Windows support lifecycle reminders

Last week, I wrote about the forthcoming service pack for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.  At the other end of its support lifecycle, is Windows 2000, which finally reaches end of life (i.e. the end of extended support) on 13 July 2010.

Windows XP remains on extended support for a while longer (until 8 April 2014) but service pack 2 (SP2) also goes out of support on 13 July 2010 and, from that date onwards, Microsoft will no longer support or provide free security updates for Windows XP systems running SP2 or earlier.  Service pack 3 is available free of charge; however Windows XP users should really be planning on migration to a later version of Windows.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows XP, see Microsoft knowledge base article 322389.

Also, on 13 July, Windows Server 2003 moves out of mainstream support and into its extended support phase.   Service pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 was retired on 14 April 2009, so service pack 2 is required in order to remain supported.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2003 (and Windows Server 2003 R2), see Microsoft knowledge base article 889100.  Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2 are subject to the same support lifecycle milestones as each other.

Windows Vista with no Service Packs installed will also lose support on 13 April 2010.  Customers are advised to install service pack 2 for Windows Vista in order to remain secure and supported (although service pack 1 is still supported until 12 July 2011).  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Vista, see Microsoft knowledge base article 935791.

Customers running Windows Server 2008 have plenty of time left in their operating system investment, although Windows Server 2008 service pack 1 will be retired on 12 July 2011.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2008, see Microsoft knowledge base article 968849.  The same service pack is applicable to both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.

Announcing the Windows Server User Group (WSUG)

Back in 2008, I set up a LinkedIn group after the UK Windows Server User Group’s leader, Scotty McLeod, was involved in a tragic accident and it was originally intended to provide a temporary workaround until we got the Windows Server Team site up and running again.

Towards the end of last year Mark Parris and I had a conversation around combining the UK Active Directory User Group with the UK Windows Server User Group. The reasoning behind this was that Windows Server User Group meetings had become few and far between, meanwhile the Active Directory User Group is an active community. At the same time Active Directory touches almost every component of Windows Server (it does, after all, account for five of the Windows Server roles) and the division between Windows Server content and Active Directory content was becoming very blurred.

Consequently, the two user groups will now merge to become collectively known as the Windows Server User Group (WSUG).

Mark has set up a new website and forums and, whilst they still require some work, they share credentials and support both traditional user/password authentication and OpenID.

Meanwhile the LinkedIn group will still exist, but I’m honestly not sure that it provides any value and I would encourage members to sign up at the WSUG website, where we are trying to build an active Windows Server community with discussion forums and in-person meetings (generally held at Microsoft offices in the UK).

Twitter users can also follow @windowsserverug for event announcements, etc.

Please let us know what you would like to see on the forums and, if you would like to get more involved, please get in touch with either Mark Parris or myself.  You can find our contact details on the WSUG site.

Migrating infrastructure services to a Windows Server 2008 R2 computer

Having built a low-power server to run my home infrastructure, I need to get moving on decommissioning the old virtual machines so I can turn off the Dell PowerEdge 840 that runs them.

The first step was to migrate the Active Directory Domain Services from my existing Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 installation to the new Windows Server 2008 R2 machine:

  1. On the 2003 DC, insert the 2008 R2 DVD and open a command prompt.
  2. Locate adprep.exe (or adprep32.exe if running on a 32-bit architecture – I was already running 64-bit) in the \support\adprep folder (note the changed file location between Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 – it used to be in \sources\adprep) and run the following commands (theres more detail on these actions in Daniel Petri’s article on Windows Server 2008 ADprep):
    • adprep /forestprep (on the schema master for the forest)
    • adprep /domainprep (on the infrastructure master for each domain, after making sure that the domain is in at least Windows 2000 native mode)
    • adprep /domainprep /gpprep (on the infrastructure master for each domain)
    • adprep /rodcprep (if read only domain controllers are required in a Windows Server 2003 forest)
  3. After this, I ran dcpromo.exe on the new server, promoting it to a domain controller in the existing forest/domain, electing to make the server a DNS server and a Global Catalog server at the same time.
  4. With the new server running as a DC, I needed to transfer the FSMO roles.  I did this by following the advice in Microsoft knowledge base article 324801 to: register scmmgmnt.dll; run the Active Directory Schema and transfer the Schema Master role; run Active Directory Domains and Trusts and transfer the Domain Naming Master role; run Active Directory Users and Computers and transfer the RID Master, PDC Emulator and Infrastructure Master Roles.  Incidentally, even though I did this with the GUI tools, Adam Bell outlines a much smarter method to transfer FSMO roles using PowerShell.
  5. After checking that the new server’s DNS service successfully performed simple and recursive lookups (on the Monitoring tab in the DNS Server properties) then switching the new server’s primary DNS server to use itself (rather than the old DC), I ran dcpromo.exe on the 2003 server to demote it to a normal domain member, before ensuring that all computers were using the new (2008 R2) DNS server and removing the role from the 2003 computer.
  6. With Active Directory and DNS migrated, the last major service to move was DHCP (I do have some other services running on a separate server: TFTP, phone directory web service, etc. running on another server but they are application services really – this post will concentrate on the infrastructure).  This is pretty straightforward (details can be found on the Microsoft Enterprise Networking team blog) and involves a couple of commands – one to export from the 2003 R2 server and another to import on the 2008 R2 server:
    • netsh dhcp server export filename all
    • netsh dhcp server import filename all
  7. After confirming that the DHCP service was running on the target with all entries transferred, I stopped the DHCP Server service on the source (net stop "DHCP Server"), and renewed a client IP address (by starting up a PC, but running ipconfig /renew would have been as effective) to check that renewals worked before restarting the service (net start "DHCP Server"), deauthorising the original DHCP server and removing the DHCP role.
  8. If I was using the Encrypted File System or the server was a Terminal Services Licensing Server there would be some extra steps (not for me).
  9. Finally, with all services removed from the 2003 machine, I shut it down, deleted the virtual machine files from the host server, and removed the computer account from Active Directory, which can now have the forest and domain functional levels raised if necessary, as I’m completely free from legacy domain controllers.

Building a low-power server for 24×7 infrastructure at home: Part 2 (assembly and initial configuration)

Yesterday I wrote about how I’d been looking to create a server that didn’t consume too much power to run my home infrastructure and finally settled on a mini-ITX solution.  This post continues the theme, looking at the assembly of the unit, installation of Windows Server, and finally, whether I achieved my goal of building a low-power server.

As I commented previously, it’s been at least 10 years since I built a PC from scratch and it’s still a minefield of connectors and components.  I took the Travla C158 case and Intel D945GCLF2 board that I had purchased and added 512MB of DDR2 RAM and a 250GB Seagate Barracuda (ST3250620NS) that were not being used in any of my other machines.  I didn’t fit an optical drive, electing to use a USB-attached one for setup (more on that in a moment) and the case also has a slot for a card reader, which I really should consider filling (or blanking off).

With all the components ready, this is the process I followed:

  1. Open the top cover of the case.
  2. Remove the media drive and hard drive holders.
  3. Fix the hard disk to its holder and refit.
  4. Fit the gasket that surrounds the various ports (supplied with the motherboard) to the case
  5. Fit the motherboard and PCI riser.
  6. Fit a blanking plate for the (unused) PCI card slot.
  7. Install some DDR2 memory in the motherboard’s single memory slot.  Unfortunately the module that I used does not have a low-enough profile to allow the media drive holder to be refitted, so I’ll be looking for some more (512MB isn’t much for a modern operating system anyway).
  8. Connect the case fan to the jumper on the motherboard.
  9. Connect the side panel audio ports to the motherboard (the labelling on the connectors did not match Intel’s instructions for the motherboard but I followed Gabrielle Torres’ Hardware Secrets article on installing frontal audio plugs – sound is not really a concern for me on a server).
  10. Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard, using the pattern shown in the instructions (noting that the case I selected doesn’t have a reset button, so pins 5 and 7 are not connected)
  11. Connect the side panel USB ports to the motherboard (single jumper).
  12. Connect both the power jumpers (2×2 and 2×10) to the motherboard.
  13. Connect the SATA hard drive power and data cables (the data cable was supplied with the motherboard, along with an IDE cable that I did not use)
  14. Install the mounting kit, ready to fix the PC to the wall of my office (I also considered placing it in the void between the downstairs ceiling and upstairs floor… but decided it wasn’t really necessary to bury the machine inside the fabric of the house!).
  15. Check that the BIOS configuration jumper block is set to pins 1 and 2 (normal) and refit the top of the case, then boot the PC.
  16. Press F2 to enter the BIOS configuration utility and change the following values:
    • Set the date and time (on the Main screen).
    • Under Boot Configuration on the Advanced screen, enable the System Fan Control.
    • On the Power screen, set the action After Power Failure to Power On.
    • On the Boot screen, ensure that Boot USB Devices First is enabled.
  17. Connect a DVD drive and boot from a Windows setup DVD.

I did manage to boot from my DVD drive once; however I had left the wrong DVD in the drive and so I rebooted.  After rebooting I was unable to get the PC to boot from the external DVD drive (a Philips SPD3900T).  I tried different USB ports, I changed BIOS options, I even reset the BIOS jumper to pins 2 and 3 (which provides access to some extra settings in the BIOS) but nothing worked, so I configured a USB thumb drive to install Windows Server 2008 R2 and that booted flawlessly.  I later found that Windows didn’t recognise the DVD drive until I had reset its power (which may also have resolved my issues in a pre-boot environment); however it’s all a bit odd (I hadn’t previously experienced any issues with this external DVD drive), and I do wonder if my motherboard has a problem booting from USB-attached optical media.

The Windows Server setup process was smooth, and all of my devices were recognised (although I did need to set the screen resolution to something sensible, leaving just the configuration of the operating system and services (adding roles, etc.).

With Windows Server 2008 R2 running, I decided to take a look at the power usage on the server and it seems to tick over at around 35W.  That’s not as low as I would like (thanks to the Intel 945GC chipset – the CPU itself only needs about 8W) but it’s a lot better than running my Dell PowerEdge 840 all day.  There are some other steps I can take too – I could potentially reduce hard disk power consumption by replacing my traditional hard drive with an SSD as the the Barracuda pulls about 9W idle and 12W when seeking (thanks to Aaron Parker for that suggestion).  It may also be that I can do some work with Windows Server to reduce it’s power usage – although putting a server to sleep is probably not too clever!  A brief look at the energy report from powercfg.exe -energy indicates that the USB mass storage device may be preventing processor power management from taking place – and sleep is disabled because I’m using a standard VGA driver (vgapnp.sys).  Microsoft has written a white paper on improving energy efficiency and managing power consumption in Windows Server 2008 R2 and this blog post from the Windows Server Performance team looks at adjusting processor P-states.  It may be some time before I reach my nirvana of a truly low-power infrastructure server, but I’ll write about it if and when I do – and 35W is still a lot better than 100W.

Which service pack level is Windows Server 2008 R2 at?

Those that remember Windows Server 2003 R2 may recall that it shipped on two disks: the first contained Windows Server 2003 with SP1 integrated; and the second contained the R2 features. When Windows Server 2003 SP2 shipped, it was equally applicable to Windows Server 2003 and to Windows Server 2003 R2. Simple.

With Windows Server 2008, it shipped with service pack 1 included, in line with it’s client operating system sibling – Windows Vista. When service pack 2 was released, it applied to both Windows Server 2008 and to Windows Vista. Still with me?

Today, one of my colleagues asked a question of me – what service pack level does Windows Server 2008 R2 sit at – SP1, SP2, or both (i.e. multiple versions). The answer is neither. Unlike Windows Server 2003 R2, which was kind of linked to Windows XP, but not really, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 are very closely related. Windows Server 2008 R2 doesn’t actually display a service pack level in its system properties and I would expect the first service pack for Windows 7 to be equally applicable to Windows Server 2008 R2 (although I haven’t seen any information from Microsoft to confirm this). What’s not clear is whether the first service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 will also be service pack 3 for Windows Server 2008 and Vista? I suspect not and would expect Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 to take divergent paths from a service pack perspective. Indeed, it could be argued that service packs are less relevant in these days of continuous updates. At the time of writing, the Windows service pack roadmap simply says that the “Next Update and Estimated Date of Availability” for Windows Server 2008 is “To be determined” and there is no mention of Windows 7 or Server 2008 R2.

So, three consecutive operating system releases with three different combinations of release naming and service pack application… not surprisingly resulting in a lot of confused people. For more information on the mess that is Microsoft approach to major releases, update releases, service packs and feature packs, check out the Windows Server product roadmap.