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So here's the story. Please excuse any incorrect terminology, I'm not really knowledgeable in the Windows server realm.

My company, pre-me-being-employed-by-them, has a "server" built out of consumer desktop parts, running Windows Server 2003. It's the domain controller, i.e. each Windows PC (we have ~20) logs in through centrally-controlled usernames and passwords. (The Windows PCs range from XP to Windows 7.)

The machine runs some accounting software that's slow, hands out network licenses for AutoDesk products, and stores backups of files. The boss runs a weekly job that transfers them to external hard drives that he stores off-site.

This machine is now beginning to croak - repeat hard drive failures make me question the motherboard and power supply.

I would like to transfer the functions of the 2003 box over to a new Windows Server 2008 R2 machine that's actually made of server hardware. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do this. I want to preserve all the logins and passwords, set up the same shared folders, etc. I'd also like the server to have the hostname ("SERVER") and IP address ( that the current server holds.

Is there a "migrating an active directory from 2003 to 2008 R2 For Dummies"? Thanks for any tips!

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Active Directory is a critical piece of infrastructure. With respect, if you don't have the required knowledge you should either get training or have a consultant come in and do the migration, while you get as much info out of them as you can. – Ben Pilbrow Aug 19 '11 at 22:18
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There are lots of guides for this type of thing on the internet. If you have time to do it properly, then the rough steps you need to go through are:

  • Join the 2008 R2 computer to the domain like any normal workstation.
  • Run dcpromo to make it a domain controller (this step copies the user accounts and passwords on it).
  • Move important domain controller functions over to the R2 computer (find documentation).
  • Make the 2008 R2 computer a DNS server and DHCP server and stop the 2003 server doing it.
  • Run dcpromo to take the 2003 server away from being a domain controller, when ready.
  • Move files, printers, etc to the 2008 server. No easy way to do this, you setup the shared folders, copy the data over using a tool which keeps all the permissions and file editing dates such as robocopy, then update all the computers to connect to the new server.
  • Install your Autodesk and Accounting software on 2008 and move the data accross, probably with their support help.
  • Check the 2003 server for last minute look for things it still does, if ok...
  • Shutdown the 2003 server. See what happens.
  • Keep it for a few months at least, just in case.

If it's not going to last long enough for the above, then make the 2003 server into a virtual machine on the 2008 server, either using Hyper-V or VMWare Server, assuming the new one has the disk space to handle it. Then do the above migration from the virtual machine.

A guide like this one might well help. You'd be looking at "transitioning" not "restructuring".

Also, take backups first.

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Thanks for the help - I'm working out a way to do this right now (backups first!) – evilspoons Aug 24 '11 at 14:30

I'd echo the statements from the other posters here-- outside assistance would help you tremendously and, honestly, what you've got is probably an afternoon's worth of work (based on having done a number of migrations that are similar).

Here's how I'd do this to maintain the old server name, file share structure, etc. (I think it's a great thing to preserve as much of the old structure as possible so that you don't have user confusion, broken shortcuts, etc.)

  • Install W2K8R2 onto the new server computer ("NEWSERVER") and configure it with OLDSERVER as its DNS server.

  • Promote NEWSERVER to a domain controller. Install the DNS service on NEWSERVER and configure it to use itself as its DNS server after Active Directory has completed replicating from OLDSERVER.

  • Reconfigure the OLDSERVER computer to use NEWSERVER as its DNS server. Demote OLDSERVER to being a member server computer. This will allow you to rename OLDSERVER to another name (call it OLDSERVER-X). Change IP address of OLDSERVER-X to a new free IP address.

  • Configure NEWSERVER with an alias name to answer for the OLDSERVER computer name per this article: How to Configure Windows Machine to Allow File Sharing with DNS Alias

At this point you have a new server computer that can answer for the name of the old server computer and the old server computer remains on the network with a different name. You could promote OLDSERVER-X back to being a domain controller if the hardware is stable enough to use as a secondary domain controller.

Backups of the existing server computer before you begin are critical, but this method leaves the original server computer in a nearly untouched state (just no longer a domain controller and with a different name). In fact, I'd caution you to remove the file shares from the old server computer as soon as possible after the migration so that users don't "find" it and start saving files to it (since it'll still be fully functional).

Migrating the file shares from OLDSERVER-X to NEWSERVER could be as easy as ROBOCOPYing a few directories and making some shares. Migrating the printers is as easy as using the built-in printer migration functionality in W2K8R2. Your license management application, though, is very likely "node locked" to OLDSERVER-X and you'll probably have to contact AutoDesk to get the necessary codes to move it over to NEWSERVER. It's possible that the license service will keep working on OLDSERVER-X while you do all this since you're not changing out the NIC (which is typically used as a "key" for node-locked licensing services, in my experience).

Backup will be different in W2K8 R2. I'd recommend you look at using the built-in backup functionality of W2K8 R2 because it's really easy to do bare metal restores with it.

You may want to consider installing a hypervisor (Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, etc) onto the new server computer before you install the OS. That will allow you to move the OS instance to new hardware in the future w/o any concerns about hardware compatibility. I'm doing that nearly all the time now in situations like this where the small performance hit of virtualization doesn't make any difference in the end result.

If you weren't in Canada or I had a passport I'd offer to fly out and do this for you as a weekend project. >smile< It could almost all be done remotely actually.

Anybody who tells you that you can't preserve the old server name, the old file share structure, etc, either doesn't know what they're doing or is seeing you as a cash cow. Likewise, anybody who says this is going to take more than 10 - 15 hours is probably inept, too (unless there's substantially more to this than your post describes). What you've got is a run-of-the-mill small business migration.

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If I could mark more than one response as an answer, I'd mark your reply too. Lots of useful information, thank you! – evilspoons Aug 24 '11 at 14:31

You've gotten some good answers but without experience actually performing this type of migration it could go off the rails pretty quickly. I might suggest purchasing a migration kit, which will walk you through the process step-by-step. You could certainly accomplish the migration in a single day of focused effort. has a migration kit specifically for your scenario and includes migration support with the kit.

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It didn't sound like he had Windows SBS, though. – Evan Anderson Aug 20 '11 at 3:21 now has non-SBS to non-SBS migration kits. In fact they have kits for almost any scenario (non-SBS to non-SBS, SBS to SBS, SBS to non-SBS, non-SBS to SBS, and so on). In all honesty the process should be roughly the same minus a Sharepoint and Exchange config that would be typical with an SBS to SBS migration. – joeqwerty Aug 20 '11 at 3:40

I would agree that you should probably bring in some outside help. However that's not always an option. There are books on upgrading domains from W2K3 to W2K8, but it sounds as if your in a pinch right now. I would suggest that you take the new hardware and install W2K3, set it up as a domain controller in that network, and move the operational roles to it. That should buy you some time to do the proper research on upgrading to W2K8..

Good Luck!

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