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Albrecht Weinert


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blog... /windows-server-2008-cloning-for-homologous-servers/   [de]
Albrecht Weinert

W2K8 cloning for homologous servers

Situation

Setting up a Windows Server 2008 installation from DVD, having get it all updates, installing the extra basic software (Java, Frame4J, utilities) needed and furbishing the system settings can be a task of many hours. If the target is a zoo of alike servers (a handful of Fujitsu Siemens Primergy RX300 S3 in our case) the desire to clone the good work gets overwhelming.

Solution

In the case of homologous targets no extra tools are needed. The cloning can be completely accomplished by the Windows tools backup, repair and sysprep.

Making the clone system — the source

Make the first W2K8 installation to one of the servers as good and complete as possible, i.e. having all updates and all supplementary (utility) software installed, all drives arranged and so on. Make optimal system settings and environment variables but do not bother with desktop arrangements yet.

You may (and should) give the system its name, activate Windows, make it a domain member and test it thoroughly. But you should give it no further roles and functions like DC or DNS etc. yet.

Before any further individualising, make a backup of your good Windows 2008 installation as is — best to an external fast USB drive. This backup has to be complete, including all drives.

Now make this machine domain controller or what ever its roles shall be.

Procedure to clone to a target

If the target computers have hardware RAID (as our RX300 S3) use its BIOS to make the same drive array configuration and boot order as in the clone (source) system.

Boot the W2K8 installation DVD and choose “repair”. With the USB drive plugged in the installer will offer your clone system (made above) as source. Choose it as complete repair.

Let the clone boot. Do this with no network connection, lest name or other conflicts arise. As local admin run
C:\windows\system32\sysprep\sysprep.exe  /oobe /generalize /reboot

At reboot do the appropriate answering (and long waiting ending in a further reboot).
Now you log in to a system with a random new computer name and SID as well as reset Windows activation.

Do check the drives / drive letters. They are usually spoiled by sysprep. Repair them. This may include setting the non-C:  partitions / RAID arrays online.

Change the computer name and network settings according to the target. Re-start with network interfaces plugged in. If behind a company firewall or proxy, check / make the settings to be able to reach outside internet, otherwise re-activation will usually fail. These settings can be done in the IE.

Activate the Windows installation using the appropriate licence key.
After seeing at least one (test) re-boot without any generalisation or else post-treatment, individualise this cloned installation further and put it to its purpose.

Retrenchments, warnings, remarks

The procedure described was tested / used multiple times but only in just one configuration:
Windows 2008 R2 professional, very homogenous zoo of RX300 S3, bulk like licence.
It may fail in other circumstances. Feedback welcome.

The cloning procedure is a sequence of several steps with waiting times of 5..18 minutes (in the case of our RX300 S3). It was possible to get through in bit more than one hour. That toil is orders of magnitudes quicker than installing and updating all from scratch, and it is less complicated than preparing specialised unattended installations for a handful of machines. The cloning can, of course, be pipelined or parallelised, especially when having copied installation DVDs and USB drives.

The best improvement would be Microsoft giving us (back) a tool that just makes a new SID and name and resets the activation in case of no bulk like license. Sysprep (en lieu of good old newSID), in our case, inescapably destroys overmuch cloned information at the cost of own run time and our work afterwards.

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