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How to avoid Microsoft Windows 2003 migration headaches

As Microsoft releases newer operating systems beyond Windows Server 2003, (WS2003) healthcare organizations must either remove legacy Windows servers from their environment or subscribe to Microsoft’s customer support agreement, which can cost up to millions of dollars depending on the number of servers needing extended security patches.

Further, many healthcare applications – ranging from patient records to financials – don't provide support for out-of-date versions of Windows. By clearly understanding the full server environment, obtaining executive sponsorship, preparing to contract application vendors, and ensuring infrastructure capacity is available, healthcare organizations can avoid major Windows migration headaches.

After a healthcare organization is ready to upgrade, it can often take as long as two years to remove legacy servers from the environment, depending on the scale and complexity of the server footprint. The recommended options for removing WS2003 servers are to either decommission unnecessary servers or migrate them to Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2008R2.

Decommissioning is the quickest way to remove legacy servers and saves on maintenance, power and cooling. To determine how many servers can be decommissioned versus migrated, organizations should start by assessing the environment.

Capture current server environment. Capturing the full picture of the current server environment is critical prior to Microsoft or another third-party services provider starting the migration.

Healthcare organizations should begin by taking a complete inventory of servers in the environment, their location, active versus inactive status, which applications are running on them and number of users accessing each server. Additionally, organizations should identify the application users, how the application is used, as well as the owner of record for each server. This will help in making key hardware and migration path decisions.

Decommission out-of-support servers, when possible. The server inventory analysis is critical for determining which out-of-support servers can be removed by decommissioning as Microsoft continues charging its customer support agreement fee even if out-of-support servers aren’t being utilized (but still on the network). For one healthcare organization client, we found that 40 percent of their WS2003 servers did not need migrating and could simply be decommissioned, which allowed the client to quickly reduce server counts and generate immediate savings on the associated support costs.

Elevate migration priority. Once the external migration team is onboard, they will have to gather critical application information to determine whether the applications can be migrated onto the new system. Executives are typically motivated to avoid customer support agreement fees and reduce the risk of running applications on unsupported operating systems. This strategy needs to be clearly communicated from executives to application owners in Finance, Legal, and Infrastructure teams ahead of time to enable the application owners to plan for the migration and prioritize their time accordingly.

It is also key for healthcare organizations to prioritize their migration list, for example, by mission-critical apps, location or user count. Major complex applications can often take as much as eight months to migrate—requiring the most time and resources from the outset. The organization’s IT leadership needs to decide which applications are critical to migrate first. For example, is a single server supporting more than 500 clinical users the top priority, or does a key enterprise-wide payroll application running on WS2003 requiring an immediate upgrade take precedence? Taking the time to set migration priorities at the beginning is a critical step.

Determine capacity to avoid infrastructure bottlenecks. With an accurate picture of the current server environment, a list of servers to be decommissioned, and server utilization reports, healthcare organizations and their migration partners can determine how much infrastructure capacity is required to replace old servers. Additional capacity is needed during the migration so the new servers can be tested before the old servers are decommissioned. Knowing what type of infrastructure is needed, for example, physical vs. virtual, also is important.

Contracting application vendors. Finally, certain healthcare applications can only be migrated with the assistance of the application vendor. For a recent healthcare client, 80 percent of its healthcare applications required migration services from the application vendors’ dedicated migration teams and could not be migrated by the client’s migration team alone. Application vendor involvement costs can vary considerably depending on the complexity and age of the legacy system. For example, a nurse call application upgrade required the application vendor to go floor-by-floor to upgrade legacy systems and servers and replace 180 nurse call badges. It is important to take these additional costs into account when forecasting the WS2003 server removal budget.

Microsoft server migrations are complex but healthcare organizations that commit to a robust migration plan and prepare the server environment before the field transition begins can help mitigate bottlenecks and make the overall process more manageable and efficient.

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