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I have a business critical application server that was installed some time ago. The installation was an expensive process (large complicated CICS based system on Win2k3) and is something i'd not like to repeat.

However five years have past and i'd like to virtualise the server (using VMWare) so we can secure it and upgrade the hardware.

We have successfully tested virtualising the system but have found that the original Win2k3 OS wasn't installed using our usual volume license but a retail copy. I'm guessing this means every time we move the underlying hardware it'll call for activation and eventually run out. This could be a problem if we have to resort to a backup due to a massive hardware failure.

What i would like to do is change the underlying licensee for the OS without having to reinstall everything. Is this possible for Win2k3? How do you go about it?

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Hasn't Microsoft addressed the "not enough activation tries" problem? Call your sales rep and give him a hard time. – David Schmitt May 4 '09 at 8:00
up vote 1 down vote accepted

This doesn't specifically answer you questions, but might help if you don't find the answer:

I think there is a difference between activating and re-activating. We've had physical machines where the Win23k activation license had been entirely used up, and then virtualized those machines requiring a re-activation. To my surprise I didn't need to call, the re-activation wizard worked fine. In fact, we've move them around to different Hosts and the re-activation has come up again and every time it works.

I think MS treats re-activation differently than activation with regards to using up the licenses.

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Thanks Aaron, i'm tempted to try it and see :) – Mark Nold May 4 '09 at 12:00

From Microsoft

"Change the Volume License Key in XP"

Even though it says "XP" the same method would work for 2k3. I suggest you use the script in the link. (I'm pasting it here to make it easy).

Just save it as ChangeVLKey.vbs and run it like this:

c:\changevlkeysp1.vbs ab123-123ab-ab123-123ab-ab123


' WMI Script - ChangeVLKey.vbs
' This script changes the product key on the computer


if Wscript.arguments.count<1 then
   Wscript.echo "Script can't run without VolumeProductKey argument"
   Wscript.echo "Correct usage: Cscript ChangeVLKey.vbs ABCDE-FGHIJ-KLMNO-PRSTU-WYQZX"
end if

VOL_PROD_KEY = Wscript.arguments.Item(0)
VOL_PROD_KEY = Replace(VOL_PROD_KEY,"-","") 'remove hyphens if any
Dim WshShell
Set WshShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
WshShell.RegDelete "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WPAEvents\OOBETimer" 'delete OOBETimer registry value
for each Obj in GetObject("winmgmts:{impersonationLevel=impersonate}").InstancesOf ("win32_WindowsProductActivation")

   result = Obj.SetProductKey (VOL_PROD_KEY)

   if err <> 0 then
      WScript.Echo Err.Description, "0x" & Hex(Err.Number)
   end if

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The initial install was done with a retail version. The article states : "The steps in the article are effective only on Volume License media. If you try these steps on OEM media or on retail media, you will not change the product key." Thanks anyways Mark, I'll update my question to reflect this. – Mark Nold May 4 '09 at 5:54

As long as your VM's virtual hardware details stay the same(e.g. number of CPU, MAC address of virtual NIC), you will not need to reactivate windows when switching the underlying physical hardware.

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If the actual machine is in production it's probably not a good idea to have the same MAC address. – Mark Nold May 5 '09 at 1:09

I've upgraded an OEM version of XP to a Volume license by doing an normal upgrade. As long as the install CD has a later version, it will do an upgrade and ask for a volume key. Making the install CD more up-to-date can be done with slipstreaming. nLite makes this process easier. This should work for Windows 2003 Server as well instead of having to do the more invasive in-place upgrade.

I've that doesn't work, you may end up having to do an in-place upgrade. This has worked for me, but I never tried the normal upgrade.

The process reset all of my Microsoft licenses, so I had to re-enter them into the license manager.

There may be a Microsoft tool that will do this, but it's not publicly available if it exists. I would contact your volume license dealer to see if such a utility exists.

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