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I've got a Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard machine. Against my advice, the company making use of this server made it do everything. Zero redundancy outside of some flat file backups.

After months of hair-tearing one hour reboots on this machine, I finally convinced them to purchase brand new Server 2012 blades and began the arduous process of migrating everything.

With the end in sight, the 2003 machine promptly blew up and corrupted its Active Directory data.

Normally, rebooting into the DSRM would allow me to at least get the machine to limping and pull what needs to be pulled. Unfortunately, no one knows the DSRM password nor can we actually log in to the machine when it boots to DSRM.

So, in short, with a machine that cannot get past login, how do I reset the DSRM password OR tinker with local accounts on a Windows Server 2003 R2 machine?

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You could use something like Hiren's Boot CD to reset the local administrator password (see this guide). Once the password is reset (make sure you've saved your changes!), reboot in DSRM and log in as the local administrator with your new password.

Edit: If you also need to reset your domain administrator password, you can use a hackish (but working) solution using instsrv and srvany as described here. Also, if you entered a weak password in the first step, you might want to change that to something more secure later using ntdsutil (note that this does not work when logged in into DSRM).

  • Hirens uses the NT Offline Password Editor, won't work on a DC as there are no local accounts. – BlueCompute Jul 28 '15 at 10:52
  • @BlueCompute: While that is true under normal AD operation, when starting in DSRM, the local SAM database is loaded instead of the AD database, and the local administrator account is authenticated against that, so it is indeed possible to reset that password using said tool. However, I've double checked and it turns out you can't actually change the DSRM password when running in DSRM mode, I'll be updating my answer to clarify. – Gergő Ládi Jul 28 '15 at 12:44
  • Ah, my apologies, I was incorrect. – BlueCompute Jul 28 '15 at 13:30
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If you don't need to recover Active Directory, then forget about trying to boot Windows. Instead boot using a recovery OS like Trinity Rescue Kit and copy your files from there.

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