DHCP Resiliency in Windows Server 2012

I take pleasures in the little things in life. Reading a good book, going to see a cool act that nobody else cares about (Eli “Paperboy” Reed anyone?), so while there is lots and lots of really cool new stuff in Windows Server 2012 (Fibre Channel in Hyper-V, Virtual Networks, PowerShell improvements . . .and the list goes on) I want to have a look at one of the little things. Nothing too fancy or really big and noticeable, but something I think many people will find useful, and easy to implement: DHCP Scope Failover.

In the past, if an organization wanted to reduce their dependency on a single DHCP server, they needed to implement a DHCP Split Scope design or building Failover Clusters. It works–but in my experience, even with the Split Scope Wizard, it was a bit of a pain to design and implement. And with a split scope, the reality is that you’re just splitting your overall pool between multiple servers. If a server goes down, the part of the pool that it was responsible is unavailable/unresponsive. If the server stays down a long time, that can cause you problems and may require you to build a new server with a restored copy of the DHCP database from the original server.

Windows Server 2012 provides us with a much simpler, more elegant solution: DHCP Failover. At its simplest you need two Windows Server 2012 servers, configured with the DHCP Server role, as indicated in Figure 1.

Once you have two servers, choose one of them and create and configure a scope, just as you normally would. Configure the options you require, the lease expiry etc. Feel free to use whatever management tools you prefer for this. One thing to note: if you are planning on configuring a scope for failover, you will want to make sure the options are scope-based, not server-based (unless both DHCP servers are going have identical server options, but I like to keep my scopes self-contained). In Figure 2 you can see a private network scope with fairly common scope options configured.

Now that I’ve got a scope configured on one of my DHCP servers (JFIN-SRV), I can configure it for failover. You can configure failover for either a balanced workload approach (an active-active relationship between the two servers) or a hot-failover (active-passive). Using the DHCP Manager, either of these options is fairly straightforward to configure. In DHCP Manager connected to the DHCP server currently hosting the scope, right-click on the scope and choose Configure Failover…. The first screen confirms which scope or scopes you are configuring failover for. Choose accordingly and click Next. The next screen asks you to choose or add the partner server. If you already have a scope set up for failover, then that server should be available in the drop-down. If not, you will need to click on Add Server and then enter in the name of the other DHCP server. Once you have the failover server identified, click Next.

The “Create a new failover relationship” page is the most important page in the wizard. It is here that you get to configure the parameters of the relationship between the two DHCP servers. Choose a Relationship Name that makes sense for your ongoing management.

Figure 3: DHCP Failover Hot Standby

Figure 4: DHCP Failover Load Balance

Those of you with a keen eye will likely have noticed that there are two versions of this page. Figure 3,”Hot standby” is the Active-Passive approach, and Figure 4 shows “Load balance” the Active-Active. We’ll discuss the Maximum Client Lead Time and State Switchover Interval settings a little later. First though we need to go over the differences between the two modes. If you choose “Hot standby” then you need to choose whether the server you currently have the DHCP Manager connected to will be the Active or the Standby server. Additionally, you need configure what percentage of the scope will be reserved for the Standby server. You’ll notice that it defaults to only 5%. While this has the practical effect of reducing the number of addresses that can be leased, it’s a pretty small number.

If you choose “Load Balance”, then the two servers will share the workload in the percentages you choose. Both servers know about the entire scope (a bit different from the Hot standby mode) and use an internal algorithm based on the MAC address of the requestor to determine which server will handle the request and with what address. You change the percentages it changes the algorithm. It’s pretty hands off. To secure the failover messages between the servers, set a Shared Secret.

That leaves two settings that need to be configured. These settings control the speed with which full failover occurs. A scope (or servers) configured for DHCP Failover have three main states of being: Normal, Communication Interrupted and Partner Down.

Obviously, “Normal” is the mode you want to see most of the time. If a server loses communication with it’s partner, then the mode switches to “Communication Interrupted”. During this state you can manually trigger a failover to the remaining server if you know that the failed server is not coming up soon, and the remaining server will take over responsibility for the entire scope. The remaining server will wait for the Maximum Client Lead Time before taking control of the entire scope. If you want a remaining server automatically switch from “Communication Interrupted” to “Partner Down” (thus triggering the Maximum Client Lead Time interval) you can set the State Switchover Interval value to determine how long it will stay in “Communication Interrupted” before switching over.

You will want to consider the impact these two properties may have on the load balance or standby reservation percentages. Especially in a Hot standby scenario, if you set a long Maximum Client Lead Time and State Switchover Interval, then you might think about increasing the percentage held on the Standby to better service requests until full failover occurs. Having said that, you will want to have some idea how many IP addresses are normally refreshed within whatever timeframes you configure, and make sure that whatever percentages you set will support that.

Once you have finished on that page of the wizard, click Next and then click Finish to complete the configuration. When you are done, you can use the DHCP Manager to see that the scope now has a Status of “Active” and is configured for a failover relationship, as shown in Figure 6. You can do the failover management by right-clicking on the scope and choosing the appropriate replication options to move all active leases from one member of the partnership to another (perhaps for maintenance of one server), as well as an option to deconfigure failover.

Pretty easy to configure, easy to manage. Pleasure in the little things.

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