Server 2012 or 2016: To Upgrade or Wait

To upgrade or wait?

Once again, we are faced with the age-old IT question – should we upgrade or wait? In this case, the question refers to Windows Server — “Should we go to 2012 now or should we wait?”  As in most cases within IT, the answer depends on the situation and is different from environment to environment.  Let’s look at the timeline that bring up this question:

  • Windows Server 2016 is expected to be released  first quarter 2016.
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 released in October 2014.
  • Windows Server 2012 had a general availability release back in September 2012.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 has a tentative End of Life (EOL) set for 2020.

Currently, Windows 2008 R2 makes up the majority of the server workloads in use today.  Many organizations have barely started working with 2012, if at all.  Most organizations are still operating Active Directory at the 2008 level.  Some are still on Windows Server 2003, even though it has already hit EOL.  The past repeats itself because we have again hit a point where the most utilized version of a Windows software is going to be two or more generations behind the latest release.  Server 2012 adaptation increased when R2 was released and particularly when Server 2003 hit EOL and companies needed to migrate off that platform.  Timing and other factors went into the slow adaptation of Server 2012.  However, Server 2012 suffered from the same issue Windows 8 did – the interface.  Server 2012 is a solid product, but the interface turns off so many IT professionals who have to live in it day-to-day.  The interface is based on the Metro Interface used in Windows 8.  The Metro Interface was designed with touch screens and tablets in mind.  How many IT professionals have touch screens available or use tablets when connecting to their Windows servers?  Yes, you can put a start menu in 2012 with a third-party product.  But how many of us are against the cluttering of our servers with unnecessary software installations?

Given what was just stated, let’s get back to the question at hand.  Should you got to Server 2012 now or wait?  The answer depends on your organization’s needs, plans, and project timeframes.  At this point, the most compelling reasons to install server 2012 right now is if you are installing or upgrading to the latest versions of a particular application, you are still on server 2003, or a company mandate is in place.  Here are some reasons to wait for server 2016:

  • At this point in the year, if you have not budgeted for an upgrade/migration project for this year, then you can put it in the budget for next year.
  • Server 2016 has an interface that is based on Windows 10’s interface. Yes, it has a start menu.
  • Going to server 2012 R2 in the near future will immediately put you one version behind.
  • Along with Server 2016, Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint 2016 will be released as well.
  • The preview builds have had favorable reviews.
  • Needed improvements in Hyper-V.
  • If you migrate now, how long before you will need to migrate again.

Let’s look at the reasons against waiting for Server 2016:

  • Keep in mind that even though the release is expected first quarter, it is not a good thing to have your production environment on the bleeding edge. I usually advise my clients that adapting a new version of a software should be held off for a few months after the release at the least.  The major issues will most likely be found and resolved within the first few months.  I usually advocate waiting until the equivalent of the first service pack comes out.
  • If you are still on a 2003 environment, you are waiting too long and sitting on vulnerabilities that will no longer be remediated.
  • Application compatibility. We are looking at a new operating system.  You know there are going to be applications that are not compatible with it.  Even if a piece of software proves compatible, you may still need to wait until the vendor says it supports the installation.
  • Knowledge and the ability to support the features. This is a new Operating System.  You can relate what you know about previous versions of Windows Server, but there will definitely be new subject matter to learn.  Features like containers will need some research and knowledge.  If you are not comfortable with PowerShell, you better get comfortable.

In short, if you are not on server 2012 at the moment, are off of Server 2003, and you can wait about eight months, then consider waiting for Server 2016 to do your migration.  The nice thing I have seen so far, is that you can treat 2016 like another version of Windows Server with improvements for what you know and use now.  However, it is the new features and concepts that will make it worth the wait.  I will be posting a blog or two (or three) concerning the release of Windows 2016 in the next few months.  I usually write blogs like this one for a wide range of readers involved in IT from the technical to the not-as-technical.  The future blogs on Windows 2016 will be more technical.

Feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.

 

AZS-3

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)| Sr. Network Consultant craig.kalty@customsystems.com

 

 

©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

Windows Server 2003 Migration: Tasks Part 3 – Build and Test

windows server 2003 R2In Part 2, we created a plan that maps out the migration from Windows Server 2003. Now we are at the point where we need to build what we designed. Notice how in all the blogs concerning decommissioning 2003 that I use the words ‘migrate’ and ‘migration’ and not upgrade? I probably should have discussed this sooner, but there is no upgrade. You cannot upgrade 32-bit Windows 2003 to 64-bit 2008 R2 or 2012 R2. No matter your plan and budget, you will need to perform a fresh install on at least one server to start the process. Also, it would be wisest to go to 2012 R2 for many reasons (particularly not having to repeat this process when 2008 reaches end-of-life). For some migration paths, you may need to install at least one 2008 server to go from 2003 to 2008 and then to 2012.

The best place to start would be a test/development environment. We know from experience that there are many smaller shops out there that do not have the budget to create a development environment. Most of them are going to rely on the expertise of their staff or outside services to get their environment from where it is now directly to an updated infrastructure without performing a lot of tests. For those environments, remember to at least do extensive planning and research beforehand to mitigate issues. For those that can build a development environment, the best way to do it is virtualization (there I go again using that word). Remember that you can make a virtual server host out of various hardware platforms. You can even install a robust hypervisor for free. To give you an example, my laptop has an extra drive that I swap instead of the DVD drive. I then manually boot to the extra hard drive where I have XenServer hosting over a dozen VMs. Is it powerful? Not really, but I can run my demo environment from it. The point is we don’t need to break the budget to make a development environment. We may not even need to touch any of the budget. If you did budget for a new virtual environment or to extend an existing one, here is where you can start utilizing that new investment. P2V (physical to Virtual) machine images of your existing infrastructure servers. From there, you can fire up a new virtual machines (VMs) housing 2012 R2 and/or 2008 R2. Once you have the test environment, take snapshots of all the VMs before making any changes. Now you can begin the process of converting your virtual infrastructure in a development environment. If you run into issues, you can utilize the snapshots to reset the environment and try again. Take detailed notes of all the steps and pay attention to any potential problems. Once you have a clear plan with detailed notes, you are less likely to run into the unexpected when updating your production environment.

So, what exactly are we testing in our development environment? There are basic services that almost every shop is going to be utilizing. Active Directory, DNS, and DHCP are the three most common services we will need to migrate to another server. The good news is that detailed directions from Microsoft and other experts can easily be found on the web. Some organizations are going to have the basics and some are going to have more services in use. For instance, some organizations may utilize Terminal Services. Migrating that to Remote Desktop Services (RDS) will be a project in itself (though a worthwhile one).

Here is an example list of services you may/will need to test:

  • Basic services:
    • Active Directory (AD)
    • Group Policy
    • Domain Naming Systems (DNS)
    • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)
  • Extended services:
    • Certificate Services and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)
    • Terminal Services
    • Distributed File Services (DFS)
    • Internet Information Services (IIS)
    • Network Load Balancing (NLB)

Each organization is different, so they may have some or all of the items from the above list. A lot of organizations will have more to add to the list. Aside from these services that come in a Windows server, we will need to test hosted applications. This set of blogs has been pretty much focused on the Active directory side of the migration, but what about applications? If you have Exchange, SQL, or another enterprise application hosted on a 2003 server, you are going to need a separate project just to migrate those applications. This may be the opportunity to move from in-house mail services to a cloud-hosted solution like Office 365. It is possible to focus on upgrading our Active Directory infrastructure first and saving the applications hosted on 2003 servers for a later project. However, research the applications to make sure they will still function in an updated AD infrastructure. If not, that is one of those symmetrical projects you will need to have in your plan.

The next step will be implementation into production. At this point, we are ready. We have performed tests in our development environment, gained experience in the tasks, created detailed instruction sets, and realized modifications needed in our plan.

As always, I welcome your comments or questions. Please feel free to leave them below or email me directly. Also, be sure to bookmark our site for more information from Microsoft. Also, please be sure to register for our live, Microsoft event – Windows Server 2003:  Security Risk and Remediation on February 18.

AZS-3

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)|
Sr. Network Consultant
craig.kalty@customsystems.com

 

 

 

©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

Time for Windows Server 2003 End-Of-Life Plan

Windows 2003In previous posts, we’ve described the necessity to upgrade your Windows XP PCs to either Windows 7 or Windows 8.  Today, we are going to discuss the server side of the house.

Microsoft will stop supporting Server 2003 R2 on July 14, 2015.  I know a year can sound far away and over the horizon, but it isn’t – especially when it comes to servers.  A migration from one server to another can either take a few days or several weeks – depending on your infrastructure.   For example, migrating a file server from 2003 to 2008 is fairly straight forward – especially with the help of  Backup/Restore software like Backup Exec.  Backup Exec remembers things like file permissions, so we can backup your data from your old server, and then restore it to the new server.

If you have shared printers on your network, this part of the migration can be a bit more involved.  Not every printer manufacturer will support installing their printers in a 2008 64-bit environment – but we would investigate this for you before we begin the migration.  If your printers are not supported on a 2008 server, it may be time to upgrade those as well.

Support for Exchange 2003 server ended back in January 2008.  Exchange 2007 ‘mainstream support’ ended  April 2012, with extended support ending April 2017.  If you are still using Exchange 2003 or 2007, you should move to a new server immediately.  Custom Systems has done several migrations from 2003 to 2007, and up to Exchange 2010, so we have a clear path to follow.  We have also migrated a few clients from an on-site Exchange Server to Office 365 hosted email, depending on client need.

If you are using your servers to host applications, like Quickbooks or other third-party vendors, a migration from your old server to a new server gets more complicated.  We may need to get the software vendor involved in the process.  Make sure you have access to the latest version of your Applications before trying to move to a new server.  In some cases, we may even need to migrate to a new software product if the older product is no longer supported.

As always, and we would be happy to provide you with a free Network Assessment. Call or click today!

 

AZS-4Chase Reitter
Network Consultant
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com