Automating the Stateful Re-Install of Legacy Windows Server Apps on a Modern Server

The advantages of a stateful re-install

How do you move forward with re-installing legacy Windows Server applications on new servers?  

Quite likely, install scripts are missing, developers are gone, application owners have left, and new owners don’t understand their applications. Maybe the software ISV is out of business. Common sense makes people believe that moving to new servers and a new operating system will break applications. Olzak states, “Legacy applications can be some of the hardest and most frustrating applications to support in any corporate environment.” A legacy app may be critical to an organization’s day-to-day operations yet be, as this whitepaper says, “difficult (or impossible) to maintain, support, improve, or integrate with the new systems due to its architecture, underlying technology, or design.” 

At VirtaMove, however, we have developed a solution. We do automated, stateful re-installs of old apps on new servers every day. We successfully automate the installation of Windows 2000, WS2003, and WS2008 applications on new virtual machines and servers running WS2012, WS2016, and now WS2019. It’s not magic, it’s intelligent automation and the benefits are real.

What is a stateful re-install?

Most applications are stateful, which means that historical client, user, preference, and configuration data persists and is needed from one session to another. Stateful applications tend to be monolithic and include much of the software used by enterprises, such as WebLogic, MySQL, or PostgreSQL.

The are many advantages to re-installing stateful applications on a new server and modern operating system, especially in multi-tiered and multi-server computing environments where applications are co-dependant and need to continue to play well together. Additional benefits include:

  • A re-install of apps on a new server and modern operating system closes known security exposures on old W2K and WS2003 servers.
  • Moving beyond WS2003 eliminates WannaCry, NotPetya, and Vault 7 malware risks. New hardware closes Spectre and Meltdown security holes. Your apps will run on a supported OS and your IT audit and compliance teams will be happy.
  • Running on new hardware improves performance. New servers run faster. You’ll get more work done with your existing apps.
  • Stateful re-installs allow applications to be split and installed on separate servers or apps can be consolidated and installed on a single server. It’s a chance to reconfigure where apps run.
  • Some application software components, such as IIS and SQL, can be upgraded on-the-fly for new servers. New software components run faster, are more secure, and provide advanced features.
  • A re-install of apps on a modern, standard operating system reduces application clutter, cleans up log files, eliminates unnecessary apps and lets you run on modern datacenter VMs or the cloud. It also reduces OS patch management and lets you manage servers with advanced DevOps tools.

What is stateless computing?

In contrast, stateless computing involves breaking a problem into smaller service components that do not carry the burden of historical configuration data. Each request for the service is handled in a consistent way without regard to the history of the requestor. Examples of stateless services might be websites (without cookies), mathematical calculations (mortgage calculators), and other microservices where current parameters are provided and consistent results are returned for each request.

Stateless microservices may be advantageous because they are easily scalable; if the number of requests increases significantly, more copies of the service can be spawned across one or many servers to handle the increase in requests. Spawning services dynamically reduces wait times and more requests can be serviced or work can be completed. Microservices are often containerized or virtualized, which means that the service can be managed with container orchestration tools.

Unfortunately, 99.99% of legacy applications are not stateless – they are monolithic applications, where historical configuration and preference information matters.

How do you move stateful legacy apps?

At VirtaMove, we developed our own proprietary, lightweight container over a decade ago as a moving box for stateful legacy applications. Our intelligent migration software automatically discovers applications across your network, and then packages a legacy application and all its dependencies and components into our container on the new destination server. The containerized application is isolated from the underlying operating system and portable. Perfect for testing on a new OS and a new server.

However, there’s no permanent reliance on our container: it can be removed at the end of the moving process. Free of the container, the application is re-installed on the new destination server. It can then run natively on a modern Windows Server OS, with all its configuration, patches, and upgrades intact.

Gain immediate productivity and squeeze more life out of legacy apps

The VirtaMove solution allows you to bring a legacy application forward and extend its useful life. If you have functional improvements for the app, you can plan for and address them over time, as your budget permits. You can manage the legacy application using a conventional change management process. You’re not permanently locked into a container with associated overhead and maintenance.

Perhaps you are not a greenfield, new development shop. Perhaps your budgetary constraints rule out a big redevelopment project any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re forced to live with the many risks associated with running business-critical apps on unsupported operating systems and ancient hardware. Our containerization approach lets you gain immediate productivity and squeeze more life out of legacy apps, with a minimum of cost and risk. We don’t need install scripts, developers, or app owners to learn and re-install apps.

An automated re-install on a new server takes much less time than a manual re-installation. In typical IT operations environments, VirtaMove software provides a ten times improvement in the number of applications that can be re-installed and cut-over into production by a trained engineer in one month.

The VirtaMove virtualization approach gives legacy applications a second life. It allows you to, as Olzak says, “preserve and support a legacy application without having to maintain it in its original state.” The proof of our Windows Server application migration work is that we move legacy programs into production on modern secure servers, every day. If you need to move your legacy Windows Server applications or would like to understand more about what VirtaMove does, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are pleased to share our domain expertise and what we know.