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Restoring an Active Directory DC on dissimilar hardware

What is an admin to do when repaired domain controller computers are no longer comprised of the same hardware as before? This Active Directory tip breaks down the steps.

No, this tip has nothing to do with Heavy Metal music, though the topic might make you want to bang your head....

We've all been there -- somehow your network is down to a single domain controller and that last Active Directory host system goes down. Now, your only hope to restore the network is to rebuild the domain from backups. However you find yourself faced with a conundrum -- the repaired domain controller computers are no longer comprised of the same hardware as before.

Fortunately, there is hope for this situation. But it does involve jumping through a few hoops. In my opinion, performing a complex circus act is preferred over rebuilding an entire domain structure from scratch.

Here is the rub: First, you must have already performed a full backup of the domain controller (or a domain controller) before the final crash of the system. This backup must include the System State and the drive that contains the system volume (typically the boot partition where the main Windows folder resides). Second, the domain controller system must have been running Windows 2000 Server with Service Pack 2 or later.

This procedure is detailed in Microsoft Knowledge Base Article - 263532. But here is the 10,000 foot view of the operation:

  1. On the new or repaired domain controller computer, install Windows 2000 Server as a stand-alone system in a workgroup. You must ensure that the destination folder for the installation is formatted with the same file system, uses the same drive letter, and uses the same system folder filename as the system which failed.
  2. Use your backup solution to restore the system partition and the System State to the new computer. Make sure to configure the restoration process to overwrite existing files in the original locations.
  3. Depending upon the outcome of this restore the system may boot properly or you may need to perform additional repair processes.
  4. If necessary, perform an upgrade repair install.
  5. If that fails, you may need to disable ACPI through the Recovery Console then re-perform the upgrade repair install.
  6. Once the system will boot properly, you need to verify and/or repair the ClientProtocols key in the Registry.
  7. Next, you must re-configure the system's DNS settings.
  8. Next, use the DCDiag tool to check the system for domain controller functioning errors. If any are detected, they must be dealt with.
  9. Finally, you need to ensure that all five FSMO roles are present. If the system does not already host them, you need to seize them.

As you can see, this is not a quick process. But when performed properly it can mean the difference between a lost afternoon or a lost job or market share.

James Michael Stewart is a partner and researcher for ITinfopros, a technology-focused writing and training organization.

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