn more about Windows Server 2003 Migrations:

1. Assess your needs

Utilize the FREE Rackspace Cloud Assessment Tool to assess your upgraded server needs and submit your information if you want to be contacted about upgrading Windows Server from Rackspace.

2. Migrate yourself with partner services

Work with our partners like Website Movers to get a comprehensive suite of migration services with a full service “white glove” guaranteed migration, including assessment of your infrastructure and application requirements. Of course, you still benefit from Fanatical Support for consulting help with your cloud architecture and migration planning.

This approach is ideal for:

  • More complex workloads
  • Advice on getting the right environment and the best approach to migrate your application
  • Companies that already have or need expert technical specialists to drive the migration

Learn more about Website Movers –

3. Advanced Professional Services with Rackspace Fanatical Support

Let Rackspace fully engage in migration planning with a deep bench of professional services to make your move to the Rackspace infrastructure as smooth as possible. We’ll handle all of the planning and heavy lifting to get you into a better performing and sustainable environment.

This approach is recommended for:

  • Complex workloads
  • Extreme time constraints
  • Advanced needs for your new environment
  • Complete re-architecting requirements for your new environment

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Cole Humphreys.

Cole Humphreys joined Rackspace in February 2012 in the area of Cloud Servers. Cole came to Rackspace from Hewlett Packard where he worked in the Personal Systems Group from 2000 to 2012. Before HP, he was in the defense industry with Halliburton and served as an officer in the United States Air Force. He holds a masters in public administration from Valdosta State University and a bachelors of science in Psychology from Texas A&M University.

  • DoktorThomas™

    Technology make have advanced, but MSFT has regressed past Server 2003. Many of MSFT’s prior OS’s are much more user friendly than the re-heated, bloated crap they pass-off as “new” these days. Look for substantial decline in the stumbling blind giant’s future.

    Except for Steve Ballmer, no one likes MSFT anymore. Especially since they routinely help the illegally spy on you and the rest of the world. BUY FRUIT!!

    They were idiots to stop embracing winXP, the most widely used OS in the world. Bad business plan. ©2013

  • Ted

    Really. really foolish article. We are still running not only 2003 Server but 2000 server. We have companies with custom-built software that runs on it that we host. As long as they continue to pay us to run it and we make money from them we will run it. And we are making money from it.

    • Cole Humphreys

      Too bad you feel that way. The article was to bring forward the implications of losing Microsoft support for the base operating system. To be clear, Rackspace is not forcing anyone to change but bringing attention to the fact that cost, security and compliance will be impacted after the support date.

      • Nowa Name

        Sorry. Your statement about support is not fully supported. Network security is at most at hardware level ,Firewall , routers,switches ,and security devices. This is how you secure your network.Also server 2003 is capable of bring many GPO to control users Desktop environment ,as well the use of software and application , and more.

        This is just another propaganda made by Microsoft to sell new products . The same situation is already arisen with server 2008 editions regarding performance.

        The only thing good in server 2012 is the support for SQL clustering, as alwayson availability groups clustering , and always on failover clustering.

        Server 2012 is very expensive , as hardware requirement , software cust , as well implementation.

        Microsoft is pushing Clow networking , when it is a security risk and integrity risk of data privacy .

  • David

    I have to agree with Ted here. Your article points out how there hasn’t been any service pack for a while but fails to demonstrate in which way Windows Server 2012 is a better operating system that solves problems people actually have.

    Most of which, I’m very curious as to how widespread consumption of Microsoft’s support actually is which is very much something you could’ve brought in numbers for. It’s not too late.

  • Dave


    Good thing you didn’t publish your company name. Starting April 18th, “zero day” becomes every day for your poor customers. I don’t even know what to say about your use of Windows 2000 Server. I imagine it will not be long that they continue to pay you to cash their checks.

  • Satcor

    Implications will always be countered by cost. That is the way a business works. Outside of that is just a sales pitch. If my customer has 2003, 50 users and all of his needs are met, guess what? He will stick to it. There is no cost difference to support 2008 or 2012 as compared to 2003, is actually the same technician. In regards to vulnerabilities just plan and deploy it right, add the same hardware 2012 would need, firewalls and such and you will be OK. I like 2012 but does everyone needs it, Microsoft needs it for sure, is how they make money and how we spend money….I bet some lease a new car every 1-2 years. Real technicians know what Microsoft Support is like anyway, the outside world techs are the actual support, Microsoft technical support is only a consequence and a reaction to day to day facts and issues, beginners seem to like them however.

  • Sysadmin

    He He. Windows. Used a jet for a symbol. He He. Shoulda used a freight train.

    • donrobertson

      no – a freight. train is reliable and actually has a business use. the jet is hugely expensive to buy and run, requires constant maintenance, and can only deliver destruction and misery. Businesses can use a freight train to make a profit. the only people to profit from the jet are the vendors. it’s a perfect symbol.


    A fascinating argument, but I feel the real world solution just depends on the priorities and needs of the existing job the system does.
    In the corp. IT world, as well as my world(real-time control / data acquisition) right now, there are thousands of system which are installed with what many regard as Open Standards based tools and technologies such as SQL, ODBC, OPC, and XML. These are of course also core Microsoft technologies, and there are others being standardized too. In our sector where apps need to be changed every few months or at least every couple of years, these technologies truly enable rapid, low cost engineering changes to be rolled out by any competent integrator. Example: Good, secure, remote support tools. Where would we be without these? These often need current OS technology. And THAT is precisely what the customer wants. We cannot get away from this: Low cost projects are low RISK projects, and low risk means running on a fully patched or at least ‘current’ service pack platform, allowing a very high degree of confidence in the fully tested and QA certified world of patching and upgrade. This is in our 20 years experience of industrial SCADA and control systems.

    Is this any surprise? Well, if the server and client platform is up to date, the app software is generally cheaper (in engineering hours) to support for changes, as the application vendor must keep up with the security and architecture changes on the OS platform to sell new product and engage with integrators / end users to make their life easier at the shop floor.

    There is another angle too – Systems generally is an area which is becoming more and more accessible to the management tools of the corporate desktop. I cannot speak for others, but the only way our data can be more accessible to the decision makers is where the OS is up to date and the latest standards are supported for the new Dot NET and SQL tools available. These are app server add-ons, such as analytics and management suites made possible by OPC, SNMP, and others mentioned.

    There is always pain the in the upgrade – that is not in doubt. But that is relatively short lived, and it is a manageable, known cost, as the business runs on, supported by software that is maintained and understood. The cost of upgrade licenses is small for these systems, compared to the cost of getting it so wrong in support and updates as to have to re-engineer from scratch after 6 or 7 years. A £30K software license can support a £1 million or greater cash value system. And that system, properly maintained, could have a business value in the hundreds of millions over its lifetime.

    I have had many ‘fun’ 12 hour nights on site upgrading old software and hardware. I also hate to have to tell customers “You have left it too late. Throw it away”. Or.. “your system cannot be made secure, and you need a new OS to do that. You are 5 years out of date. We told you this in 2007!” With a good customer relationship that does not happen too often, but it happens.

    That is precisely what some of the customers of those with other comments will have to be told in a year or two. Sure, the server farm cynic may not care. The hosted applications mentioned are of course protected by the host’s system, and that’s great, especially if it is all virtualized, which is a key to many happy nights sleep if you are a sysAdmin or on the support rota!

    But the world of transport, security, safety systems and manufacturing / MES and SCADA demands so much of IT nowadays, we would be mad not to recommend our customers a server upgrade project, and help them help themselves.

    And we get paid! What a fantastic career we can have helping other people to run their businesses in a proactive way and avoid the nasties. No, I don’t think Microsoft is the answer to everything, but that is where the market is for me and my customers. We shall go with the flow, and move with the times.

    S.MacLaren, Atkins Systems Integration
    Epsom, UK

  • Marvin Mitre

    Many thanks for bringing forward the implications of losing support of Microsoft for the Operating System. Upgrading to later editions of Windows Server OS also enables the implementation of other enterprise features, e.g., DirectAccess, better File Classification Infrastructure

  • Dan Portenlanger

    The bottom line is functionality vs. cost. Each scenario and environment is different so I don’t think the blanket statements are valid. Upgrading is simply a matter of keeping support.

  • Nowa Name

    Sorry. Your statement about support is not fully supported. Network security is at most at hardware level ,Firewall , routers,switches ,and security devices. This is how you secure your network.Also server 2003 is capable of bring many GPO to control users Desktop environment ,as well the use of software and application , and more.

    This is just another propaganda made by Microsoft to sell new products . The same situation is already arisen with server 2008 editions regarding performance.

    The only thing good in server 2012 is the support for SQL clustering, as alwayson availability groups clustering , and always on failover clustering.

    Server 2012 is very expensive , as hardware requirement , software cust , as well implementation.

  • Nowa Name

    Many big Corporation as Walmart, fedex as well still running on server 2003 . The end users platform is Windows XP. No problem at all, still making big bucks.

    Windows server 2003 ,as well 2008 are great platforms. Based on business needs, an upgrade is not always a good choice. do an upgrade if truly need it, not because your are losing support. Patches are needed when necessary, if your network is been running good , there no need for patching, or hotfixes.

  • Richard

    I realize I’m a little late to the party here, but wanted to throw in my two cents…

    Windows 2003 Server was and still is the best all around server to date and the end of the non-bloat era. When it first came out, I worked at a large HSP and watched it outperform the latest Redhat builds on exact spec hardware hands down. It was lean, much more secure and extremely stable…and still is. I’ve NEVER in 10+ years seen W2K3 Server blue screen that wasn’t due to 3rd party apps/drivers, disk corruption or bad RAM.

    What this article and other comments haven’t pointed out is that it takes roughly and conservatively 8 times the hardware resources to run a post-Windows 2003 Server. SAN space, SCSI drives, etc. and server memory are still not that cheap. In a world where everyone is trying to consolidate, Microsoft is rolling out this pig-ware that clearly is not as robust when taking into consideration that you simply can’t run as many apps due to memory hogging and an ever growing system drive (aka the blob… it just consumes and consumes even if you’re uninstalling things)… and it now costs you 8 times as much for disk space and RAM. So, at the very least, you’re going to have to upgrade your SAN and dump memory into your servers (in addition to licensing costs) to upgrade.

    To some of you, that might be somewhat justifiable in your production environment, but now consider that your development environment is going to cost you 8X as much in disk space and RAM. We have ~40% the number of development servers as we do production servers. Except our development servers only see a handful of users and will now need all those hardware resources to accomodate the latter server OSes. Before the .NET bloat, I could roll out W2K3 development server VMs all day long with 256MB of RAM and an 8GB OS drive and never blink an eye…and that is sufficient for 90+% of our development server needs (i.e. IIS, file/print, DNS, mail, 3rd party apps, etc.). Even SQL with limited users can run comfortably on less than 1GB of RAM in many cases. We might need to add another drive for content, but the OS was generally fine with 8GB. Now I cringe just to roll out one post-W2K3 server at 2-4GB of RAM and 40GB system drive.

    Yes, there are more people and devices on the net now, but that doesn’t equate to anything special…just more traffic. A mobile, social, streaming website is still just a website. It’s not a concern to upgrade in the least and W2K3 Server is still a viable solution for those. From my experience, bloat definitely doesn’t equate to better performance. So, with that being written, I would guess W2K3 Server would handle any serious loads better overall.

    Here’s one last thing to consider…and things may have changed…but When I was responsible for Microsoft True-up (volume licensing) not that long ago, it was the same cost to run any equivalent server and desktop OS regardless of the version. In other words, if you’re running W2K3 or W2K8 equivalent server (i.e. Standard, Enterprise, etc.), it’s the same licensing cost. Same goes for XP and W7. So, why do they care then? If all the licensing and support (support from an end-user perspective) costs the same, regardless of the OS, why does it matter how old the product is and how long they’re going to support it? Microsoft Support is primarily about the businesses anyway… No? I don’t know any home end-users in 20 years that have ever called Microsoft support or are really even aware of it. You have to figure supporting W2K3 Server costs very little compared to the other junk they’re pushing. It’s dialed in. I think most W2K3 Server customers would be fine with them simply plugging security holes (and continued .NET support would be nice) and that’s it! With this True-up model, if you’re paying on the number of servers vs. the actual OS, then it would probably be more beneficial ($$$) for Microsoft with W2K3 Server considering you can run eight W2K3 servers for the resources of one of the newer servers (at least in a virtual environment). I mean you have to figure people are going to be getting rid of servers they don’t need and consolidate to some degree to accommodate all the bloat. So, then who will Microsoft get to buy new licenses? I’m guessing the smaller businesses that probably don’t have as much budget to upgrade (hardware or software) as the folks running True-up.

    Some of the new features are on the latter OSes are nice, but why all the bloat? Windows 2003 Server and XP are the end of getting excited about Microsoft OSes for me (and many people I know). Everything after that was essentially the start to the end of my career as a systems admin/engineer, avid supporter and promoter of Microsoft products. I’ve rarely (a handful of times in 15+ years) needed Microsoft phone support. However, I do need them to keep plugging security holes since we have 2003 servers open to the net. When support ends for Windows 2003 Server, it’s going to be a VERY sad day. I really have no idea what I’m going to do. I really don’t want this new junk Micorsoft is pushing…and I don’t like the alternatives either. So, I might just have to take my chances…

    Rackspace wants you to upgrade because they’re going to benefit from you using eight times as many resources…and more power to them. But, Who’s flying this Microsoft plane? Seems they don’t know where they’re going. I think the picture is all wrong too. It should be a jet plane morphing into like an a380 Airbus (or maybe something less reliable and not as nice like a DC-10).

  • john harper

    Not anymore, but it has done a good job on my server ( ) running it.

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