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Adventures with migrating Windows SBS2008 to Windows SBS2011 - Part 1

Approaching a major migration can be a very stressful event, especially with a Small Business Server involved in the mix. Migrating one from exiting to new is even more fraught with danger. Over the course of this weekend, we are migrating a Windows SBS2008 server to a brand new Windows SBS2011 box. There is some great documentation from Microsoft about this process and I’d like to share some of the experiences we had.

Firstly, it’s critical to assemble and test the new server before anything else. Give yourself enough time to do this. Even a pre-built, delivered by HP/Lenovo/IBM server still needs testing on your part – disk, RAM and CPU at the least. Build your RAID arrays too , have them prepped and ready to go for installation. Also, identify what drivers you will need – particularly RAID controller drivers and network adaptor drivers. If you've got the NIC drivers, then you can download any others you might need.

Getting the right documentation is helpful – the Microsoft Migration documents are very thorough (and long – 60+ pages) but are pretty well step-by-step. A very large USB drive is also handy and a laptop with internet connectivity is always a must.

We ran through the initial stages, getting the 2008 server patched up to the levels required for the migration. Then a backup of the C drive – we’ll migrate data via the network later. This reduced our backup from 250GB+ to under 90GB, which took a little over 30 minutes to complete. Then, the SBS2011 disk went into the old server and the migration prep tool was run. We created an Answer File (needed for the new server) and called it a night – it was a Friday after all and around 8pm.

Next morning – installation of the new server started. Drivers for the RAID controller and NIC were needed pretty quickly. When you run the installation it gets run in Attended Migration Mode – the migration process gives you 3 weeks to complete the migration, with the possibility of having two domain controllers on the network at once. After this time, the initial server stops working and that’s that. We experienced a BSOD trying to get the network card drivers to work – ouch! Here’s hoping it recovers back to the same point in the installation…. And it more or less did, except the server doesn't have the option to install a network card driver like it did. Two options only – Test Network Connection and “How to troubleshoot network issues” which opens the Help documentation. There’s nowhere to install a driver or configured the NIC. Hitting cancel shut the server down. Uh oh. We’ll crank that mofo up again and see what happens. Remember too, the network adaptor's IP has been pre-configured via the Answer File – this actually worked.

The server rebooted and now it wants to activate because the activation period has expired. How the hell did we get to there? OK, we've chosen to enter the activation code (cause we haven’t put any codes in yet). We got to that and now we’re back at the same screen about the server being unable to proceed because it doesn't have a network connection. A three finger salute (CTRL/ALT/DEL) allowed us to access Task Manager and get to the Device Manager from there. Remember how I mentioned it would be great to have the right drivers handy? We thought we had the right ones, but alas, they were not. After hunting around and testing several different drivers, still no luck. I’m sure there’s more on the HP website and there is… let’s try some others!

While that process was going on, I looked into some details about Windows SBS 2011. From the Microsoft OEM site:
Designed and priced especially for small businesses with up to 75 users, Windows SBS 2011 Standard is a complete solution designed for customers who want enterprise-class technologies in an affordable, all-in-one suite.
Built on Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows SBS 2011 Standard includes Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 SP1, Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010, and Windows Software Update Services.
Windows SBS 2011 Standard is a great opportunity for small businesses with prior versions of Windows SBS to upgrade their servers and to simultaneously take advantage of the advancements in security, reliability, and connectivity technology.”

Interesting indeed. SBS2011 is the last SBS. Windows 2012 Essentials doesn’t include Exchange and therefore becomes very pricy for small operations. Bring on Google Apps for that. At any rate, we've now downloaded the HP ProLiant Support Pack and installing it – 33 minutes to complete! Once this finished all the hardware driver issues were resolved and the server continued on its merry installation way. Sadly the Server Activation issue cropped up again and suggested we were victims of software counterfeiting – oh noes! Attempts to resolve this ended up in another reboot – which is usually OK but it does take a while. After restart we found the DNS wasn’t working – we adjusted it to use the ISP DNS and the server rebooted again, without much in the way of a by-your-leave. With the server live again the installation/migration continued.

The latest reboot resulted in the migration continuing and the Windows Activation windows popping up – this type the Activate Online was successful and the migration tool continued to expand and install files. 30 minutes until it finishes!

So it turns out 30 minutes was conservative. An hour on and the process was still running. We had time for coffees, pies and sandwiches. Hopefully it will finish soon…. During the interminable time while it does the migration, we noted that DHCP had stopped working  on the network. This was being delivered via the SBS2008 server and shouldn't have been affected. We restarted the service and DHCP was restored. We’re not sure why that failed.

OK so it was more like 90 minutes than 30 minutes. The server rebooted – hopefully because it’s supposed to and Windows is starting again. Sadly the process is still continuing after the reboot and the internets tells us it could do it 2 or 3 times!

After two hours the expand and install files process completed. It is now time to run the Migration Wizard, starting with File locations. This includes Exchange files and data files. We went through and used the default locations, then detected the network. It picked all this stuff up correctly and the exciting journey continued </sarcasm>.  We’ll take up the migration in the next blog post – where we begin with migrating Exchange data.


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