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Migrating from Windows 2003 Server to Windows 2012 R2 Server Essentials

posted 26 Jul 2015, 16:57 by Andrew at Lycom   [ updated 26 Jul 2015, 17:19 ]
I have to admit a fondness for Windows 2003 Server - OK as as web hosting server it had problems, but as a back office server it excelled. Active Directory, Group Policies, File and Print - a great solution for companies large and small (and I've worked for both). But, the time came in July to consign it to the un-patched graveyard.

Recently, I had to upgrade a company's Windows Server 2003 environment - I chose to go for adding more RAM to the best Dell Poweredge server and installing Windows 2012 R2 Server Essentials as the sole Windows server. Other services - firewall and VPN (IPFIRE) / backup (BackupPC) / DNS / DHCP and so on - are provided by Linux. This enables the use of most of the existing hardware, and minimises the licensing spend (you get 25 CAL licenses built in with Server Essentials) - the complete Server Essentials package cost around£250, and I've paid way more than that on Windows CAL licenses alone in the past!

(Unfortunately, you can't just upgrade from Windows 2003 to Windows 2012 as one is 32 bit and the other is 64 bit.)

The process was as follows:
  1. Move all the Active Directory FSMO master roles onto the Win 2003 server to be retired
  2. Make a copy of the data and settings on the Win 2003 server whose hardware is to be re-used
  3. Demote (with dcpromo) this latter domain controller, and remove it from the domain
  4. Install Windows 2012 Essentials on this hardware, wiping out the existing system partition
  5. Join it as a member server to the AD domain
  6. Add the AD DS roles to this server, and make it a domain controller
  7. Seize the AD FSMO master roles back onto this server
  8. Demote (with dcpromo) the old Windows 2003 domain controller, and remove it from the domain
  9. Configure the new Windows 2012 server for file & print, and other services
  10. Use Linux on some hardware freed up by the migration to provide some redundancy of those services (DHCP / DNS etc)
It was mostly straighforward, although you need to know your way around Active Directory to get yourself out of a hole at times - I got caught out as I had forgotten to raise the AD FOREST functional level to Windows 2003 (as well as the DOMAIN) and could not get the Windows 2012 AD wizard to work until I figured this out! 

Also, you need to remember to change the DNS settings on the network adapter of the server you are moving to point first to the old server (to see its DNS zones when it becomes the sole AD DC) and then back home again (when it becomes a DNS server once more).


Always remember to get your network time clocks sorted before embarking on this as time differences between servers can wreak havoc. See for example this post.

w32tm /config / /syncfromflags:MANUAL
net stop w32time
net start w32time
w32tm /query /status


Useful reading material if you are thinking about doing this:

Migrating Applications

I also managed to move a few applications across to the 'new' server by installing the same version and then copying over the settings / repositories from the old (saved) drive:

ESET Antivirus

Cloudberry Backup

The Verdict

Overall, although nostalgic for the days of Windows 2003, I'm reasonably impressed with Windows 2012 Server Essentials. I can't bear fighting through widgets and wizards, and the awful Windows 8 style start menu, but that's my general gripe with MSFT stuff these days.

Next step, see if it is possible to extend one of the Linux boxes to act as a backup AD domain controller:

Hmmm, more reading required...