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Analysis Finds Windows Server 2003 Use Continuing Past Its Lifecycle

Windows Server 2003 will exit product support next month on July 14, but the operating system likely won't be totally gone from datacenters until mid-2018, according to estimates by Big Data solutions provider CloudPhysics.

In other words, based on projected data, some organizations may take risks and continue to use Windows Server 2003, possibly for as long as three years after the July 14 loss of "extended" product support. Losing extended product support means that Microsoft no longer issues security patches, potentially exposing organizations to security risks.

One possible distinction with this study is that it sampled virtual machine use of Windows Server 2003. Virtualization can add some security, according to Krishna Raj Raja, product architect at CloudPhysics.

"With regard to security, there are traditionally people who used to think that virtualization, putting all VMs in one egg basket, is very dangerous, but now it's commonly accepted that virtualization improves high availability," he said. "Same with security as well, because now the security layer can be transferred to your virtualization space. You don't have to manage security … at every machine, which is error prone and you can have holes that someone could exploit. So, I think security is a little stronger with virtualization."

Currently, one in five (18 percent) virtual machine instances in datacenters are running Windows Server 2003, according an announcement by CloudPhysics. CloudPhysics' analysis is based on data trends gleaned from June 2013 through June 2015. The company collected operating system information from datacenters around the world that were using VMware vSphere virtualization.

CloudPhysics uses a virtual appliance to collect the data. It harvests about 150 billion to 180 billion datapoints on a daily basis from thousands of datacenters around the world, according to Raja. The data for the analysis "came from real data from real customers," he said.

The datacenters predominately ran Windows in their virtual machines, the analysis found. The OS mix, according to CloudPhysics, was 56 percent Windows Server, 11 percent Windows desktop and 33 percent "other OSes." The most popular Windows Server OS was Windows Server 2008, at 63 percent.

Microsoft's current flagship server product, Windows Server 2012, was at 19 percent use, according to CloudPhysics' analysis, but it showed the most growth among the server versions. Windows Server 2012 was first released almost three years ago, but its use eclipsed Windows Server 2003 only last month.

"The share of Windows Server 2012 VMs only recently surpassed Windows Server 2003 in May 2015," according to CloudPhysics' announcement.

Windows Server 2012 will start to represent half of datacenter virtual machine workloads by "the second half of 2018," the announcement indicated. The somewhat sluggish server OS upgrade pace was attributed to virtualization itself, in part, since virtualization permits older OSes to run on newer hardware.

"VMware's virtualization platform is prolonging the life of many legacy operating systems," the announcement explained.  

CloudPhysics, founded by former VMware executives, produces operational insights products for VMware-virtualized infrastructures, with a solution that tracks details across multiple vCenters. The company also offers cost calculators for estimating migrations to Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructures.

There's a CloudPhysics Free Edition offering (sign-up required) that's available. It has so-called "cards," which show OS virtual machine use. The free edition includes an OS inventory card to track Windows Server 2003 virtual machine use, but it's just available in the free edition through the end of July, company officials said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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