Upgrading from Windows NT Server 4.0 to Windows Server 2003

Many NT administrators chose to sit out Windows 2000 Server. Now that Windows Server 2003 is out and proven, the time to make the move may be now. Here's what you'll face.

If you still have servers running Windows NT Server 4.0, now is probably a good time to upgrade to Windows Server 2003. Except for special situations, Microsoft has discontinued support for Windows NT Server. When Windows 2000 was released, a lot of people were reluctant to make the switch because Microsoft's Active Directory was an unproven technology that required a significant learning curve. However, Windows 2000 Server has been around long enough to prove that the technology does work. Windows Server 2003 is simply a Windows 2000 Server that has had a lot of bug fixes and security enhancements.

Although Windows Server 2003 is a good product, upgrading from Windows NT Server 4.0 can be tricky, to say the least. I'll guide you through the upgrade process.

The test environment
For this article, I installed Windows NT Server 4.0 on a 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM and an 80-GB hard disk. The version of Windows NT that I had wouldn't allow me to create and format an 80-GB partition. I experimented with various partition sizes and eventually found that the software would only allow me to create a 4-GB partition on which to install Windows. Once I installed Windows NT Server, I configured it as the Primary Domain Controller for a domain named NET. I then installed Windows NT Server Service Pack 6A prior to beginning the upgrade. I should also mention that my network contains two Windows 2000 domains. However, these domains are running in Windows 2000 Native Mode and are therefore invisible to Windows NT. Your mileage may vary during the installation process depending on the configuration of your own network and NT server.

Extending the volume set
I was forced to install Windows NT onto a 4-GB partition. Really, there's no reason that I couldn't upgrade Windows NT Server within the confines of the 4-GB partition. After all, there's nothing on the partition except a vanilla copy of Windows.

In the real world, though, you may find that your Windows NT Servers have ridiculously small partitions that are jammed full of applications, drivers, data files, and no telling what else. Normally, you would want to extend the volume set into the unused disk space. The only problem is that Windows NT's Disk Administrator won't allow you to extend a volume set containing the Windows NT system files.

If you want to extend the volume set, you have a few choices. One option is to use a utility such as Partition Magic to extend the volume. If you don't have a copy of Partition Magic or don't feel comfortable using it, you aren't completely out of luck.

In such a situation, I recommend checking to see how much free disk space the volume has. According to Microsoft, Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition requires about 1.5 GB of free disk space for Setup. Therefore, if your server has more than about 2 GB free on the system partition, you might try upgrading the server and extending the volume set later. Just be sure to make a full system backup first.

If your system partition doesn't have 2 GB of free disk space, you can always try uninstalling applications or temporarily moving data to another location as a way of freeing up the necessary amount of disk space. One common problem, though, is that a lot of Windows NT Servers were originally installed in a way that placed Windows on a 2-GB partition. Obviously, this doesn't give you enough disk space to even think about upgrading to Windows Server 2003.

If you're stuck with a 2-GB partition, there are a couple of things you can do. If the hard disk has some free space, you can extend the partition by using Partition Magic. If there is no usable space on the drive, you can use Windows Backup to create a full backup of each partition on the drive. Next, replace the hard drive with a larger one and create partitions of a more suitable size. Finally, install Windows and restore the backup of each partition into the new space.

Mass storage devices
After the upgrade, you might find that your drives have different drive letters. For example, my test system contains a CD-RW drive and a DVD-RW drive. Windows NT doesn't recognize the DVD-RW drive, but Windows Server 2003 does. This means that Windows Server 2003 will assign the drive a drive letter, even though no drive letter previously existed. This could cause some of your other drive letters to change.

This is no big deal because you can change a drive letter through the Disk Administrator.

DNS configuration
Next, be aware that Windows Server 2003 is Active Directory-based. As with Windows 2000, Active Directory is totally dependant on a DNS Server. You may not have a DNS Server in your organization, because Windows NT has traditionally used WINS for name resolution rather than DNS.

Normally, you would have to make your DNS Server aware of the name of your server's domain. The problem is that you can't just add a domain listing in the usual manner. Instead, you must create an Active Directory Integrated DNS zone. If your network isn't yet running Active Directory, you won't have an Active Directory-aware DNS Server.

When you install Windows Server 2003 for the first time, Windows will inform you that you must have an Active Directory-compatible DNS Server, and will ask if you would like to install the DNS Services on your server.

Before doing so, realize that the DNS requirement applies only to domain controllers. If you're upgrading a member server, you'll still probably want the server to have access to a DNS server, but the DNS server will be used only for name resolution, not for supporting the Active Directory.

If you already have a non-Active Directory-aware DNS Server that you're using internally, you should still allow Windows Server 2003 to install the DNS services when prompted. After doing so, configure the new Windows 2003 Server to use its own IP address as the primary DNS Server. All Active Directory queries will be handled by the server's own DNS.

You can then set up a forwarder to your primary DNS server. This means that if the new DNS Server is unable to resolve a certain IP address (such as that of a Web site), the request will be forwarded to your primary DNS server, which likely also has a forwarder to your ISP.

Of course, this is not the most efficient way to get the job done, but it will get you by until you can upgrade your existing DNS server to Windows 2003 Server. If you don't have a DNS server in your organization at all, running the DNS services on the Windows 2003 Server will work for the time being, but if you're planning on having a lot of Active Directory servers, you should really think about eventually implementing a separate DNS server and pointing all of your servers and workstations to it.

My network already contains two Active Directory domains. I also have a DNS server that services these domains. To prepare for upgrading my Windows NT Server to Windows 2003 Server, I opened the DNS console on my DNS Server and created a new forward look-up zone to match my domain name. My domain name was NET, so I created an Active Directory-integrated forward lookup zone called NET.COM. Then I verified that my Windows NT Server's TCP/IP configuration was set to use my DNS server.

Upgrading to Windows 2003 Server
Start the installation by putting the Windows 2003 Server CD in your server. Windows will display a screen asking whether you want to install Windows Server 2003, Perform Additional Tasks, or Check System Compatibility. You should start by checking system compatibility just for good measure to make sure your system can handle Windows 2003.

You'll receive a message indicating that there are interoperability issues between Windows 2003 and Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95. The message will also warn you that if you install Windows 2003, Windows NT will no longer function. Of course, this is fine since you're upgrading.

At this point, click the option to install Windows Server 2003. Windows will launch the Setup Wizard, which in turn will ask what type of installation you would like to perform. Choose Upgrade and click Next.

Next, Windows will display the Windows 2003 Server End User License Agreement. Click the option to accept the license agreement and click Next.

Setup will then ask for the product key. After you enter the product key, Setup displays the same message from earlier, indicating that Windows Server 2003 is incompatible with Windows NT. Click Next to ignore the message.

Setup will then take a couple of minutes to copy a few pre-installation files and reboot your server. After the server reboots, Windows spends about 10 minutes copying more files and then reboots a second time. This time, Setup will take about half an hour to copy various files. When the file copy completes, Setup will reboot the computer one more time. Then Setup displays the Active Directory Installation Wizard.

At this point, you may notice a balloon in the lower right corner of the screen telling you that the computer's video settings are set to a very low level. To make the rest of the installation easier, you may decide to correct the video settings first. Windows NT can run in VGA mode (640x480 with 16 colors), but Windows Server 2003 is designed to run at a minimum screen resolution of 800x600 and 256 colors. At lower screen resolutions, you can't see parts of the screen because they're off the edge of the monitor.

Click on the balloon to change the resolution and color depth. Windows will ask if you want the resolution and color depth automatically corrected. Click Yes and Windows will set the resolution to 800x600 using 32-bit color.

Next, configure Active Directory settings. At the Active Directory Installation Wizard, click Next to bypass the Welcome screen. Windows will display a message that Windows Server 2003 domain controllers use security settings that don't work with Windows 95 or with versions of Windows NT prior to Service Pack 3. If you have such operating systems in your organization, they will not be able to authenticate by using a Windows Server 2003 domain controller.

Click Next and the wizard will ask whether you want to create a new domain in a new forest, create a child domain to an existing domain, or create a new domain tree in an existing forest. In my case, since I already had a forest on my network, I chose the option to create a new domain within an existing forest. Then, you'll be prompted to enter the credentials for a user with sufficient privileges to install the Active Directory on the computer.

At this point, the wizard will display a summary of the Active Directory configuration options you selected. When you click Next, the wizard asks if you want to use Native Mode. This means that you have a choice of using permissions that are compatible only with Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 Servers, or permissions that are compatible with pre-Windows 2000 servers. If you don't have any older servers on your network, go ahead and use the Native Mode.

The next step in the process asks you for the Active Directory Restore Mode password. This password is used if you ever have to restore Active Directory to a previous state. Enter a password, click Next, and the wizard will display another summary. Clicking Next one more time launches the Active Directory installation process. When this process completes, the upgrade is over and your server is ready to use.

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