windows 2008 Failover cluster setup (101 guide)

Before jumping into the High availability it would be a really good if all of readers can sit on the same level about the clustering technology as well. Recently enough I went through the history of the clustering to get an idea about it, interestingly enough there are lot more than meets the eye on clustering 🙂 Some history info about clustering can be found over here
What is clustering – In its most elementary definition, a server cluster is at least two independent computers that are logically and sometimes physically joined and presented to a network as a single host. That is to say, although each computer (called a node) in a cluster has its own resources, such as CPUs, RAM, hard drives, network cards, etc., the cluster as such is advertised to the network as a single host name with a single Internet Protocol (IP) address. As far as network users are concerned, the cluster is a single server, not a rack of two, four, eight or however many nodes comprise the cluster resource group.

Why cluster – Availability:  Avoids problems resulting from systems failures.
                    Scalability: Additional systems can be added as needs increase.
                    Lower Cost:  Supercomputer power at commodity prices.

What are the cluster types

  • Distributed Processing Clusters
    • Used to increase the speed of  large computational tasks
    • Tasks are broken down and worked on by many small systems rather than one large
    • system (parallel processing).
    • Often deployed for tasks previously handled only by supercomputers.
    • Used for scientific or financial analysis.
  • Failover Clusters
    • Used to increase the availability and serviceability of network services.
    • A given application runs on only one of the nodes, but each node can run one or more applications.
    • Each node or application has a unique identity visible to the “outside world.”
    • When an application or node fails, its services are migrated to another node.
    • The identity of the failed node is also migrated.
    • Works with most applications as long as they are scriptable.
    • Used for database servers, mail servers or file servers.
  • High Availability Load Balancing Clusters
    • Used to increase the availability, serviceability and scalability of network services.
    • A given application runs on all of the nodes and a given node can host multiple applications.
    • The “outside world” interacts with the cluster and individual nodes are “hidden.”
    • Large cluster pools are supported.
    • When a node or service fails, it is removed from the cluster.  No failover is necessary.
    • Applications do not need to be specialized, but HA clustering works best with stateless applications that can be run concurrently.
    • Systems do not need to be homogeneous.
    • Used for web servers, mail servers or FTP servers.

Now coming back into the Microsoft clustering clustering it goes back to good old NT 4.0 era with the code name “wolf pack” After that  Microsoft clustering technology came all the way step by step growing and improving. Windows 2000 period giving the confidence for customers on the stability of the Microsoft clustering technology. If there are filed engineers who have configured the Windows 2003 clustering will know the painful steps they have to follow configure the clustering. When it comes to Windows 2003 R2 Microsoft offered various tools and wizards to make the clustering process less painful process to engineers. If you’re planning to configure windows 2003 clustering one place you definitely look into is this site.

Now we’re in the windows 2008 era and clustering has been improved dramatically in the configuration side and as well as in the stability wise. Windows 2008 clustering has given the code name as “Windows failover clustering

As I always have been updating the audience in public sessions clustering is no longer going to be a technology focus by Enterprise market. Clustering can be utilized by SMB and SME market as well with a fraction of the cost.  As usual I will be focusing on the HYPER-V  and how combine with clustering can help the users to get the maximum benefits out for virtualization and high availability. HYPER-V  been Microsoft flagship technology for the virtualization. It’s a 100% bare metal hyper visor technology. There are lot of misguided conception on HYPE-V is not a true hypervisor, the main argument point highlighted is you need to have windows 2008 to run the HYPER-V. This is wrong!!! You can setup on the HYPER-V hyper visor software in bare metal server and setup the virtual pc’s. HYPER-V only free version can be download from here. Comparisons on HYPER-V can be found over here.

So now we have somewhat idea about the clustering technology so how can it applied to the HYPER-V environment and have a high available virtual environment? We’ll have a look at a recommended setup for this scenario,


According to the picture we’ll need 2 physical servers. We’ll call them Host1 and Host2. Each host must 64bit and have Virtualization supported processor. Apart from that Microsoft recommended to have the certified hardware. Base on my knowledge I would say minimum environment should be as follows,

1. Branded servers with Intel Xeon Quad core processor. (better 2 have 2 sockets M/B for future expansion.)
2. 8 GB memory and minimum 3 nics. always better to have additional nics.
3. 2*76 GB SAS or SATA HDD for the Host operating system.
4. SAN Storage. (Just hold there folks, there are easy way to solve this expensive matter….:)

Now the above system has the full capability to handle decent amount workload. Now the configuration part 🙂 I’ll try to summarize the steps along with additional tips when necessary. Following steps will help you to configure a Windows 2008 File server cluster. HYPER-V high availability will be followed the same steps. Due to hardware limitation I have decided to demonstrate Windows 2008 File server clustering.

1. Install windows 2008 Enterprise or Datacenter edition to each Host computer. Make sure both of them get the latest updates and both host will have same updates for all the software.

2. Go ahead and install the HYPER-v role.

3. Configure the NIC’s accordingly. taking one host as the example NIC configuration will be as follows,
    a) One NIC will be connected to your production environment. So you can add the IP, DG, SB and DNS
    b) Second NIC will be the heartbeat connection between the 2 host servers. So add IP address and the SB only. Make sure it will be totally     different IP class.
    c) Third NIC will be configured to communicate with the SAN storage. I’m assuming we’ll be using iSCSI over IP.

4. Now for the SAN storage you can go ahead and buy the expensive SAN storage for HP, DELL or EMC (no offence with me guys 🙂 ) but their are customers who can’t afford that price tag. For them the good new is you can convert your existing servers into a SAN storage. We’re talking about converting you’re existing x86 systems into Software based SAN storage which use iSCSI protocol. There are third party companies which provide software for this. Personally I prefer StarWind iSCSI software.
So all you have to do is add enough HDD space to your server and then using the third party iSCSI software convert your system to SAN storage. This will be the central storage for the two HYPER-V  enabled host computers.

4. Go ahead and create the necessary storage at the SAN server. How to create the cluster quorum disk and other disk storage will be available from the relevant storage vendor documentation. When it comes to quorum disk try to make it 512MB if possible but most SAN storage won’t allow you to create a LUN below 1024 MB so in that case act accordingly. (Anyway here goes few steps how to create relevant disks under StarWind)

Starwind-2 Starwind-3 Starwind-7

Starwind-8 Starwind-10

5. Go to one host computer and then add the Clustering feature.

Cluster feature

6. Go to the iSCSI initiator in the Host1 and then connect to the SAN storage.  As seen on the picture click add portal and enter the IP address of SAN storage.  One connected it’ll show the relevant disk mappings. (That easy in Windows 2008 R2 now)


iSCSI-4 iscsi-win7-init

7. Once that complete go to Disk management and unitize the disk and format them and assign drive letters accordingly. (Eg: Drive letter Q for Quorum disk…etc)

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8. Go to Host2 open iSCSI imitator and add the SAN storage. Go to Disk management and add the same drive letters to the disks as configured on Host1.

9. Go to cluster configuration and start setting up the cluster. One cool thing about Windows 2008 cluster setup is cluster validation wizard. It will do a serious of configuration checkup to make sure if you have configured the cluster setup steps correctly. This wizard is a must and you need to keep this report safely in case if you need to get Microsoft support or a technical personas support. One the cluster validation completed we can go ahead add the cluster role. In this case we’ll be selecting File Server as our cluster role.

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10.  Once the cluster validation is completed, go ahead and create a cluster service. In this demonstration I’ll use clustered file server feature.

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Go ahead and give a cluster administration name for the cluster, and after that select a disk for the shared storage. for this we’ll use a disk created in the SAN storage,

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11. Once that step is completed you’ll be back in the cluster management console. Now you’ll be able to see the cluster server name you’re created. So we have created cluster but still we didn’t share any storage. Now we’ll go ahead and create shared folder an assign few files so users can see them,

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Now once we login from a client PC we can type the UNC path and access the shared data in the clustered file server 🙂

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Phew…!! that was a long article I’ have every written 🙂 Ok I guess by now you’ll have the idea Windows 2008 clustering is not very complicated if you have the right tools and the resources. Now that is the out layer internally to secure the environment we’ll need to consider about either CHAP authentications, IPSec…etc. Since this is 101 article i kept everything is simple manner.

Let me know your comments (good or bad)about the article so I’ll be able to provide better information which will be helpful for you all.

Upgrading your Domain controllers to Windows 2008 or Windows 2008 R2

So you have been running on Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 AD environment for quite some time and prefer a change. Windows 2008 has been out there for almost 16 months now, including the release of Windows 2008 R2. In this article we’ll discuss some of the key facts you need to consider before you jump into upgrade process and some of the pit falls you need to avoid.

What are the upgrade options available for me?

In-Place upgrade – In this method you can upgrade your existing server to Windows 2008 or Windows 2008 R2. But the key thing is you can’t in-place upgrade your windows 2000. You need to upgrade that to Windows 2003. (Do you really need to install windows 2008 on that old hardware 🙂 There are few caveats you need to take into consideration before going this path,

  • The Windows Server 2003 patch level should be at least Service Pack 1
  • You can’t upgrade across architectures (x86, x64 & Itanium)
  • Standard Edition can be upgraded to both Standard and Enterprise Edition
  • Enterprise Edition van be upgraded to Enterprise Edition only
  • Datacenter Edition van be upgraded to Datacenter Edition only

Apart from that consider your Domain and Forest functional level as well. In windows 2008 R2 you’ll have some cool roles and features but to get that you need to upgrade the functional levels to R2. Consider the following facts.

Transitioning – Migrating this method means you’ll be adding Windows Server 2008 Domain Controllers to your existing Active Directory environment. After that migrate the FSMO roles to the new server and safely demote the existing windows 2003 domain controllers. You’ll have to purchase new hardware for this. In case if you’re planning to use your existing hardware then temporary you’ll have to bring a new server with windows 2008 to get the roles transferred. Few things to remember at that time is,

  • Global Catalog availability
  • Enable your new 2008 DCs as DNS servers (if using Microsoft DNS)
  • PDC Emulator sync with external time source
  • Ensure the demotion of your existing DCs is fully replicated to all your other DCs before promoting the replacement (if re-using the same name and IP address).
  • Changes to your backup and recovery procedures
  • Anti-virus software compatibility with 2008
    Monitoring software compatibility with 2008
  • Any other services/applications running on your existing DCs (e.g. CA, WINS, DHCP, File and Print).
  • Applications and systems that may be impacted during the outage of your DCs during the demotion/promotion (i.e. those that may be hard-coded to the name or IP address).

Transitioning is possible for Active Directory environments which domain functional level is at least Windows 2000 Native. In a way this is my favorite method considering the risky method of in-place upgrade.

Restructuring – In this method you’re going to create a total different domain and transfer the existing domain details (Eg: user accounts, passwords, profiles…etc) to the new domain. One good example is when a company having two or three domains and they wanted to merge to a one domain name. Microsoft ADMT is one of the useful tool in this scenario(Active Directory Migration Tool) Apart from that there are third party tools available to this kind of transition.

when it comes to upgrade your domain environment careful planning is vital in the beginning to avoid unnecessary problems which can be lead to un-reversible. So take good time to read the documentation and do the lab environment tests. Here is a one good article which can give you some useful information.

PM me if you need any assistance on migrating your company domain environment to windows 2008

Better together with Windows 2008 R2 and Windows 7

Few weeks back I had the privilege to conduct a session on Windows 2008 R2 and it’s new features. This session has been combined with Windows 7 and it’s new features. Windows 7 session has been conducted by Sabeshan. He is one of the Microsoft Certified Trainer in NetAssist.

We have conducted this session to audience who comes from filed engineer to IT manger level. So instead being too techie of the product features we highlighted the technology and how they can implement and get quick ROI from their network. When it comes to new technology some companies are slow adaptors and especially with few Enterprise companies. With Business perspective side there are few reasons for that. We wanted to break that barrier and demonstrate how effectively they can use the technology and get their expectations with less complex setup. Though we didn’t went on deep technical level on that day our future sessions will be deep dive into each product feature with live demonstrations.

We kept on demonstrating Windows 7 bit locker features, VHD boot up, Windows 2008 Active Directory Administrative Center, Recycle bin, PowerShell, Group Policy new feature usage….etc. Direct access could have been preferred one but with limited time frame I had to keep that away for a later time.

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Well there will be no fun without some introduction on Microsoft licensing 🙂 So we introduce one of Sri Lanka’s distributor as well to do some introduction. So keep in touch guys for more updates on future sessions. Some of the contents has been uploaded to the NetAssist training institute web site which can be reached from following links,

Windows 2008 R2 upgrade paths

In my public session on “Windows 2008 R2” I have been raised with questions about the upgrade path options and how to do the upgrade. Some of the questions related to the upgrade from Windows 2003 domains rest are from Windows 2008 to 2008 R2.

Microsoft has been always trying to focus and listen to customer / partner comments and requests for their product improvement. With R2 they have included a feature called as “Windows server migration tools” This will allow you to carry our the process of transferring services (AD, DNS, DHCP..etc) from your previous Windows operating system to the new Server environment.


So how to do those task using the given tools will be a total separate topic and a separate blog article 🙂

What operating systems are supported and unsupported in the migration path has been updated on the TechNet.

Windows 2008 Server Core Configurator 2.0

If you’re managing Windows 2008 CORE operating system you know the pain of typing long commands in the console 🙂 (Well we can use RSAY of course but not for everything) I’ve been using Core configuration tool to make life easier since most of the common commands can be managed UI within the core itself. Recently Core configurator version 2.0 has been released. Core configurator 2.0 only works with R2! so if you want to manage the previous versions of Windows 2008 core edition better keep the old version in handy as well.

Core configurator version 2.0 under open source so you have the complete rights to modify it as well 🙂

Some of the tasks you can do with core configurator are,,

  • Product Licensing
  • Networking Features
  • DCPromo Tool
  • ISCSI Settings
  • Server Roles and Features
  • User and Group Permissions
  • Share Creation and Deletion
  • Dynamic Firewall settings
  • Display | Screensaver Settings
  • Add & Remove Drivers
  • Proxy settings
  • Windows Updates (Including WSUS)
  • Multipath I/O
  • Hyper-V including virtual machine thumbnails
  • JoinDomain and Computer rename
  • Add/remove programs
  • Services
  • WinRM
  • Complete logging of all commands executed

    You can download it from here.

  • How to extend trial period of Windows 2008, Windows Vista and Windows 7 products

    WindowsServer2008 windows-7-logo windows-vista-logo-1

    Most of the time I use Windows 2008 products for video recordings and customer site demonstrations. During this period I use TechNet subscription materials for this purpose. Once issue I have been facing is when I want to do another demo after few weeks time the VPC cannot be used do the trial period of the product has been expired! Registering the demonstration purpose operating systems frequently is not an easy option either (Even though I create a set of VPC like that once)

    With Windows 2008 you’re getting trial period of 30 days. But if you’re smart enough now there is  way to extend that period for 180 or more. This is really valuable because that means we can keep the VM’s running properly under trail period for nearly 6 months! (For me that is more than enough!) Good news is this trial extend work around is working for Vista and Windows 7 as well. ok so let’s get start how to extend the trial period.

    What we have to do is run a script in the windows\system32 folder called slmgr.vbs

    1. Bring up a Command Prompt.
    2. Type slmgr.vbs –rearm, and press ENTER.
    3. Restart the computer.

    You computer has now extended the evaluation period 60 days!  You can run the same command in the same system for 3 times up giving you an activation-free trial period of a total of 240 days!

    To find out how many days remain in the trial period you can use the following command.

    1. Type slmgr.vbs -dli, and the current status of the evaluation period is displayed.

    Be curious and check out additional commands available in the slmgr.vbs


    I have spend some time at a customer site helping to build HYPER-V environment. Even though the project was medium scale I learn lot during that time.

    1. Never run into HYPER-V setup without checking SAN storage compatibility. Some SAN storage required you to install the certain software into the server. I learn that hard way. You can always run *.exe programs by command prompt at server core.

    2. Always keep the server core commands nearby you. Microsoft has already provided the reference sheet like that. If you can’t keep it then try to remember the command ‘sconfig’ this command work in Windows 2008 R2 core edition. If you prefer third party free tools then consider Core Configuration (There maybe some other nifty tools as well)

    3. Try to plan ahead what are you planning to virtualizes and do the capacity planning and the VPC optimizations accordingly.
    SQL on HYPER-V , more links

    That is for now folks, catch ya later!