In less than a week, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows Server 2003 – and a huge majority of companies using the operating system haven’t even begun migrating their systems. The risks to organisations will increase after next Wednesday when Microsoft stops issuing patches for Windows 2003, but the company stresses that the most compelling reason for upgrading is the ability to transform to a mobile-first, cloud-first business.

To date, however, fewer than half of companies have started the transition journey, with about 60% – or a total of 23,9-million instances – still not on the path yet.

“This is a big moment,” says Leon Wright, cloud and enterprise business group lead at Microsoft SA. “Windows Server 2003 has been a very successful operating system so it is a big challenge to transition.”

He stresses that customers might feel they are being forced to make the move to Windows Server 2012, but there are many good reasons to do so. “This is an inflexion point; if you don’t there will be certain repercussions, but there is also an opportunity to transform.”

In just six days, he adds, Microsoft will cease its support for the operating systems: there will be no more support, no patches and no updates. “Customers will essentially be unsupported. If something happens we will be unable to assist them.”

Wright adds that Microsoft has been working with its customers and partners over the last couple of years to ensure companies migrate from the aging operating system. But, although there have been some successes, as many as 60% of the installed base is still not planning the move yet.

Yes, Windows Server 2003 will continue to work after next Wednesday, but there will be implications around governance and compliance, Wright adds. “If you are in the payment card industry, there will be a massive impact because you will not be compliant and will be unable to drive credit card applications.”

There are also security issues. With no new patches being released, Windows Server 2003 users could be vulnerable to new zero-day attacks.

Of course, migrating the server operating system is not a trivial task, and Wright says companies need to plan the migration across their entire ecosystem, with customised or integrate applications possibly having to be modernised before they can be moved.

The partner ecosystem is available to assist users, as well as a wealth of online training.

The most obvious benefit of migrating from Windows Server 2003 is in seizing the opportunity to move to the cloud, Wright says. “There is a well laid-out plan for getting users to Windows Server 2012, which unlocks cloud services and mobile services.”