Upgrade AD from 2008 R2 to 2016 with on prem Exchange 2013

Melissa Dyer
Melissa Dyer used Ask the Experts™
We currently have 3 domain controllers running Windows Server 2008 R2. We are using Exchange 2013 on premise (Version 15.0 (Build 1178.4)). I am planning the first step of adding a server running 2012 and promoting it to a DC on our way to getting the AD level eventually to 2016. I know that I will need to run adprep /forestprep and adprep /domainprep once I have the new server joined to the domain. My concern is with the effects this will have on Exchange 2013. In my research I have seen everything from "it can't be done"  to "it's easy and doesn't break anything". Can the experts weigh in on what the expected and/or potential problems I need to watch out for are? Is there anything I can do to minimize the potential problems? If one of you have a step by step to offer I would be forever grateful but any advice is welcome. Thanks!
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MichelangeloSystem Administrator / Postmaster

AD level (domain and forest) support is about AD schema and not operating system. You want to upgrade your DCs only I suppose, so a schema upgrade is necessary.
Exchange 2013 requires at minimum 2008 R2 FFL (see here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/previous-versions/windows/it-pro/windows-server-2008-R2-and-2008/cc754918(v=ws.10) ).

In a nutshell: evolving your DOmain FFL does not impact “di per se” exchange 2013
Windows System Administrator
I'd highly recommend skipping Server 2012 and just go straight to Server 2016. No need to put a Server 2012 server in as a DC when you could jump straight up to Server 2016.

For DFL & FFL, that's only done once all of your DC's have been upgraded to 2016, it can't be done before. So while adding a single 2016 server in will get you on the path, you'll need to upgrade all of your DC's to 2016 before you can look at upgrading your DFL & FFL.

If you're concerned, you could always go to 2012 DFL/FFL first and then go up to 2016 when you're happy there's been no issues.

As a side anecdote, I know my organisation currently runs Exchange 2013 for 99% of our mailboxes, and we're on DFL/FFL Server 2016 and we haven't seen any issues.
Michael B. SmithManaging Consultant

This website defines the supportability matrix for all recent versions of Exchange Server: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff728623(v=exchg.150).aspx

As long as you are at Exchange 2013 SP1 or later, then a DFL/FFL of Server 2016 is supported (and everything less, down to Server 2003).
Melissa DyerSenior Network Administrator


Thank you all for your input. Hearing from somebody who was actually using 2013 on a DFL/FFL of 2016 has been very reassuring. Thanks!!

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