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How to Configure a SQL Server 2008 R2 Failover Cluster Instance on Windows Server 2008 R2 in Azure: Part 1

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How to Configure a SQL Server 2008 R2 Failover Cluster Instance on Windows Server 2008 R2 in Azure: Part 1

This guide will walk through the process of creating a two-node SQL Server 2008 R2 Failover Cluster Instance (FCI) in Azure, running on Windows Server 2008 R2.

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On July 9, 2019, support for SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 will end. That means the end of regular security updates. However, if you move those SQL Server instances to Azure, Microsoft will give you three years of Extended Security Updates at no additional charge. If you are currently running SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 and you are unable to update to a later version of SQL Server before the July 9th deadline, you will want to take advantage of this offer rather than running the risk of facing a future security vulnerability. An unpatched instance of SQL Server could lead to data loss, downtime, or a devastating data breach.

One of the challenges you will face when running SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 in Azure is ensuring high availability. On premises, you may be running a SQL Server Failover Cluster (FCI) instance for high availability, or possibly you are running SQL Server in a virtual machine and are relying on VMware HA or a Hyper-V cluster for availability. When moving to Azure, none of those options are available. Downtime in Azure is a very real possibility that you must take steps to mitigate.

In order to mitigate the possibility of downtime and qualify for Azure's 99.95 percent or 99.99 percent SLA, you have to leverage SIOS DataKeeper. DataKeeper overcomes Azure's lack of shared storage and allows you to build a SQL Server FCI in Azure that leverages the locally attached storage on each instance. SIOS DataKeeper not only supports SQL Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008 R2 as documented in this guide, it supports any version of Windows Server, from 2008 R2 through Windows Server 2019 and any version of SQL Server from SQL Server 2008 through SQL Server 2019.

This guide will walk through the process of creating a two-node SQL Server 2008 R2 Failover Cluster Instance (FCI) in Azure, running on Windows Server 2008 R2. Although SIOS DataKeeper also supports clusters that span Availability Zones or Regions, this guide assumes each node resides in the same Azure Region, but different Fault Domains. SIOS DataKeeper will be used in place of the shared storage normally required to create a SQL Server 2008 R2 FCI.

This guide will leverage the SQL Server 2008R2SP3 on Windows Server 2008R2 image that is published in the Azure Marketplace.

When you provision the first instance, you will have to create a new Availability Set. During this process, be sure to increase the number of Fault Domains to 3. This allows the two cluster nodes and the file share witness each to reside in their own Fault Domain.

Add additional disks to each instance. Premium or Ultra SSD are recommended. Disable caching on the disks used for the SQL log files. Enable read-only caching on the disk used for the SQL data files. Refer to Performance guidelines for SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines for additional information on storage best practices.

If you don't already have a virtual network configured, allow the creation wizard to create a new one for you.

Once the instance is created, go into the IP configurations and make the Private IP address static. This is required for SIOS DataKeeper and is best practice for clustered instances.

Make sure that your virtual network is configured to set the DNS server to be a local Windows AD controller to ensure you will be able to join the domain in a later step.

Follow the same steps as above, except be sure to place this instance in the same virtual network and Availability Set that you created with the 1st instance.

In order for the Windows Server Failover Cluster (WSFC) to work optimally, you are required to create another Windows Server instance and place it in the same Availability Set as the SQL Server instances. By placing it in the same Availability Set, you ensure that each cluster node and the FSW reside in different Fault Domains, ensuring your cluster stays online should an entire Fault Domain go offline. This instance does not require SQL Server, it can be a simple Windows Server, as all it needs to do is host a simple file share.

This instance will host the file share witness required by WSFC. This instance does not need to be the same size nor does it require any additional disks to be attached. Its only purpose is to host a simple file share. It can, in fact, be used for other purposes. In my lab environment, my FSW is also my domain controller.

Each of the two SQL Server instances provisioned already have SQL Server 2008 R2 installed on them. However, they are installed as standalone SQL Server instances, not clustered instances. SQL Server must be uninstalled from each of these instances before we can install the cluster instance. The easiest way to do that is to run the SQL Setup as shown below.

When you run setup.exe /Action-RunDiscovery, you will see everything that is preinstalled

setup.exe /Action-RunDiscovery

Running setup.exe /Action=Uninstall /FEATURES=SQL,AS,RS,IS,Tools /INSTANCENAME=MSSQLSERVER kicks off the uninstall process.


Running setup.exe /Action-RunDiscovery confirms the uninstallation completed

setup.exe /Action-RunDiscovery

Run this uninstallation process again on the 2nd instance.

All three of these instances will need to be added to a Windows Domain.

The Failover Clustering Feature needs to be added to the two SQL Server instances

Add-WindowsFeature Failover-Clustering

For simplicity sake, turn off the Windows Firewall during the installation and configuration of the SQL Server FCI. Consult Azure Network Security Best Practices for advice on securing your Azure resources. Details on required Windows ports can be found here, SQL Server ports here, and SIOS DataKeeper ports here. The Internal Load Balancer that we will configure later also requires port 59999 access, so be sure to account for that in your security configuration.

NetSh Advfirewall set allprofiles state off

There is a critical update (kb2854082) that is required in order to configure a Windows Server 2008 R2 instance in Azure. That update and many more are included in the Convenience Rollup Update for Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. Install this update on each of the two SQL Server instances.

The additional disks that were attached when the two SQL Server instances were provisioned need to be formatted. Do the following for each volume on each instance.

Microsoft best practices say the following...

"NTFS allocation unit size: When formatting the data disk, it is recommended that you use a 64-KB allocation unit size for data and log files as well as TempDB."

Run cluster validation to ensure everything is ready to be clustered.

Your report will contain WARNINGS about Storage and Networking. You can ignore those warnings as we know there are no shared disks and only a single network connection exists between the servers. You may also receive a warning about network binding order, which can also be ignored. If you encounter any ERRORS, you must address those before you continue.

Best practices for creating a cluster in Azure would be to use Powershell as shown below. Powershell allows us to specify a Static IP Address, whereas the GUI method does not. Unfortunately, Azure's implementation of DHCP does not work well with WSFC, so if you use the GUI method, you will wind up with a duplicate IP address as the CLuster IP Address. It's not the end of the world, but you will need to fix that.

As I said, the Powershell method generally works best, but for some reason, it seems to be failing on Windows Server 2008 R2 as shown below.

New-Cluster -Name cluster1 -Node sql1,sql2 -StaticAddress -NoStorage

You can try that method, and if it works for you, great! I need to go back and investigate this a bit more to see if it was a fluke. Another option I need to explore if Powershell is not working is Cluster.exe. Running cluster /create /? gives the proper syntax to use for creating clusters with the deprecated cluster.exe command.

However, if Powershell or Cluster.exe fails you, the steps below illustrate how to create a cluster via the WSFC UI, including fixing the duplicate IP address that will be assigned to the cluster.

Remember, the name you specify here is just the Cluster Name Object (CNO). This is not the name that your SQL clients will use to connect to the cluster; we will define that during the SQL Server cluster setup in a later step.

At this point, the cluster is created, but you may not be able to connect to it with the WSFC UI due to the duplicate IP address problem.

As I mentioned earlier, if you create the cluster using the GUI, you are not given the opportunity to choose an IP address for the cluster. Because your instances are configured to use DHCP (required in Azure), the GUI wants to automatically assign you an IP address using DHCP. Unfortunately, Azure's implementation of DHCP does not work as expected, and the cluster will be assign the same address that is already being used by one of the nodes. Although the cluster will create properly, you will have a hard time connecting to the cluster until you fix this problem.

We will look at how to fix this problem tomorrow!

database ,sql server ,azure ,failover cluster instance ,windows server 2008

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