Clone your Active Directory in 12 minutes using VMWare

Anyone out there who runs a successful Microsoft Windows Active Directory, knows that it is pre-eminently useful to have a test environment that very nearly represents your production environment…to do…you know…testing!

I went to a VMWare Disaster Recovery seminar and one of the presenters described how easy it was for them to use and create a test environment by simply taking one of their existing, virtualized Domain Controllers, cloning it, attaching it to a private network, and off you go.

I thought I would give that a try, and here’s what I came up with.

  1. Shutdown and clone a Virtual Domain Controller with a 20GB disk drive, 4.5 minutes.
  2. Power-on and attach the virtual DC to a totally private network, visible only to other virtual machines on the same box, 15 seconds.
  3. Install DNS on the Domain Controller to allow for dynamic updates within the private network, 3 minutes.
  4. Seizing FSMO roles from Domain Controllers that aren’t in this private network, 3 minutes.
  5. Sit back in wonder, 45 seconds.

These simple steps aren’t completely error free. Because the DC I chose was a replication partner with a bunch of other DCs and Active Directory Sites, it was necessary to do some tweaking to remove the “defunct” Domain Controller properties from the Active Directory. That process is documented well, here: Remove old Domain Controller Settings from FRS and the Domain.

Also, step 4 isn’t immediately obvious since most Domain Administrators would be familiar with the GUI-mode way of transferring FSMO ownership. That transfer, though, requires that the current FSMO owner be online to accede the role. Which brings us to this article: How to forcibly transfer (or seize) FSMO Roles from one DC to another from Daniel Petri (a really great resource for Windows administrators, IMO).

There you have it, folks. How to clone your Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services using VMWare in less than 12 minutes!


35 Responses to “Clone your Active Directory in 12 minutes using VMWare”

  1. 1 Scott Lowe March 2, 2007 at 9:26 am

    I’m glad to see you pointing out “Step 4”, since I’ve seen some customers forget that part and then wonder why things aren’t very stable in their cloned lab environment. Thanks for pointing out yet another way to use VMware!

  2. 2 Jim March 14, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Be sure to check out the VMWorld presentation of session ID “adc9865”. (found at: )

    It deals with how to virtualize DCs. Slides 51 and 52 have some very specific suggestions for time services that are critical to VMs when the PDC Emulator role has been seized.

  3. 3 guamaniac March 14, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Thanks, Jim! That is a great resource when thinking about virtualizing production Domain Controllers.

    We opted out of using the VMWare services to synchronize our VMs. The ESX hosts are configured to use NTP, however, so if we do decide to go with VMWare based synchronization of the DC’s, we should be good to go.

  4. 5 Adam June 9, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Hi, I have problem with do it in my environment. I want to clone DC Win2008 on ESX 3 and Ex2007. The problem starts after log in on new cloned DC in totally separated virtual network. The problem is with replication in AD and DNS. I simply clone 2 DC and bring them into other virtual network. Nothing else was done. FSMO roles are on both servers.

  5. 6 Alan Le September 1, 2009 at 15:05 pm


    You indicated that remove dis-function domain severs then step 4 Seize. so which one 1st.

    a. remove dis-function domain first?
    or b. Seize the FSMO 1st?

    By the way the when you [] -> [x] Global Catalog it will auto DNS for you. You don’t have to do Step 3, just transfer the DNS zones.



  6. 7 Jonathan September 17, 2009 at 0:47 am


    I’m trying to convert an AD using vmware converter. all goes well after converting the AD loads successfully but when i’m adding a user it says “cannot create object” pls help, thanks.

    pls forgive my construction of words i’m not good in english.

    • 8 SchemaMasta May 13, 2011 at 7:22 am

      When you need to virtualize a DC you must transfer all the FSMO roles to another DC, then demote the DC you want to virtualize. After it is mounted as a virtual, you can then promote it back to DC and transfer all the roles back to it.

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  24. 26 Dell Bingham July 7, 2014 at 15:28 pm

    Here is what I have: I have a couple of Forest Controllers and a few DC’s. My FSMO roles are spread out among one Forest Controller (Schema Master and Domain Naming Master) and my PDC, RID Pool Manager, and Infrastructure Master are located on my DC. When I clone (using VMWARE) and “do the do” as stated above and then NETDOM QUERY FSMO, my Forest Controller still has its roles. Does this mean that in order for me to build my test environment to allow it to truly work, I would need to clone the Forest Controller too and move it into my private test environment????

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  1. 1 Replicate Technologies » Upgrading Microsoft Exchange Server Trackback on August 23, 2007 at 16:29 pm
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