Windows Server 2003

WS2003 migration: On-premises, cloud, or hybrid? How to choose

Windows Server 2003

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Many firms in the middle of making the transition from Windows Server 2003 are debating not only what OS to deploy but also where to deploy their applications and their data. The decision is neither easy, nor simple, for most. The only organizations with an easier decision than others are those with strict government regulation and oversight and that's because you don't have a choice. For example, thanks to HIPPA regulations, you can bet no medical records will ever be stored on Amazon S3, and if they ever are, someone is going to jail.

As companies plan a migration off Windows Server 2003, they are taking the time to make a complete analysis of their infrastructure and decide what kinds of changes to make to their IT systems. They basically face three options: stay with the on-premises solution; go to the cloud; take a hybrid approach, mixing on-premises with cloud deployment.

Before you decide which approach is right for your organization, you must take a complete inventory, said Stuart Kalman, director of the Microsoft Alliance in HP's Global Channels Business. "The best way to do a migration is to do an assessment of the environment. You need to understand what you are running but also where you need to take your business. Then decide if it makes sense to keep everything on premises.

"We found many customers didn’t know all the instances of Windows Server running in their environment," Kalman explained. "Most think only of the workload. A full inventory is needed because there are interdependencies of servers, one touching another."

Once a company has that assessment, it can start to think about preferred business value outcomes. "They might have eight- to ten-year-old custom apps. Are they still providing value? Do they need to be rewritten or moved or focused on being accessible from a mobile device? All of these need to be determined," said Kalman.

Knowing what you have is the first step in knowing where to go in terms of target platform. Then you need to weigh the pros and cons.


The pros of on-premises are self-evident because you've already lived with them. Data is secure within your firewalls, which is mandatory in regulated industries like health care and finance. The only real latency is how fast the data can be loaded from the hard drives. You can easily integrate your systems since they are all internal. And you are firmly in control of your apps and data and where everything resides.

The down side is the expense, both initial and ongoing. You have to make the initial large investment in hardware, software licenses, networking, and undoubtedly consulting services to sew it all together. Then there is the ongoing expense of maintaining a data center, which means everything from the staff to the electric bill to fixing machines that fail. And if you need more server capacity, you’ll need to request bids from providers, decide whose servers to buy, place the order, and deploy the servers. All of that can take weeks if not months.


Cloud is, in many ways, the exact opposite of on-premises, in both its pros and cons.

Your expenses are greatly reduced when you shift to the cloud. You don't need as much IT staff because you don't have anywhere near the hardware to manage. There's little to no infrastructure investment, and no massive up-front capital expenses. For a company with a mobile workforce, the cloud means easier remote access to services.

And there is greater elasticity in the cloud than in an on-premises data center. In the cloud, you can have additional capacity spun up in five minutes. Maybe 10.

On the down side, performance is likely to be an issue because you never know what kind of connection you will have to the servers. It might be an issue of bandwidth on your end or on the cloud provider's. They are at the mercy of a clogged Internet despite their best efforts, and outages have happened. On-premises servers often have a guaranteed 99.999% uptime, while the best cloud providers can promise in their service level agreements is 99.95%.

Other potential issues include how comfortable you are ceding control to a third party. When you are operating a cloud app you are running a managed service but that app is being managed by someone else. It's all outside your network control.

You also need to consider security and data integrity, both from hackers and from a legal standpoint. There's compliance, and then there's just the plain old issue of how comfortable you are with your app and data sitting outside of your data center in a multi-tenant environment.

Finally, there are dozens of cloud providers to choose from beyond Microsoft, Amazon and Google, and determining the best is not easy. And if you decide to switch cloud providers, that move will be difficult. Once you choose a cloud vendor, you are as locked in as you are with an RDBMS vendor.

Also consider that a shakeout in the industry is inevitable. We've already had a few firms fall to the wayside. Nirvanix and Megacloud are two cloud providers that went bankrupt and left customers hanging. In addition, Symantec had a cloud service called Backup Exec that it closed down, but it gave customers a warning and helped them move to new providers.

Hybrid model

It could be argued that the hybrid model of mixing on-premises and cloud according to needs and regulations is the best of both worlds that eliminates the down sides of both.

The hybrid model lets you take a look at all your apps and on an individual basis choose what should live where. You can put as much in the cloud as you are comfortable with, and are allowed. That will reduce your capital expenses and other investments in on-premises by some percentage, depending on how much you move to the cloud.

For your on-premises situation, you get the security for your data, low latency, plus hopefully some extra capacity for when you need extra computing power, backups or disaster recovery.

The hybrid model has the strongest advocates. "Hybrid takes the best of on-premises and the best of the cloud and helps you makes a decision on a business-by-business or app-by-app basis," said Nick East, CEO of Zynstra, which specializes in Windows Server 2003 migrations to a hybrid solution. "It's not a black and white question. In the vast majority of cases you can have an extremely effective solution if you go hybrid."

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