Bye Windows Server 2003, In Remembrance

In case you were hiding under a rock, Microsoft recently terminated extended support for Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, and related version of Small Business Server (SBS) on July 14th. It’s a pretty emotional time for me, and I wonder how I’ll cope.

Deep Impact

My first really cool job was when I was signed up as the Microsoft Network Team Lead for an international financial company that was headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, in mid-2003. This company spinned off from an old German bank, where IT was based on Window NT 4.0 Server and Workstation with Office 97. Cobwebs were everywhere in this IT infrastructure, and I was given the freedom to update the systems throughout the global operation. There were many who objected and clung onto their local primary domain controllers, but with a lot of tenacity and some phone-flinging, we went from evaluation to completed migration of a global company of desktops and servers in a six-month period.
We did some very cool things. We used a single domain that featured centralized management and delegated administration. We also used Group Policy to pre-configure desktops for those used to NT 4.0, lock down the experience for security, and even to distribute software before adopting SMS 2003. We used WSUS when most still hadn’t heard of patching. And we even used Remote Installation Service (RIS) to deploy our Windows XP desktop image before there was WDS, MDT or SCCM OS deployment. Those were the good ol’ days when I came into work at 7:30 in the morning and left 12 hours later because I was having fun developing solutions in the lab and then deploying them in production.

Times Change

As often happens in corporations, things changed, and my job got shipped overseas. Even back then, I was planning an evaluation of Windows Server 2003 R2. As much as a rock as Windows Server 2003 had been, I was always one to keep up with the times and provide better solutions for the business. I had use File Replication Service (FRS) to replicate static content around our WAN, and I was itching to use Distributed File System Replication (DFS-R) and Namespace (DFS-N) in new ways to enable disaster recovery and centralize backup functionality.
I had a nice lab in that old job; it was a rack of PCs that ran clones of our production system on a physically isolated network. I later started to run Microsoft’s Virtual Server 2005, where we actually paid for it the day it was first made GA before it was made free, to allow me more capacity and flexibility. Our computer room struggled with space and we deployed Virtual Server in production and started to migrate smaller workloads to the virtualization platform. I’m pretty sure that if I was still there at the time, I would have deployed Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, mainly because I was committed to what would become System Center and I understood the grand vision.
We struggled with some elements of Active Directory administration. The Active Directory Administration Center that started to evolve with Windows Server 2008 R2 and into Windows Server 2012. This would have offered use huge benefits. An integration with Azure AD (with Premium) would have given us self-service password resets, integration into third-party SaaS, and better support for remote and roaming users.
Most of our business was driven by virtual teams that came and went with the weather. We had started to use SharePoint to facilitate these teams because file servers sucked across the WAN. Improvements in the Vista/W2008 networking stack, along with BranchCache would have solved many of these issues.
Most of what we ran was business critical. A lot of time was spent on disaster recovery, with each office mandated to have a DR site. If only we’d had Hyper-V Replica, and even Azure Site Recovery (ASR). We could have replicated virtual machines from each site into Azure, and not have to have spent millions of Euros on globally dispersed physical locations with clones of the production sites’ computer rooms. Testing would have been easier, even if it came with a less impressive collection of air miles.
In 2004, we started to get pressure from users wanting something called a Blackberry. We resisted but that was a waste of time. I can only imagine how smartphones, tablets, and BYO devices would have penetrated the network. Workplace Join and the Web Application Proxy would have been hugely important additions in WS2012, along with the mobile management capabilities of the EMS suite.
I could go on and on:

  • Azure Rights Management Services
  • Data deduplication
  • Scale-Out File Server
  • IPAM
  • Failover Clustering
  • File Server Resource Management
  • PowerShell
  • And so much more!

What I’m trying to say here is that Windows Server 2003 was an amazing product from day 1. It was solid, dependable, and it did what it said on the tin. It was the Server OS that killed off Novell and convinced people that Active Directory and Microsoft’s client/server solution were viable alternatives. But times change, the demands of business change, the ways that we work change, and with that so should the version of Server that we use change.