Fighting against the end-of-life

Death comes to all

Small and medium businesses (SMB's) are the backbone of the British economy. According to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills they make up 48.1 percent of all private sector turnover, at £1,600 billion. But the majority of these businesses are facing a major technology challenge as a number of the systems and servers they rely on for day-to-day business operations are rapidly approaching the end of their supported life.

Windows Server 2003 dependence

It is currently estimated that there are between 2.6 million and 11 million installations of Windows Server 2003 in the market globally, a product which will reach it's end of support date in July 2015. According to a report from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), 61 percent of firms in the UK are dependent on this platform. That translates to between a quarter and a half of a million SMB's which still use Windows Server 2003 for core elements of their day-to-day IT operations.

July 2015 may seem a long way off, but organisations need to start thinking about an infrastructure refresh now and decide how to use this opportunity to dramatically move their spend on IT away from 'keeping the lights on' to driving long term agility and efficiency in their business.

FUD clear to see

The fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding inaction on this is clear for anyone to see. SMB's who fail to, or choose not to migrate from Windows Server 2003 will be putting themselves, their customers and their partners at materially increased risk.

Security and supportability are crucial aspects of IT operations in any business and, if they don't migrate, these 'laggards' will be increasing their vulnerability as security patches cease from next July.

For many SMB's turning to the next iteration of a solution seems like a logical step, shifting from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 for example, might seem to makes sense. However, this misses the point that it's not just about an operating system (as good as WS 2012 is). What SMB's really need is IT that not only works, but is kept current, patched, backed up and above all is affordable and that adapts with their business needs over time.

Who wants to spend?

Who wants big capital expenditure on servers in this day and age? Certainly not cash strapped SMB's. Equally why perpetuate a model of delivering IT that arguably requires over 60 percent of the effort and budget devoted to just keeping the lights on.

Unsurprisingly cloud computing has become one of the top choices for SMB's grappling with this dilemma. By the end of 2013, CIF reported that 69% of SMB's had adopted at least one cloud based service. The popularity of cloud based solutions has grown at an incredible rate and there's no hiding from the huge impact it's had on the way that businesses of all sizes buy, operate and manage their IT systems, to the extent that KMPG called it the 'most disruptive force in business in the past 20 years'.

Alongside the onset of cloud as a viable IT deployment model there has continued to be a realisation that the market for the foreseeable future is hybrid (part on-premise/part in-cloud).

Hybrid challenges

Of course hybrid has its own management challenges. Larger enterprises have invested in hybrid architectures and management systems to help them harness the benefits from the opportunity. Running applications where best suited and storing data where required, with the support to navigate the complexity.

For the SMB such solutions have been more elusive and as such the traditional like-for-like 'refresh' risks becomes a never ending three-six year cycle of wasted costs and opportunity. SMB's are demanding a solution that remains current, enables cloud adoption where desired and can adapt over time.

On premise is not dead

On-premise technology is not dead in the age of cloud computing, but it has to be re-imagined to be the intelligent edge of the cloud, or the gateway or cloud hub if you prefer, governing access to cloud services whilst providing the local assurance desired for the storage of sensitive data. The custodian of user credentials from which single sign on can be initiated to any number of external solutions

Many industry analysts are already talking about hybrid cloud as the future of IT and much of the market is already starting to reflect this. For SMB's it should also be argued that a hybrid environment creates an opportunity for IT as a whole to be delivered as a service, where a managed service provider uses cloud managed server appliances on premise alongside cloud hosted applications to deliver an efficient and effective solution that can evolve and scale to meet the customers' needs.

It is easy to be cynical about the end-of-life of technology, but the fact that Windows Server 2003 has lasted the time that it has is clear testament to its popularity and capability. As such when facing the choice of what to do next businesses need to look beyond just the operating system, right down to the deployment model and how they best embrace the cloud opportunity with the hybrid model.

  • Nick East is co-founder and CEO of UK start-up Zynstra