Time to Say Goodbye to Windows Server 2003 – Preparing for Migration (Part 3)

If you would like to be notified when Deb Shinder releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the WindowsNetworking.com Real time article update newsletter.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:


In Part 1 of this article series, we looked at some of things that made Windows Server 2003 great in its day, and why (in addition to the impending lack of support and cessation of security updates) it’s time to move on now. In Part 2, we looked more closely at the first migration path you might choose: maintaining the traditional datacenter model (which might or might not be supplemented by some cloud computing services) and upgrading your on-premises infrastructure to the latest, most full-featured and most secure version, Windows Server 2012 R2.

Now, in Part 3, we’ll continue with the process of migrating from WS2003 to WS2012 R2 within the traditional datacenter model.

Upgrading on new hardware

The traditional datacenter model assumes that you will be upgrading your Windows Server 2003 servers to on-premises servers running Windows Server 2012 R2. This would include your domain controllers/Active Directory, file servers, web servers, terminal services and applications servers. Because Windows Server 2012 R2 has increased hardware requirements, it’s likely that pursuing this path will require you to replace some or all of the physical machines that are now running Windows Server 2003 with new hardware.

Minimum hardware requirements for Windows Server 2012 R2 include the following:

  • 1.4 GHz 64 bit processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 32 GB disk space (to install in server core mode)
  • Gigabit Ethernet adapter

Of course, anyone who has worked with Windows knows that the published minimum requirements are not realistic for a real world deployment. These are the specs that are the absolute minimum to install the operating system and do not include the resources necessary for running server workloads on the systems.

Here are some more realistic recommended requirements for running Server 2012 R2

  • 3.1 GHz or faster 64 bit multi-core processor
  • 8 or more GB of RAM
  • 160 GB hard disk storage space or more (depending on the applications that you plan to install and the data that you plan to store locally on the server)
  • Gigabit Ethernet adapter

As you can see, the only published minimum spec that’s realistic for a server on a production network is the Ethernet adapter – and of course 10 GB Ethernet or faster technology would be preferable.

Assessing applications and workloads

Before you can successfully plan your migration strategy, you need to perform a full inventory of the applications and workloads that will be running on each of your physical and/or virtual servers. This includes:

  • Microsoft server roles built into Windows Server 2012 (for example, Internet Information Server, Remote Desktop Services, Active Directory Certificate Services)
  • Microsoft server applications that are installed separately (for example, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync Server, SQL Server)
  • Third party applications (for example, Lotus/IBM Notes, MySQL, Apache)
  • Custom applications (developed in-house or specifically for your organization)

Your assessment needs to take into account the resources required to run the server roles and applications based on the number of users and the typical per-user workload. Be sure to consider whether/which applications will have to be upgraded to new versions in order to run on Windows Server 2012 R2 and in addition to including that cost in your budget, ensuring that you are calculating needed hardware resources based on the requirements of those new versions rather than the older ones.

You also need to plan how you’ll distribute roles and workloads across servers. Will you be installing directly on physical servers or upgrading on virtual machines running on your premises? Even when sticking with the traditional data center model (as opposed to transforming your data center into a private cloud or hybrid cloud), you will still get the most “bang for your buck” by utilizing virtualization to reduce the hardware footprint, space requirements, cooling and power costs in your data center. That means determining how many and which virtual machines you will run on each physical server.

When utilizing virtualization, you’ll need to calculate the resources needed to run Windows Server 2012 R2 with the Hyper-V role, plus how much CPU and memory need to be allocated to each of the virtual machines. Don’t forget to consider the licensing costs for operating systems and applications installed on virtual machines.

Once you make these determinations, you will be better able to plan for the hardware specifications you’ll need and estimate the costs of upgrading on new hardware.

Migrating to the cloud

You may find that a more cost effective alternative to upgrading all your hardware and software at a large up-front cost is to migrate some or all of your applications and workloads to the private, public or hybrid cloud. Windows Server 2003’s end-of-life presents a logical motivation to consider alternatives to the traditional data center, which may be able to reduce the administrative overhead, offer new conveniences for users, and reduce costs, especially capital expenditures costs.

For most organizations, at this time a hybrid cloud solution that involves “cloud-sourcing” some of your IT functions while keeping others – particularly those that deal with more sensitive information – on your premises offers the easiest and best route for transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure. If you choose to take this approach, your first step will be the same inventory/assessment of your applications and workloads that we discussed earlier.

This time, though, you’ll be looking at which of these applications and workloads can be securely and cost-effectively moved to the cloud. Perhaps you could move your email and web hosting to the cloud, while maintaining some or all of your file storage on premises.

This is a compromise that makes sense for many organizations since their public web sites don’t contain confidential information and much of the business email they send likewise isn’t sensitive (or can easily be encrypted), but there are many highly confidential files stored on their file servers that contain employees’ personal information, personal data about customers/clients, and/or trade secrets, litigation documents and other highly confidential business information. Of course, this is only an example; how you decide to split the workload between on- and off-premises services will depend on your company’s own unique situation and needs.

The process of deciding what will go to the cloud and what will stay on-site is referred to as targeting your destination for each application or workload. Once you’ve done this, your migration plan will consist of two parallel processes:

  • migrating those functions that are staying on-premises to new hardware and VMs in your data center
  • migrating the rest to the cloud

Cloud migration options

There are, of course, different ways that you can take advantage of cloud computing, depending on how much control you want to maintain. You can extend your data center to the cloud using Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms such as Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). This scenario gives you more control over your applications as the service you pay for consists of virtual machines in the cloud that replace part of your on-premises server hardware, network and storage. You can install whatever operating systems and applications you want on those VMs and configure the software however you want. You are responsible for updating the software and troubleshooting any software problems, while the IaaS vendor takes care of the hardware.

Another alternative is to give up some of the control – and responsibility – by migrating some of your applications to Software as a Service (SaaS). A good example of this is Office 365, which provides you with hosted email, web and communications services without the hardware costs and administrative overhead of running your own Exchange, IIS and Lync servers either on physical or virtual machines on your premises or on IaaS VMs in the cloud.

Migrating applications to the cloud doesn’t remove the need for capacity planning, but cloud-based applications will generally be more scalable since you only have to pay the provider for additional capacity, rather than buying new hardware.

Target destinations

If we look at all of your options in terms of target destinations, then, the target destination for a particular application (for example, email) that is currently running on your Windows Server 2003 server in your data center could be:

  • A new or upgraded physical server in your data center
  • A new virtual machine running on a physical server in your data center
  • An Exchange (or other email) server that you install on a virtual machine running on an IaaS provider’s network in the cloud
  • An email service hosted by a SaaS provider in the cloud

Your planning and deployment processes will be different, depending on which you choose. Microsoft provides many useful tools for guiding you through the steps. Let’s go back to the example of migrating from Exchange 2003 to either Exchange 2012 or Office 365. You can use the Exchange Deployment Assistant site to help you with the particular migration scenario you’ve chosen: on-premises only, hybrid (including Exchange online archiving) or cloud only. The wizard-like interface asks you questions regarding your existing deployment and your goals, then the assistant creates a step-by-step guide for you to follow.


Saying goodbye is never easy, and saying goodbye to Windows Server 2003 is a complex process. In the past, when a server operating system reach end-of-support, you would have had only a couple of options: upgrade to the latest version of Windows Server or switch to another OS (Linux/UNIX). Today you have additional options, including moving to a cloud-based IT infrastructure.

Luckily, there are many resources available to help you through the migration process, regardless of which course you decide to take.

If you would like to be notified when Deb Shinder releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the WindowsNetworking.com Real time article update newsletter.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Scroll to Top