On a regular basis, top Microsoft executives answer readers' toughest technical questions about Windows-based systems. This installment of "Ask Microsoft" was answered by Rick Devenuti, former senior corporate vice president for Microsoft Services and IT at Microsoft Corp. To submit a technical question for consideration, send an email to
Question: What recommendations can Microsoft make for true disaster recovery situations, where a network administrator needs to restore their Active Directory and System State data onto a replacement server that is often of a completely different hardware configuration than their production server? This happens quite a bit in disaster recovery situations at vendors like SunGard, where you'll find yourself trying to restore AD/System State data from a Dell PowerEdge onto a Compaq ProLiant, and vice versa. I've gotten this to work after many hours of fighting and kludging, but am wondering if Microsoft has a more graceful solution available or in the works.
Answer: Active Directory is a distributed system, so disaster recovery planning should be built on the principle that data exists on multiple servers. By having multiple domain controllers (ideally in separate locations), the situation described would be avoidable unless every server in a domain suffered catastrophic failure simultaneously. To help mitigate the cost of additional hardware solely for DR planning (which is a valid purpose), Microsoft has published documentation for running domain controllers using Virtual Server 2005, essentially making the server hardware agnostic. Additional technology included in Server 2003, such as Install From Media DCPromo's allow for the promotion of a new server leveraging existing system state backups, irrespective of the new/old hardware.
Editor's Note: Update: Rick Devenuti retired from Microsoft in February 2007 after 19 years with the company.