Although Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2012 would reach its end of life some time ago, we know many of you are still deliberating on the right choice for your business. If you are still relying on a Windows 2012 Server, the action you take now could not only cost your business a significant amount of money but also dictate the way you will work in the future, so it’s not an easy decision to make.
What makes this harder is if you are not getting the right advice from your provider or don’t trust that they have provided you with all the options instead of the one that is most convenient for them.
In this article, we are going to run through the available options and the thought process you can use to help identify the right option for your business, and then make that decision—it’s not too late!
In this article, we cover:
Why you need to act?
In October this year, Windows Server 2012 will reach its ‘end of life’ with Microsoft. But what does that mean for those of you still relying on it?
What this means is that Microsoft will no longer provide updates, also known as security patches, for this operating system version. Microsoft releases patches and updates to ‘patch’ any security gaps identified by them and prevent hackers from gaining access to your system and data, but also to keep it running reliably. After October, your 2012 Server Operating system becomes a big target for hackers looking to exploit this lack of protection.
Microsoft also provides technical support for the operating systems they provide, which allows you or your IT provider to work with them if you have an issue with the Server. Again, after October, they will no longer provide this support for you. This could leave you unsupported in the event of a major issue on your Server.
So, what are your options?
1 – Is your Server only used for File Sharing, Emails, and device/user profile management?
If your Server’s role is to host your emails, provide your files and folders, or control your user profiles and devices (Active Directory or Domain Controller), then your decision is much easier. A move to cloud systems like Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace is your obvious choice.
These ‘productivity platforms’ provide all of those Server roles for one simple, low monthly price. For around £15–20 per person per month, you can get business-class emails, calendars, file sharing, and now also device and user controls. These licences also include loads of other benefits and apps like instant messaging, video calling, shared task lists, holiday and shift planners, intranets, etc.
Moving away from that physical server onto a cloud system removes the upfront hardware and software replacement costs, is more reliable with redundant copies, is more secure with built-in security controls, and once you’re in the cloud, that’s the hard part done. You also won’t need to worry about pesky things like operating systems going out of service again because these systems update themselves. Yes, there are likely to be upfront costs to migrate you to the cloud; however, as you’re not replacing hardware or software licencing, it’s likely to be around the same as replacing your old Server, which you will likely have to do at some point soon.
Some things worth considering before you make the jump are your internet speeds and your use of large multimedia files. Because this is the cloud, your files need to be uploaded and downloaded as you access and edit them, which uses up bandwidth. If you have a slow connection, this will cause files to not save, duplications of the same file, or slow access. If your files are large, then the same issue applies. These files will take ages to upload initially, but each time they are edited, those edits need to upload and then sync across all your staff, causing the same issues.
For multimedia files, there are specialist applications made for this that work in the same way as Microsoft’s or Google’s version, just with better compression, so the cloud is still an option for you.
2 – Does your Server host an application or another piece of software?
- If your server is less than 3 years old, then you have a few options to consider. Simply upgrading the operating system is an option, but first check with the vendor of your application or software to see if this or the version you currently have can work on a new operating system. You may have to pay to upgrade your application or software before it is compatible with a new operating system, which is not a good surprise to have.
However, you could use this as an opportunity to invest the money you would spend on a new OS and the labour associated with it to instead upgrade the Server or move to a cloud system, future-proofing your business. If so, then the below options and considerations will apply to you as well. Do consider any monthly backup costs you have and how removing these by moving to the cloud can offset your upfront investment; think about ROI over a 4-5 year period.
- If your Server is more than 3 years old, then you are in a slightly more challenging situation. Spending money to upgrade the operating system on your old Server (assuming that is compatible with your application) may seem like a wasted investment considering you are likely to replace this server in the next year or so. You could instead put this investment towards the inevitable replacement or cloud migration. If that seems logical, then these are your next questions to answer:
- Do you need to have an onsite Server?
This will depend on the application or software you use and if it needs to be within the same network as the people using it (in the office) or the system providing the ‘profiles’ for each employee (AD/DC). If it is required and you don’t want to consider alternative applications that don’t restrict you in this way, then the upgrade and replacement of the whole Server may make sense.
- Can your application work on a cloud-hosted Server (not in your office)?
Services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services can give you the option of a virtual Server. One that works in the same way as your Server onsite without having to purchase the hardware and software, instead paying a simple monthly price to ‘host’ it with them.
- Can your application even work on Windows 2012?
If you are using an older application or licence, this may not be compatible with newer Microsoft server operating systems, requiring you to upgrade the application first or look into the next question below.
- Does your application vendor offer a cloud solution?
Most software providers are moving to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, where they charge monthly to host and maintain the application; you just access it via the internet. This is the best option (in our opinion), as it allows you to use software you are used to, removes the costs and risks involved with an onsite Server, and future-proofs you against these kinds of software upgrades being needed in the future.
If none of these options work for you, then the last consideration is whether you really need or want to stick with this application or software, as it’s likely a legacy app and is going to continue holding your business back. It can be painful to switch a core business system, but don’t let the fear of that disruption hold your business back.
Is doing nothing an option?
At the end of the day, it’s your risk to take. However, in this situation, it’s not something you should ignore and hope goes away. The risks are real, and unless you can work without the Server, the data on your server isn’t important to your business operation, or it doesn’t require protection from a GDPR perspective, you will need to address this. There is the option of asking Microsoft for extended support; however, this is expensive and charged annually. It’s potentially a good option as a temporary measure until you can move away from a specific application that’s preventing you from moving to the cloud or are waiting to do a big overhaul in a year’s time. However, most companies will see this as a wasted investment trying to hold back the inevitable.
Things often overlooked
If your Server hosts an application and this impacts your plans, do double-check who actually uses it. We have seen situations where a specific application is thought to prevent a whole cloud migration, only to find out actually that only a handful of people actually use it, so you can downsize the Server onsite and let everyone else benefit from the cloud.
Certain applications rely on Active Directory or a Domain Controller being on the same network or within the same Server environment as the application. We have seen companies not check this and try for a hybrid environment, only to find it’s not possible.
Servers can also perform other roles, such as DHCP, DNS, and Print management. So do make sure you are considering all roles when you look to move to something like Microsoft 365.
Still unsure about the best course of action?
We are here to help. Just pick up the phone and give us a call. We are more than happy to offer advice and help guide you on the best option, even if this isn’t going to be a project managed by us.