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Thursday, 13 December 2012 21:37

Upgrading to Windows Server 2012


With all the current fanfare about Windows 8 it may be easy to overlook the big brother of the new Redmond Operating System. Just as Windows 8 has hit the streets, so too Windows Server 2012 is live for enterprise infrastructure.

As always, you can make a fresh installation, but an upgrade path from Windows 2008 R2 Server also exists and is performed with only a small amount of prerequisite steps.

You do not need to wait to purchase a new server, or to even spend money on the software; TechNet and MSDN subscribers have the full release software available for testing and evaluation. You may download an ISO image and obtain product keys via your member benefit page for those programmes.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend experimenting on a virtual machine or test server.

To upgrade you must update the Active Directory schema and this is described on Microsoft Technet. The command you need is

D:\support\adprep\adprep /forestprep

where D:\ is the drive with your installation media. It is important to note this command requires all the Active Directory domain controllers in your forest to run Windows Server 2003 or later. This means you can continue to have a mixed hierarchy, and do not need to upgrade all servers at the one time.

In my case, my Windows Server 2008 R2 system reported my current schema version was 47, and was being upgraded to version 56. Adprep duly reported it successfully updated the forest-wide information, and next required a second run with a modified parameter:

D:\support\adprep\adprep /domainprep

With these Active Directory updates, the server software can be installed. The Windows Server 2012 installation commences and prompts to go online to find any updates since the media was created. The next prompt is to enter the product key, followed by the important choice of whether you will install the operating system as a server core installation or a server with a GUI.

In my view, this version of Windows Server is going to see an increase in the number of server core installations. With Windows Server 2008, server core provided a reduced attack vector because, logically, it was running fewer services, because it did not provide a GUI. Yet, Windows – as its very name suggests – has always been a GUI-focused environment and for many a Windows systems administrator there was no strong incentive to abandon point-and-click in favour of PowerShell.

Yet, in Windows Server 2012 the GUI has been lifted straight out of Windows 8. Yes, that’s right; Microsoft’s new tiled Start menu and charms-oriented new interface is now the way of the server as well as the desktop.

It is an odd experience; whether this new interface is good or bad for the desktop is a matter of much discussion and debate online. However, when it comes to the server I cannot help but feel it is unusual and inappropriate.

It is very unlikely Windows Server 2012 will be running on a tablet or a touch-capable laptop. It is very unlikely, in fact, Windows Server 2012 will be running on a system which is accessed directly, at least not frequently, via monitor, keyboard and mouse at all. The most common scenario will be remote desktop RDP access potentially from a very remote location to the data centre. In this case, pressing the Windows key doesn’t bring up the server Start menu, but that of the local computer (unless explicitly mapped to pass through). Moving the mouse to the edge of the window to bring up charms is not as effortless as moving to the edge of the screen.

Other anachronisms abound. The Windows Server 2012 Start menu includes the Windows Store. You are prevented from running it as the Administrator user, but you can launch it by logging in to your server as any user account, even if that user is a member of the Domain Admins group. Yet, for this effort, the Store does not show server-only apps as you might expect but the usual assortment of Angry Birds and Jetpack Joyride and so forth.

Undoubtedly, even more so than desktop users, server admins will be spending their time on the desktop. Here is where the lack of traditional start menu is frustrating, but by a combination of pinning items to the taskbar, placing shortcuts on the desktop, and right-clicking on the Start charm/button does yield a satisfactory working environment with all routine tasks covered.

Still, for my money, I’d be looking into the server core environment. If you are already a server core aficionado you’ll be right at home.

With this big question out of the way, next in the Windows Server 2012 installation is the prompt to accept the license, whether to upgrade the existing operating system or make a clean installation and then to commence.

The first step in the installation proper is to perform a compatibility check.

My installation flagged an incompatible product which I removed. Re-testing provided this helpful message,

Before continuing, make sure the app vendors support your applications on Windows Server 2012. Follow their specific recommendations before and after Windows installs. To make sure your app is compatible and to download tools and documentation, go to
Important: If the software isn't compatible with Windows Server 2012 or if the app vendor doesn't support the app, uninstall it before you install Windows. If you don't uninstall the applications, your system won't be supported, the app might not work, and settings or other information might be lost.

Yet, surprisingly, the installation did not flag a problem with a specific Microsoft product installed on the server, one which is not uncommon for a Windows Server ...

Specifically, Microsoft Exchange 2010 was installed but yet not flagged by Windows Server 2012 as incompatible.

Make no mistake, Exchange 2010 will not run on your Windows Server 2012 installation after upgrade.

Microsoft states they will provide compatibility enhancements and fixes in an upcoming service pack for Exchange 2010, to be released in 2013. At this time, it is simply an unsupported scenario – Exchange 2010 on Server 2012. Yet, the compatibility check did not flag this whatsoever raising concern that other things will slip through. As both products are from Microsoft this is surprising.

During installation your computer will restart serveral times while reporting progress:

Copying Windows files

Collecting files, settings and applications

Getting files ready for installation

Installing features and updates

Almost done moving files, settings, and applications

Your server will finally boot afresh with a modern Windows logo. A few more lines flash by, reporting “Getting devices ready” and more before teasing with “Getting ready”. This takes a while but finally your Windows Server 2012 system is ripe for use.

As you would expect for a major product release, Windows Server 2012 brings a wide range of new features. You can find more detailed information on TechNet with enhancements to Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, Hyper V, failover clustering, Kerberos, branch cache, group policy, Remote Desktop, PowerShell 3.0 and many more.

Without a doubt, the biggest changes are in the area of Azure integration, Hyper V performance, and a new resilient file system, ResFS.

For a Windows shop, Windows Server 2012 is definitely a solid and compelling upgrade. However, be sure to plan and test thoroughly. It’s no small upgrade and as with Exchange 2010 you may find your critical applications are not yet supported.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.



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