Cluster Shared Volumes without Active Directory


Cluster Shared Volumes without Active Directory will come online if certain conditions are met. Basically, when the cluster can form. That’s what we’ll talk about here. There are a lot of things to consider when virtualizing your Active Directory environment, partially or completely. Too much for this blog post alone and much of it has been discussed before. Here I’ll discuss when people count on their Cluster Shared Volumes coming online when active directory is not available but are disappointed and think that it’s a bug or a broken promise. It is not! We know that since Windows Server 2012 the CSVs coming online do not depend on Active Directory being available (thanks to the local CLIUSR account being used for cluster starts).

Cluster Shared Volumes without Active Directory

So, let’s address getting your Cluster Shared Volumes online when AD is not available. The things to realize is that not having Active Directory has been taken care off. The thing that still can go wrong is that the cluster doesn’t come on line properly and that means that the CSV LUNs won’t be online as those are cluster resource. Hyper-V can boot the VMs without the cluster being formed but as the VMs reside on a CSV and those are not available, that’s what’s causing the problem. That means that getting your cluster to come up is the real issue.

Getting your cluster to come up is the real issue.

If cluster shared volumes can come up without a domain controller / AD being available since Windows Server 2012 (Failover Clustering and Active Directory Integration) how is it that some many people still have issues with it? How do you make this work for you? You can use a disk witness to protect you in most cases. When you have a file share or cloud witness you can take some step to avoid running into this issue.

There is a great article on cluster behavior here: Failover Cluster Node Startup Order in Windows Server 2012 R2 (the same rules apply for Windows Server 2016). Read it and you’ll notice that the behavior differs depending on whether you have a witness defined and whether that witness is a witness disk or a file share or cloud witness. The disk witness has a copy of the cluster database and if available will help you out of any situation where the paxos on the disk witness (if it’s available) is more recent then the one on the cluster node as the node will download the cluster database info from the disk witness. But a file share or cloud witness don’t have a copy, so they have a small disadvantage under certain scenarios. CSV’s that won’t come up is when booting the nodes in the wrong order when using a file share or cloud witness is one of those scenarios but not having AD isn’t the root cause of this.

Some people will never notice this issue at all, especially not when they have disk witness, but when they do, it might be at a very inconvenient moment in time. Examples of where this situation can occur are a single cluster environment where the domain controllers are running on CSV and high available in that cluster that was shut down completely, the cluster has a file share witness and the nodes are started in the wrong order.

Making sure your CSVs come online = clustering being formed

Well for one make sure you are using Windows Server 2012 or higher for your cluster. That’s a given.

Beyond that you basically just need to know what to do in what scenario to get your cluster up and running so you won’t have issues with getting the CSV to come up. You just have to follow some rules of thumb and you’ll be fine. Also, there’s almost always a way to get out of pickle, just don’t panic. But also remember that you can make your live easier when you design your solutions with failure in mind and by knowing your options so you can act correctly. I my example I’ll be using Hyper-V cluster with CSVs but the same goes for SOFS, SQL Server clusters leveraging CSVs etc.

Planned down time

If you’re shutting down a complete cluster you have two options to make sure things go a smooth as possible.

Option 1 – A clean cluster shutdown by the book

  • Shut down the workload, i.e. the VMs.
  • Stop the cluster
  • Shutdown the Cluster nodes.
  • Boot the cluster nodes. You can start with any you like. The CSVs will come on line. You will be able to start the VMs. Do start with the domain controllers and wait for them to come on line before starting the others.

During this you’ll see some “collateral” events, errors, warnings due to Active Directory not being available. The cluster name has issues without Active Directory but that a management connection point, it doesn’t mean the cluster doesn’t work. Once Active Directory is available the cluster name will come on line automatically when the default failure policy restarts it. You can also manage the cluster via RDP or console by connection to “.” locally on that node or use the running node name. You can also try to bring cluster name on line manually when Active Directory is up and running.

Option 2 – A clean cluster shutdown as it happens most of the times in real life

Which is one a lot of people do to keep part of the work load running as long as possible.

  • Shut down the no critical workload, i.e. the VMs.
  • Pause a node so the critical workloads live migrate to other nodes
  • When the node is paused, shut down the node.
  • You rinse and repeat this until the last node is left with only the most critical VMs


  • Finally, you stop the workload on that last cluster node and shut it down as well.
  • Now comes the critical part: Remember what node you shut down last. You have to start that one first and you’ll see that your CSV will come on line. If you boot another node, you might panic as the CSV will not come on line.

Now I need to correct this a little bit. With a disk witness you are OK whatever node you boot. When the paxos numbers on the first node to boot and the disk witness are compared the most recent copy will be used. Either the local one on the node will be used directly or after it has been updated with the data form the disk witness. To make things simple for the ops team I always tell them to note the last node they shut down anyway no matter what type of witness they have. It’s good info to have.

With a file share or cloud witness the shutdown/startup order really comes into play. The reason this happens is that by shutting down node by node we end up with a one node cluster (last man standing).  When that’s shut down that’s the only node that knows about the last (potential) changes in the cluster as it holds a copy of the cluster database. Remember that a files hare or a cloud witness has no copy of the cluster database. That’s why the last node to be shut down has to come on line first when comparing the paxos numbers with the witness as that node can form a cluster. If the node that boots first does not hold the most recent paxos number it cannot download the cluster databases info from the file share or cloud witness. Such a node cannot form a cluster and bring the CSVs online. If the first node to boot was the last one to shut down, it can form a cluster and the CSVs will come on line. This is the big difference with option one where you shut down the entire cluster and then take the nodes of line.

You might not know or remember the order. If that’s the case you still have options like starting the cluster node with the -fixquorum option (net.exe start clussvc /forcequorum) at the risk of loosing some cluster changes that are not in the local cluster database.

No need to go to immediately backups, extract the domain controller VMs from SAN snapshots or mount a LUN to a different machine to extract the VM files for the DC or so. Don’t panic!

One or more failed nodes

Well as long as the cluster survives your domain controller VMs should fail over. Keep ‘m on separate node (anti-affinity), separate CSV LUNs, if possible separate clusters if all domain controller virtual machines are going to be running high available on a cluster node and that cluster is still functional after all. No issues here.

Total cluster failure

The cluster nodes all show due to a “global” BSOD or are turned off due to a power failure or a storage array crash. This is more the realm of bad dreams I know, it does happen. Often things will recover and you’ll be fine but you can do your part. The same rules apply, get the cluster to form and you’ll have your CSVs on line. In a bad case -fixquorum is your friend but normally it’s not your first option. In the worst case you’ll need recovery from backup of the cluster or rebuild it. It’s a very bad day if it comes to that. And cluster recovery is not the subject of this post.


Don’t blame Active Directory and start troubleshooting or fixing the wrong problem. So yes, CSV will come on line when certain conditions are met and you can work yourself out of a pickle if needed. But during a disaster that’s only extra work and stress you might not want to worry about if you can avoid it. It’s good to know how to resolve issues around CSVs not coming online when the shit hits the fan as even the best laid out plans tend to get side tracked by reality when disaster strikes.

If you cannot guarantee control over all the prerequisites and might not have the skills in please when needed, you might consider other options. Some of these are actually the best practices of the past when a CSV would indeed not come on line without active directory in any way. This is great for AD related issues but not for you offline CSVs, they need the cluster to form properly!

Sure, you can run the domain controller virtual machines on local storage, and not made high available. This cloud be on one of the cluster nodes (*) or on a stand-alone Hyper-V host. Having a physical domain controller is also a possibility. This helps avoid issues with AD in virtualized environments as many other services are very dependent on them and it’s good to have on one available all of the time and get them back on line a.s.a.p..

I’ll leave you with the fact that virtualizing domain controllers can be done but it pays to study up on how to do it well and test your assumptions in the lab. There is a lot of information on virtualizing domain controllers for a reason. Read it and process what you’ve learned from it. You might find that this CCV thingies is not the most complex subject to deal with.

(*) Please note that some cluster deployments like HCI based on S2D do not support running other (local) storage in addition to the boot OS and the S2D storage pool volumes.

Windows Data Deduplication and Cluster Operating System Rolling Upgrades


Have you considered when Windows data deduplication and cluster operating system rolling upgrades from Windows Server 2012 R2 to Windows Server 2016 Clusters are discussed we often hear people talk about Hyper-V or Scale Out File Server clusters, sometimes SQL but not very often for a General-Purpose File Share server with continuous availability. Which is the kind I’ve done quite a number of actually.


Being active in an industry that produces and consumes file data in large quantities and sizes we have been early implementers of Windows cluster for General-Purpose File Shares with continuous availability. This provides us the benefits of SMB 3, ODX for both the clients and IT Operations for workloads that are not suited for Scale Out File Server deployments.

As such we have dealt with a number of Windows 2012 R2 GPFS with GA cluster that we wanted to move to Windows Serer 2016. Partially to keep the environment up to date and partially because we want to leverage the new Windows deduplication capabilities that this OS version offers. The SOFS and Hyper clusters that I upgraded didn’t have data deduplication enabled.

The process to perform this upgrade is straight forward and has been documented well by others as well as by me in regards to issues we saw in the field . We even dove behind the scenes a bit in Cluster Operating System Rolling Upgrade Leaves Traces. I have also presented on this topic in public at conferences around Europe (Ireland, Germany and Belgium) as part of our community contributions. No surprises there.

Test your assumptions

This is a scenario you can perform without any downtime for your clients when all things go well. And normally it should. I have upgraded a couple of Scale Out File Server (SOFS) and General-Purpose File Server (GPFS) cluster with Continuous availability now and those went very well. Just make sure your cluster is perfectly healthy at the start.

Naturally there are some check you need to make that are outside of Microsoft scope:

I’m pretty sure you have good backups for your file data and you should check this works with Windows Server 2016 and how it reacts during the upgrade while the server is in mixed mode. Perhaps you will or won’t be able to run backups or restore data. Check and know this.

Verify your storage solution supports and words with Windows Server 2016. It sounds obvious but I have seen people forget such details.

Another point of attention is any Anti-Virus you might have running on the file server cluster nodes. Verify that this is fully supported on Windows Server 2016. On top of that validate that the Anti-Virus still works well with ODX so you don’t run into surprises there. Don’t assume anything.

Check if the server and it components (HBA, NICs, BIOS, …) its firmware and drivers support Windows Server 2016. Sure, the rolling upgrade allows for some testing before committing but that doesn’t mean you should go ahead blindly into the unknown.

Make sure your nodes are fully patched before and after the upgrade of a cluster node.

As the file server cluster is already leveraging SMB 3 with continuous availability al the prerequisites to make that work are already take care of. If you are upgrading a File server cluster without continuous availability and are planning to start using this, that’s another matter and you’ll need to address any issues. You can do this before or after moving to Windows Server 2016. This means you’d move to a solution before you upgrade or after you have performed the upgrade to Windows Server 2016.

You can take a look at my blogs on this subject from the Windows 2012 R2 time frame such as More Tips On Dealing With Removing Short File Names When Migrating To a SMB3 Transparent Failover File Server Cluster, Migrate an old file server to a transparent failover file server with continuous availability and SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices

Data deduplication takes some extra consideration

I have blogged before on how Windows Server 2016 Data Deduplication performs and scales better than it did it Windows Server 2012 R2. This also means that it works at least partially different than it did Windows Server 2012 R2. You can see this in some of the updates that came out in regards to a data corruption bug with data deduplication which only affected Windows Server 2016.


Given this difference, what would happen if you fail over a LUN with deduplication enable from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2016 and vice versa? That’s the question I had to consider when combining Windows data deduplication and cluster operating system rolling upgrades for the first time.

Windows Server 2016 is backward compatible and will work just fine with a LUN that from and Windows Server 2012 Server that has Windows data deduplication enabled. The reverse is not the case. Windows Server 2012 R2 is not forward compatible. When dealing with data deduplication in an Operating System Rolling Upgrade scenario I’m extra careful as I cannot guarantee any LUN movement scenario will go well. With a standalone server

Once I have failed over a LUN to Windows Server 2016 node in a mixed cluster I avoid moving it back to a Windows Server 2012 R2 node in that cluster. I only move them between Windows Server 2016 nodes when needed.

I move through the rolling upgrade as fast as I can to minimize the time frame in which a LUN with data deduplication could end up moving from a Windows Server 2016 o a Windows Server 2012 cluster node.

Should I need to reverse the Operating System Rolling Upgrade to end up with a Windows Server 2012 R2 cluster again I’ll make absolutely sure I can restore the data from LUNs with data deduplication from backup and/or a snapshot from a SAN or such. You cannot guarantee that this will work out fine. So be prepared.

For “standard” non deduplicated NTFS LUNs you can fail back if needed. When data deduplication is enabled you should try to avoid that and be prepared to restore data if needed.

Final advise is always the same

Even when you have tested your upgrade scenario and made sure your assumptions are correct you must have a way out. And as always, “One is none, two is one”.

As always during such endeavors you need to make sure that you have a roll back scenario in things do not work out. You must also have a fail back plan for when things turn really bad. For most scenarios has the ability to return to the original situation built in. But things can go wrong badly and Murphy’s Law does apply. So also have the backups and restore verified just in case.

The last thing you need after a failed upgrade is telling your customer or employer “it almost worked” but unfortunately, they’ve lost that 200TB of continuous available data. Better next time doesn’t really cut it.

An error occurred connecting to the cluster

An error occurred connecting to the cluster

This morning I woke up to a bunch of failed backup notifications of our trusted Veeam Backup & Replication v9.5 update 2 solution. After 3:30 AM the backups of one particular cluster started failing.

I went to have a look but I could not connect to the 3 node cluster.


I logged on to the cluster nodes themselves and did a quick verification of network connectivity, DNS etc. That was all fine. WMI services were running on all nodes but on node 2 and 3 they were not functional.

Cleary we have a WMI issue. And sure enough, no Hyper-V manager available on those 2 nodes but we did have it on the one properly functioning node.

We tested some PowerShell WMI queries (get-wmiobject mscluster_resourcegroup -computer NodeToTest -namespace “ROOT\MSCluster“) to the cluster and this confirmed that WMI was toast on those two nodes.

Fixing the issue

The good news was that all the VMs were all up and running  – a few that had RHS.exe issues – but were still alive pure Hyper-V wise. That explains why they didn’t have any support calls come in. So if we can fix this without causing down time this would be great. To try this we decided to restart the WMI service.

On problematic node 2 this worked. It restarted depending services as well such as Hyper-V Virtual Machine Management, User Access Logging Service, IP Helper and the Veeam Installer Service and the Veeam Hyper-V Integration Service. We got connectivity back via Hyper-V manager but the Failover Cluster manager GUI remained an issue but now only complained about node 3.


We wanted to avoid rebooting node 3 to avoid downtime to the VMs. So what we did there is stop the depending services that we could stop. It was vmms.exe that was stuck in shutdown we just killed the process manually with stop-Process -name “vmms” -force
That allowed the WMI service to be restarted. We then started the depending services manually and we got back the connectivity to Hyper-V Manager on node 3.

The Failover Cluster manager GUI could also connect again to the cluster. We checked the cluster for other issues. When done and found OK we live migrated the VMs node per node and did a reboot of every node one by one. This to have cleanly started nodes and to see if any trouble some event were logged during the startup. Normal operations were resumed.

Do note that there is a blog on TechNet about a similar issue but with a different error message. That was caused by missing cluswmi.mof file due to an ill advised use of run mofcomp.exe *.mof. This was not the case here. A reboot of the misbehaving nodes would have done the trick as well (as blogged here Trouble Connecting to Cluster Nodes? Check WMI! ) but we avoided as much downtime as possible here by going the route we did.

Continuous available general purpose file shares & ReFSv3 provide high available backup targets


In our previous two blog posts on Veeam and SMB 3 we’ve seen how and when Veeam Backup & Replication can leverage SMB Multichannel and SMB Direct. See Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel and Veeam Backup & Replication Preferred Subnet & SMB Multichannel.The benefits of this are more bandwidth, high availability, better throughput and with RDMA low latency and CPU offload. What’s not to like, right? In a world where the compute and networks need keeps rising due to the storage capabilities (flash storage) pushing the limits this is all very welcome.

We have also seen earlier that Veeam B & R 9.5 leverages ReFSv3 in Windows Server 2016. This provides clear and present benefits in regards to space efficiencies and speed with many backup file related operations. Read Veeam Leads the way by leveraging ReFSv3 capabilities

When it comes to ReFSv3 in Windows Server 2016 most of the focus has gone to solutions based around Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). That’s a great solution and it is the poster child use case of these technologies.

But what other options do you have out there to build efficient and effective high available backup targets creatively except for S2D? What if you would like to repurpose existing hardware to build those? Let’s take a look together at how continuous available general purpose file shares & ReFSv3v3 provide high available backup targets

CSV, S2D, ReFSv3 & Archival Data

In Windows Server 2016, traditional shared storage (iSCSI, FC, Shared SAS, Shared RAID) with CSV are not recommend to be used with ReFSv3. Why isn’t exactly clear. The biggest impact you’ll see is the performance difference when not writing to the owner node of the CSV in this use case. Even with a well configured RDMA network that difference is significant. But that doesn’t mean that the performance is bad. It’s just that many of the super-fast meta data operations are relatively and significantly slower when compared each other, not that any of these two are slow.


Microsoft does state that an S2D with ReFSv3 and SOFS shares can be used for archival data. Storage spaces and ReFSv3 also have the benefit of offering automatic repair of corrupt data from a redundant copy on the fly even when needed. So yes, the best know supported scenario is this one.

Continuous available general purpose file shares and ReFSv3 provide high available backup targets

But what if we need a high available backup target and would love to leverage ReFSv3 with Veeam Backup & Replication 9.5? Well, you can have 95% of your cookie and eat it to. All this without ignoring the cautions offered.

We could set up SOFS shares on a Windows Server 2016 Cluster with ReFSv3 with traditional shared storage. Some storage vendors do state this is supported actually.

That only means you don’t have the auto repair functionality ReFSv3 combined with storage spaces offers. But perhaps you want to avoid the risk of using ReFSv3 with CSV in a non S2D scenario all together. What you could do is forgo ReFSv3 and use NTFS. How well this will work for archival data or backup is something you’ll need to test and find out how well this holds up. There is not much info is out there, only other cautions and warnings that might keep you up at night.

There is another scenario however and that is using Windows Server 2016 failover clustering to set up continuously available general purpose file shares that leverage SMB3 transparent failover.

The good news is that general purpose file shares (no CSV) do work consistently with ReFSv3 because such a share/LUN is only exposed on one cluster node at the time, the owner. By having multiple shares and setting preferred owners we can load balance the workload across all cluster nodes.

Thank to continuous availability for general file shares and SMB 3 transparent failover we can still get a high available backup target this way. The failover is fast enough to make this happen and all we see with Veeam Backup & Replication is a short pause in throughput before it resumes after failover. To put the icing on the cake, you can leverage SMB multichannel SMB Direct for both backup and restores.

I would take a sizeable whitepaper to walk through the setup so instead I’ll show you a a quick video of a POC we did in the lab here


If you want to learn more come to the community & other conferences I’m speaking at and will be around for Ask The Experts time opportunities. I’ll be at the German Hyper-V community meet up, The Cloud & Datacenter Conference in Germany 2017, Dell EMC World 2017 and last but not least VeeamON 2017 (see  May 2017 will be a travelling month). 


What do you lose?

Potentially there is one big loss in regards to the capabilities of ReFSv3 with this solution when you are not using storage spaces. This is that you lose the capability to automatic repair of corrupt data. The ability of ReFSv3 to do so is tied into the redundant copies of Storage Spaces (parity/mirror).

What do you get?

That’s fine, the strength of this design is that you get the speed and space efficiencies of ReFSv3and high available backup targets in way more scenarios than “just” S2D. After all, not everyone is in a position to choose their storage fabric for backup targets green field or at will. But they might be able to leverage existing storage and opt to use SMB 3 for their data transport.

So even if you can’t have it all, you can still build very good solutions. It offers ReFSv3 benefits and high availability for your backup target via transparent failover with SMB transparent failover on continuous available general purpose file shares. This also only requires Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition, which is a cost saving. You get to leverage SMB Multichannel and SMB Direct. All this while not ignoring the cautions of using ReFSv3 in certain scenarios.

On top of that, if you use NTFS with this approach it will also work for Windows Server 2012 (R2) as the OS for the backup target cluster hosts.


I do not work for or at Microsoft, nor am I perfect or infallible just because I’m an MVP. You’ll have to do your own testing and validation. From our testing and without ReFSv3 bugs ruining the show, to me this is a very valid and cost effective approach.