Obsolescence is a fact of life in the IT industry: currently there are deadlines approaching for Windows Server, 32-bit software, IPv4, and many other components which are crucial to BAU operations for most enterprises. So what does “end of life” actually mean?
Planned obsolescence used to have negative connotations, but nowadays it’s standard business practice. US English even has a verb “to obsolete”, with a dictionary definition as follows:
Verb: Cause (a product or idea) to become obsolete by replacing it with something new. Example: “We’re trying to stimulate the business by obsoleting last year’s designs”
In other words, manufacturers (certainly in IT) decide that a product is obsolete, “end of life” or “out of support” for business reasons. The product may still be fully functional, as good as ever, and perfectly capable of maintaining operations indefinitely into the future, but the manufacturer wants to sell something new to replace it, or wants to remove the cost and effort of supporting it.
Windows 2003 Server
This is certainly the case with Windows Server versions. Windows 2003 Server has been out of full support since 2010 and extended support is due to end in March 2015. Coincidentally, this is just after the end of full support (EOS) and start of extended support for Windows Server 2008. Note that the date for EOS of Windows server 2008 was originally July 2013, but Microsoft has changed this to January 2015 for business reasons (not enough time to migrate customers to Windows Server 2012), showing that these dates are purely arbitrary. Your servers will not cease to function on a given day, like the replicants in Bladerunner. Microsoft just won’t help you with them any more. But other organisations can provide support. In fact, PSS currently supports systems which are running up to fifteen years after their EOS date.
So you can keep your Windows 2003 servers running beyond Microsoft’s arbitrary “out of support” deadline. On the upside, there will be no more Microsoft updates to manage, no more monthly Patch Tuesday fall-out, and no need to worry about future withdrawal of Microsoft support. On the downside, of course, there will be no more security patches, no more fixes for existing Microsoft bugs (although the likelihood of undiscovered bugs is low, and there will be no new bugs introduced by Microsoft updates), and probably no more alerts to possible vulnerabilities.
The question is, do you need to patch your servers, fix bugs, and worry about vulnerabilities?
If your servers have been running without issues for some time, are properly maintained and backed up, and crucially are not exposed to the public internet, then the answer may be no. You may be able to operate your systems in their current state indefinitely.
If, on the other hand, your servers are fragile or are exposed to the public internet, then you may be forced to follow Microsoft’s agenda and upgrade.
Which brings us to IPv6.
IPv6 is the standard for IP addresses which updates the current IPv4 addresses most of us are used to, e.g. 127.0.0.1 or 188.8.131.52
IPv6 will not replace IPv4 in any clear sense – or at least, not for a decade or two yet. Most systems which support IPv6 also support IPv4.
One of the reasons for introducing IPv6 is that the number of IP addresses available in IPv4 is limited to about 4 billion, and since the same IP address cannot appear twice on the same network, the proliferation of devices with IP addresses (phones, tablets, fridges etc.) and the increasing reach of the internet means that sooner or later we will run out of IPv4 addresses. In fact, in some cases we have run out already, and some enterprises have already been obliged to switch to IPv6 for their public IP addresses.
The key word is “public”. It is perfectly possible – and common practice currently – for enterprises to hide most of their internal IP addresses behind routers, firewalls, and other barriers. Since these addresses do not appear on the public internet, they can continue to use IPv4 even though the public addresses have switched to IPv6. Techniques such as Network Address Translation (NAT) make it possible to use IPv4 and IPv6 side by side.
If you have a system – such as an old IVR server, or a mainframe – which does not support IPv6, and you are faced with the need to upgrade your IP addresses to IPv6, it is a relatively simple matter to maintain an internal IPv4 network and use NAT or other techniques to communicate between the two standards. You may already have exactly the right technology in place for security or efficiency reasons, to avoid exposing IP addresses and communication ports to unwanted network traffic.
In short, IPv6 need not prevent the operation of components which require IPv4: the two standards are compatible, and the mapping between them is well understood and likely to be widely used for at least the next ten years.
Related Issues: Gigabit Ethernet, 64-bit Software, Browsers
With the pace of change in software and IT generally, there will always be components which are retired, deprecated, obsolete, or otherwise no longer fully supported by the supplier. Examples which spring to mind are 100Mb Ethernet (now mostly replaced by gigabit Ethernet) and 32-bit software (still widely supported, but gradually being replaced by 64-bit versions).
Perhaps surprisingly, one area where we have seen many problems is the support for older versions of browsers, particularly Internet Explorer. Microsoft has pushed out new versions of IE quite aggressively in recent years, moving from IE7 to IE10 and beyond. Many enterprise servers are still running IE5 or IE6, which causes compatibility issues with recent web interfaces for management, reporting and other operations. But again, if you don’t need to upgrade any components, this probably isn’t an issue for you.
Maybe a better question for this article is, just how painful is it to upgrade? The bottom line is, upgrading is a business decision. But it should be YOUR business decision – not your supplier’s.
PSS Can Help
PSS helps many customers to operate systems which are officially “end of life” or “out of support”. If you want to keep your functioning systems running despite supplier pressure to upgrade, talk to PSS about your options. If you want to upgrade for your own business reasons, we can help you with that too!
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