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Installing Windows NT4 PDC or BDC in a VMware vSphere 4 VM

Problem: When attempting to install Windows NT4 as a PDC or BDC, you receive the error "The domain controller for this Domain can not be located." and you cannot proceed with installation.

Reason: The AMD PCnet driver that ships with NT4 does not work properly with the new version of the virtual NIC in vSphere and the device fails to initialize.

Solution: Power off the VM (do not shut down). In the VM "Edit Settings" dialog, add a virtual USB device. Power on the VM and the configuration phase should re-start. Now the driver should function properly, the device (virtual NIC) should initialize and TCP/IP stack should be working which then allows you to authenticate against the Domain.

So I recently came across a situation where I needed to upgrade a customer from a Windows NT Domain to a Windows 2003 Domain. The PDC and BDC were on ancient hardware that was flaky and it was decided that the best way to proceed was to create a new NT4 VM, make it a BDC, promote it to a PDC, then do an in-place upgrade to Server 2003.

There were several gotchas with this approach, not the least of which was that NT4 will only allow you to install to a 4GB partition (unless you want to jump through a bunch of hoops). With NT4 you also have to select to make the server a PDC, BDC or Stand Alone server at install. You cannot promote the server via something like DCPROMO. There is a 3rd party utility that will do this, but it costs money and I just don't trust it. I won't mention what that is here on purpose because of this.

In vSphere (ESX/i 4.x branch) there seems to be some kind of bug in which NT4 can 'see' the AMD PCnet virtual network card, but the driver that NT4 uses will not work with it. Because of this, the virtual NIC device does not initialize properly and there is no TCP/IP traffic. So, when you get to the point where you enter credentials to join the NT4 server to the Domain as a PDC or BDC, you get the error "The domain controller for this domain can not be located." and you cannot proceed.

I do know that this was not the case with the VI3 (ESX 3.x branch) versions of the virtual NIC. So somewhere between VI3 and vSphere, something was changed that hoses the networking configuration during installation. I remembered running into something like this a while back on the free VMware Server product and the solution was very odd. After searching around, I found that the 'tweak' was to add a virtual USB device to the VM via the "Edit Settings" dialog. I did this to the VM and wouldn't you know the stock NT4 AMD PCnet driver worked! I'm not sure why this is and I don't really have time to trace the root cause right now, but if you run into this problem, that is a solution.

I hope this helps some other poor soul out there, but I would imagine not too many people are messing with NT4 now a days anyway. haha

27 comments:

  1. I had the exact same issue and spent a good part of the day trying to fix. I almost gave up before I found your post. Your resolution fixed the issue for me. Thank you!

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  2. Awesome! Glad I could help. If your company needs any VMware services, don't hesitate to contact me.

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  3. Man, you save me ! I spend an entire day trying to fix this out and your solution was just the right medicine. Thank's a lot.
    I could not downgrade ESXi because I was already running other VM servers there and I needed to have a new BDC on my NT domain (should go to AD, but not yet) . Really appreciated your help!

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  4. No problem Claudio. Glad I could help!

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  5. Hi, been searching all afternoon...before I stumbled on to your post. it worked!

    Thank-You!

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  6. Wow that is a weird solution. Thank you so much, saved me some time!

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  7. No problem. If you're organization is ever in need of VMware related services or Cloud Computing services, remember that I travel all over the US for these type of engagements.

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  8. Another thanks from me! I've spent an afternoon swearing at this and Googling in vein before I found your post! Such an off-the-wall fix!

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  9. No problem. Glad I could help. Please feel free to share any tips or quirks you come across with me via email and I'll post them up here.

    Thanks!

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  10. This is best advice on VMware I've seen so far. I'm still messing with NT 4.0 servers. Thanks for the post! Same here could not get the bdc configuration past the nic card.
    Thanks Again!

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  11. Any time. Glad I was able to help. Let me know if your company is in need of VMware consulting services.

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  12. Wow, I'm doing the exact same thing - Creating a new virtual NT 4.0 BDC in order to promote it and then retire the physical PDC. I spent all day fighting the "No Domain Controller Found" message before coming across your post. I can't even imagine how you figured that "fix" out.

    Thanks!

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  13. We have the same issue but we solved differently, we created
    the vm on ESXi 4.1 as "virtual hardware 4" and the problem went
    away without doing you "usb trick".

    Nevertheless, I want to thank you anyway,
    because you gave me the idea that vSphere 4 "hardware" was the problem.

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  14. What a silly fix. But it works ;) Thanks!

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  15. No problem. If you or your company are in need of VMware professional services, please let me know. I'm a TX native. :)

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  16. Thanks! That "fix" worked for me too! Guess there are still a few of us fighting with NT4 server LOL.

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  17. Awesome! Let me know if you need any VMware services!

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  18. Thanks. The solution fix the problem.

    Really appreciated.

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  19. You just *SAVED MY LIFE* today ! I had a very similar problem with pretty old services that still relies on NT SAM for authentication. They're in the process of being migrated to another system but before this can be done, we had to move pretty old physical servers. VMs was the easy way but as you said : nt4 can't be installed as PDC or BDC since this has to be done upon first setup and can't be altered afterwards. And network driver doesn't work until SP6a is applied, which is not possible before completing intial setup. Your "add a virtual USB device" tweak just works ! Thank you, so much.

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  20. You're welcome! Glad you were able to get past the issue.

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  21. You just saved me aswell.. nice (and STRANGE) workaround!

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  22. ... and 4 years later, with a ESXi 5.1 Host, still working.
    Thanks a lot.

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  23. Not a problem. Glad I could help!

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  24. Just curious - how did you upgrade to 2003 when NT uses buslogic SCSI controller which is not supported in Windows 2003?

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  25. Hi Roland. To be honest, this was so long ago, I forgot how I did it. I don't remember doing anything special here, so perhaps it was just recognized as-is?

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  26. We are doing our in-place migration next weekend. Since Ernest's article here saved us MANY "workaround" man hours I feel indebted to provide feedback. Thanks very much Ernest! By the way, we are using ESXi5.5 and we had to add a USB controller instead of a USB device. Then it worked flawlessly for us.

    Roland, I will post our success or failure after next weekends in-place migration from NT4 to Server 2003 on ESXi 5.5.

    -DJ Forman

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