Complete these critical steps to migrate to Windows Server 2012

Make sure your enterprise follows these tips and tricks to make your Windows Server 2012 migration easier.

This is part two in a series about migrating to Windows Server 2012. Part one can be found here.

As you may have noticed in Windows Server 2012, Microsoft is no longer releasing Service Packs as with previous releases. Instead, you will find what the company calls monthly "update rollups." These contain a partial set of hotfixes to address performance and reliability issues. Unfortunately, these rollups are not cumulative, so you may end up installing multiple rollups to get the latest kernel, drivers and dynamic link libraries.

You may have also noticed how quickly Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 R2 -- only one year after the first release. Could R2 be the new name for SP1 for marketing reasons? Admittedly, the R2 release provides some great new features, such as cluster shareable virtual disks, but it also represents the first cumulative set of hotfixes since Windows Server 2012 was released.

The Windows Server OS continues to make great strides in terms of functionality, performance and reliability. Significant enhancements in Windows Server 2012 make it worth your while. But perhaps the driving force to begin to migrate to Windows Server 2012 is that Microsoft plans to end mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 in January 2015.

Critical steps to migrate to Windows Server 2012

The goal of migrating is to recreate your environment on the new OS version with the same roles, features and settings. By doing a fresh, clean installation on new hardware, you ensure that no baggage or rubbish transfers to the new version. This provides the best stability and performance. If you start with a complete set of backups on your existing servers, then you can always restore systems if problems arise along the way.

The first step to begin your migration is to ensure your hardware meets the minimum requirements. Microsoft maintains a Windows Server Catalog site that allows you to quickly determine if your current or proposed servers are on the list for Windows Server 2012.

For example, most Hewlett-Packard ProLiant servers need to be Generation 7 or Generation 8 to take advantage of the new power-management features. The same may be true for your particular hardware models, so be sure to review the list. And if you plan to use failover clusters, make sure all devices are certified for Windows Server 2012.

Another critical step will be to upgrade your server's BIOS (aka system ROM). To support the new power-management features and other hardware-specific enhancements, most vendors will release a new BIOS version alongside major operating system releases. Intermittent system crashes can also be a direct result of out-of-date BIOS, so take a moment to visit your vendor's website to make sure you're running the latest version.

Another best practice before you migrate to Windows Server is to review the list of software products you have installed in case you need to install the latest revision. In particular, any kernel-mode filter drivers, such as antivirus, quota management or third-party backup software, are notorious for needing updates to support major version releases.

You may also need to update miniport drivers, such as host bus adapters, network interface cards and their corresponding device firmware. Typically, your vendor's website will have the latest versions of drivers and firmware as well as guidance for updating.

Guides and tools. Microsoft has prepared a comprehensive set of migration guides and tools (such as PowerShell scripts) to assist you with migrating roles, features and settings from Windows Server 2003/R2 or Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows Server 2012 R2. You can choose from a number of roles -- such as Active Directory, File and Storage Services, Hyper-V and Remote Access, to name a few -- by going through any pre-installation steps and checklists, migration cmdlets and post-installation tasks. The tools allow cross architecture migrations (x86/x64), physical to virtual and server core to full GUI installation types.

Failover clusters. Another helpful resource is the Cluster Migration Wizard, which assists with migrating cluster roles (services and applications) from Windows Server 2008 R2 to 2012. Migrating from Windows Server 2003 R2 clusters is not supported. You have two options to migrate your cluster. You can create a brand new cluster and then copy the roles. Or, you can use an in-place migration. This removes a node from the existing cluster to create a new one with a fresh installation, copies the roles, then evicts and re-adds the remaining node with a fresh installation.

About the author:
Bruce Mackenzie-Low is a master consultant at Hewlett-Packard Co., providing third-level worldwide support on Microsoft Windows-based products, including clusters and crash-dump analysis. With more than 18 years of computing experience at Digital, Compaq and HP, he is a well-known resource for resolving highly complex problems involving clusters, SANs, networking and internals. He has taught extensively throughout his career, always leaving his audience energized with his enthusiasm for technology.

This was first published in March 2014

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