The impending end of support for Windows Server 2003 is "one of the biggest opportunities in the channel for some time," according to Microsoft's UK general manager of its SME and partner group, Clare Barclay.
From 14 July next year, the vendor will no longer offer free support for the product in the form of patches, updates and security fixes, leaving customers open to a string of potential threats.
Microsoft used the opportunity of its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) - which was held in Washington DC and attracted 16,000 Partner attendees - to kick off its one-year countdown campaign. The issue was a hot topic for execs taking to the main stage, while migration specialists flocked to the expo hall to talk up their offerings to partners.
The channel will be well up to speed on how to run a Windows migration campaign after support for operating system Windows XP stopped in April.
The "XP effect" has been so strong it has managed to do what many considered to be impossible: breathe life into the PC market. There have been significant declines in the PC space over the past few years, with the market hitting rock bottom in the first quarter of 2013 when IDC said shipments saw the steepest decline since records began.
But earlier this month the analyst was far more optimistic as it reported growth in the western European PC market for the first time in two years, largely down to upgrades - particularly in the SMB space - inspired by the end of XP support.
The UK's biggest VAR Computacenter is among those in the channel to cash in. In a Q1 trading statement in April, the London-listed firm claimed that a chunk of its product growth was attributable to Windows XP migration.
The channel might be pleasantly surprised to hear that lightning might in fact strike twice as Server 2003 reaches the end of its support.
"I would hasten to add [the Server 2003 opportunity] is bigger than XP as far as partners are concerned," added Barclay when she spoke to CRN at the WPC event. "If I were running a partner now, that's one of the focuses I would have. Most partners make their money out of servers instead of client technology."
Services provider Office Network Systems agreed the Server 2003 opportunity dwarfed that presented by Windows XP upgrades.
"One vulnerable machine running Windows XP is a problem but it is easily managed," said its operations director Rob Lee. "But one server containing critical data is much harder to manage. There are lots of funky tools out there to protect machines - and we are still seeing lots of businesses running Server 2003 in the field - but it is a damn sight harder to protect them."
Good things come in small packages
Across the globe there are 22 million businesses running Windows Server 2003, according to Microsoft's vice president for global SMB Thomas Hansen. He said that for smaller businesses, which are less likely to keep pace with the fast product-upgrade cycle, the end-of-support date is just the push they need to part with their cash.
"Specifically in the SMB space, [the opportunity] is incredible," he told CRN at WPC. "Let's be candid about this: you cannot afford to have a server that is off support. You want to make sure you have a modern experience there and we know this is going to translate into a tremendous channel opportunity."
He said half of all servers running in SMBs are Windows Server 2003 products and added that he hopes many of these businesses will want to move to Microsoft's Azure cloud offering. He described the chance to move some processes, such as backup, to the cloud as an "awesome, no-brainer, straightforward" option.
"Why would an SMB continue to do backups on-premise?," he said.
But not everyone is so convinced that cloud is the way forward.
Lee from ONS said in a post-Snowden era, customers are more cautious than ever.
"The type of people on [Server] 2003 are the same people who are slower technology adopters and are very questioning," he said. "We've found [some opposition] against the cloud on [Server] 2003 and that is the fallout from the Snowden news.
"If a server is running in an office and someone comes knocking, you can say no, but once it is in the cloud, you can lose control. For a number of businesses... this is a real concern."
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