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Storage Migration Service eases Windows Server transfers

See how SMS eases the process of migrating Windows servers, simplifying the administrator's job and minimizing the disruptions to users and applications.

Microsoft introduced Storage Migration Service, a locally installed service for migrating Windows Server computers, with the release of Windows Server 2019 last fall. SMS eliminates many of the pain points that come with migrating a server, while ensuring that all files and configuration settings transfer to the new system with minimal effect on users and applications.

Microsoft released SMS to make it easier for administrators to migrate older versions of Windows Server to newer ones, particularly those running Windows Server 2019. SMS provides a simple tool for transferring files and file shares, as well as configuration and security settings. Administrators can also direct the new server to take over the original server's identity, a process known as cutting over.

Storage Migration Service is fully integrated in the Windows Admin Center interface. In this way, administrators have a graphical tool for inventorying the data and settings on the old servers and then transferring them over to the new servers. They don't need to use other applications, modify any settings or perform additional transfers. They can monitor and verify the entire process through Windows Admin Center.

The SMS components

At its most basic, the SMS migration process requires four components:

  1. management computer running Windows Admin Center;
  2. orchestrator computer running Windows Server 2019 and the SMS service;
  3. source server that contains the data to be migrated; and
  4. destination server that will be the migration target.

The management computer can be any server or PC capable of running Windows Admin Center, a locally installed, web-based tool used for managing on-premises Windows Server or Windows 10 computers. Administrators can use Windows Admin Center to install and manage Storage Migration Service on the orchestrator server, as well as carry out migrations. Administrators can also use Microsoft's PowerShell to manage SMS migrations.

The orchestrator computer must be running Windows Server 2019. If an administrator is migrating only a few servers and one of those servers is running Windows Server 2019, that computer can serve as the orchestrator. However, Microsoft recommends using a separate machine if migrating more than a few servers, in part because the orchestrator uses an extensible storage engine database that can grow significantly as jobs are added and processed.

SMS is a valuable tool for any organization that wants to transfer data from one Windows Server computer to another.

The orchestrator computer runs two types of services. The first is the orchestrator service itself, which manages the bulk of the migration processes. The second is the proxy service, which provides additional functionality and performance enhancements. The orchestrator also maintains event logs for both the orchestrator and proxy services.

The source server is a Windows Server computer that will be migrated to another Windows Server computer. The source server can run any version of Windows Server from 2003 on. When configuring a migration, administrators can specify more than one source server, making it easier to migrate multiple source servers to multiple destination servers. However, multiple source servers can't be consolidated onto a single destination server.

A destination server is a Windows Server environment running Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016 or Windows Server 2019. The OS can be hosted on bare metal, in a virtual machine or on the Microsoft Azure platform. Because Windows Server 2019 includes a built-in SMS proxy service, its transfer rates can be double those available to Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2016.

The Storage Migration Service process

To migrate servers, administrators must have access to the Windows Admin Center portal on a server or PC -- assuming they're not using PowerShell. They must also ensure SMS has been installed on the orchestrator and all permissions and firewall ports are properly configured to support the migration process. Administrators can then use Windows Admin Center to carry out the migration, following these three steps:

  1. The administrator creates a migration job, specifies which servers to migrate and then launches the inventory process. SMS scans the source servers and retrieves details about the stored data and configuration settings, taking into account the server's files and shares, as well as its security, networking and other relevant components. When the process is complete, Windows Admin Center will display the information SMS has collected.
  2. The administrator specifies the destination servers, pairs the source servers with them and selects which data to transfer. Once everything has been set up, the administrator launches the transfer process. As with the first step, Windows Admin Center will display details about the migration.
  3. The administrator now has the option of cutting over to the destination servers. For each cutover, SMS moves the computer name and IP address from the source server to the destination server so it can assume the identity of the source server. At the same time, SMS renames the source server and places it into a maintenance state, with the original data still intact.

Although the first two steps can take some time, they should have little to no impact on users and applications. However, during a cutover operation, users might experience service disruptions, depending on factors such as server restarts or Active Directory (AD) and Domain Name System replication times.

Taking advantage of SMS

There is, of course, more to Storage Migration Service and the migration process than what's covered here. Administrators should carefully review SMS documentation to ensure they've considered all aspects of the tool. For example, if the computers are part of an AD domain, they must all belong to the same forest, and if a cutover will be performed, the source and destination servers must be in the same domain.

Despite these issues, performing a migration is relatively straightforward, and SMS is a valuable tool for any organization that wants to transfer data from one Windows Server computer to another. The one catch is the need to have at least one Windows Server 2019 computer that can serve as an orchestrator, rather than a destination server. If you can manage that, you should be good to go.

This was last published in January 2019

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