Another Microsoft OS reaches end of life-are you running it?

Another Microsoft OS reaches end of life-are you running it?

Next month another Microsoft Operating System reaches end of life.  Maybe you’ve only just removed all the XP machines from your life and now something else is on the horizon. Maybe you still have XP machines around and don’t see why you have to change yet another “perfectly good system” when you don’t need to.  This one is slightly different though.

The O/S we’re speaking of is Microsoft Server 2003.  You may not even realize you have it.  But if you do, and it’s still operating as it was initially installed – you really need to do something. Microsoft sold a nice small business package, based around Server 2003 called Small Business Server 2003.  This was designed to be an “all in one” server solution.  It would share your broadband connection securely with all your network users, speeding up the internet by caching websites, it would also handle email, shared calendars, remote desktop sessions, file sharing and a host of other roles.

The problem is, technology has moved on in twelve years. This server no longer speeds up your internet connection – as your internet connection is about fifty times faster than it was in 2003. Furthermore, you really don’t want a windows server, or any server, to sit on a public internet connection – especially if its author is no longer going to support it.  

It is the equivalent to putting up a sign on your lawn explaining that you keep your door keys under the front mat.

Every script kiddie will know how to write a few lines of code to check for your server keys as soon as a vulnerability comes up – only Microsoft won’t fix it this time.

Do I really need to change it now – it works fine.

Yes, probably – but there are some things which are more of a  priority:

  • Setup a hardware based firewall urgently – change the server role so it no longer handles the router aspect of your network.  Select an enterprise router which can handle the volume of devices (don’t forget smartphones) in your network – something from Walmart is not likely to work well.
  • Identify what your server is doing – move what you can to the cloud.
  • A small business should no longer run their own onsite email server.  Every time you need to run windows updates, the server needs to be rebooted. This means your email will be offline while it happens. Every time your internet goes down – your email bounces.  When your email service is in the cloud – if your office internet goes down – you can now switch to your cell phone network to check your email – or take your laptop to McDonalds.
  • Do an inventory of your productivity apps – things like Quickbooks should move to their cloud versions rather than their server/client versions.  Database applications are more problematic – but if they come from a vendor – they may have cloud based alternatives.  Working in the cloud means your “server” is now running in a data center, has high availability backup servers ready to come online when necessary, and strong backup policies in place.  If your local, onsite server breaks, your data is still safe in the cloud.
  • A small business should probably keep authentication and file server roles in house, especially if handling large media files.  Both of these roles can be handled securely by Open Source software – which saves licensing costs.
  • If sticking with a newer version of Microsoft Server – you may wish to rethink your licensing scheme.  It may be worth changing from per user to per device licenses.  In general, every user or device needs an appropriate license to access the functionality of the server.  For instance, if you use MS SQL, MS Exchange and a file server, you will need three CAL’s for each user or device.  If a user does not need database access, they will only need the Exchange and General server CALS for them.
  • We recommend running all your servers as virtual machines.  This makes backups much easier.  Windows generally installs device drivers for your specific hardware.  If you take a hard drive out of your server and place it into a different machine – it will almost certainly fail while booting.  Running a virtual machine means that the virtual hardware stays the same regardless of which physical server the virtual machine is running on.  This means, if you have to restore your server to new hardware – it can be done in minutes, rather than hours.
  • Think redundancy. Everything can break. What happens if a hard drive or power supply breaks?  Ideally, you should be sent an email warning you to replace it before your critical device stops working.  Desktop workstations should have their important data backed up regularly in a secure manner, but if your user has their entire DVD and music collection stored on their laptop – you may wish to exclude that from your backup script.

Thinker runs a Managed IT program for companies without their own IT staff.  If you need help, advice, ideas or a sympathetic ear, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.