In addition to the shared development and test CRM servers at the office, I like to run my own personal CRM sandbox that allows me to test any applications, configurations and updates without having to worry about affecting any of my colleagues’ work. I’ve been running a VirtualBox server image on my desktop PC and standard hard drives, but even in a single user test environment, you can never have too much performance for your own needs.
After reading this blog post from Jeff Atwood, I couldn’t help but to shop around for an “SSD in your pocket”, meaning a super fast USB flash drive that would have sufficient storage space for hosting a CRM 2011 development server image. I decided to grab the SanDisk SDCZ80-064G-X46 64GB Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive from Amazon.co.uk for €60 and test it out as a portable CRM sandbox. 190 MB/s read and 170 MB/s write should provide a nice performance boost compared to my old spinning HDD’s.
Since shrinking my existing VirtualBox image down to the 60Gb available on the flash drive would have meant giving up on a lot of things I had installed there, I decided this was a good moment for building a brand new virtual server. During the fall I had already attempted a few times to deploy CRM 2011 on Windows Server 2012, even though it has been unsupported. Unfortunately none of the workarounds published by Daniel Cai had done the trick for me, so I decided to wait for the official support.
With Update Rollup 13 Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Server finally became officially supported to be run on Windows Server 2012. However, there was one catch: you could only upgrade an existing Windows Server 2008 deployment with CRM 2011 onto Windows Server 2012. For a brand new deployment there was a disclaimer included with UR13 release notes:
The Self-Healing Setup (SHS) that is required to install Update Rollup 13 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 on Windows Server 2012 will be published on Microsoft Update alongside the update rollup in mid-to-late April, 2013.
Ok, it’s 1st of May now, so where are these SHS files? Well, they are available, but not quite in the kind of format you would expect. You can’t simply download an updated version of the Dynamics CRM Server installer, as the one available on Microsoft Download is still the old version with Update Rollup 6 that was released in January 2012.
There’s a thread over at Dynamics Community CRM Forum that discusses the Windows Server 2012 installation procedure, but I’ll summarize how I managed to get CRM installed on such an environment. There were a few puzzling gotchas that no one else should spend their time on pondering.
Get the update files
The KB article 2434455, “How to obtain the setup updates for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011”, gives you the steps you need to follow. Instead of heading to Microsoft Download, you’ll need to visit the Microsoft Update catalog website (which only supports IE, by the way, so don’t click the link on Chrome or anything). From there you’ll be able to obtain a file called Setup Update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Server 2011. The fun part about this is that the size of the file is 1.5 GB.
Why is the file so huge, with the actual CRM 2011 Server installer being only 120 MB? The reason is that this file contains all 25 language versions for the update file. If you’re installing the English version, you’ll only need the en-server_kb2434455_amd64_1033 cab file. Oh well, the Internet is fast nowadays and hard drives are infinite, so let’s get on with it.
Prepare for installation
The cab file won’t be the installer itself, rather it’s a collection of updates that needs to be references while running the actual server installer. How do you do that then? By creating a config.xml file following the example given in the KB article above and dropping it into the same folder as installer and the cab file.
Then we can proceed with starting the installation. Only there’s one more catch which isn’t included in the KB article: you’ll need to start the installation process from the command line in order to be able to tell that there’s a config file pointing to a cab file that contains the updates necessary for CRM 2011 to run on Windows Server 2012. You can read through the TechNet article “Use the Command Prompt to Install Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011” if you’re interested in the finer details of parameterizing your CRM server deployments, but if you’re like me, you’ll just want to copy-paste the required bits onto the prompt to move on with the process.
- Put the cab and config.xml in C:\Temp
- Download the UR6 version of CRM 2011 Server installer and put the CRM2011-Server-ENU-amd64.exe file in the same folder
- Run the file, point it to extract the files onto the very same C:\Temp directory
- Cancel any further setup screens that may be launched, as you’ll still need to provide the pointer to the cab file
- Open the command prompt, go to C:\Temp directory and type: setupserver.exe /config C:\Temp\config.xml
This process will make the installer skip the question of “do you want to download updates from Microsoft Update” and use the SHS cab file directly. This is the whole point of our exercise, as Microsoft Update for one reason or another cannot provide the necessary updates for Windows Server 2012 compatibility for the CRM 2011 Server installer.
After this part, you can follow the standard steps for installing CRM. You may get an error screen saying “Action Microsoft.Crm.Setup.Common.InstallWindowsSearchAction failed. Class not registered (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80040154 (REGDB_E_CLASSNOTREG))”, but just click Ignore on it as that issue is most likely just about the indexing service for the CRM help files.
Validate and update once more
Once you’re done and have rebooted the server, you’ll be able to launch CRM. From those oldskool icons in the Wunderbar area you’ll quickly notice that this deployment is still running a pre-cross-browser era version of Dynamics CRM. The build numbers 5.0.9690.2015 and 5.0.9690.1992 indicate that it is in fact a UR6 organization still. (Hmm, was there ever any need for UR13 to support installation on Windows Server 2012 then?) Before you start working on your environment, download and install Update Rollup 13 to make CRM support the IE10 running on your Windows Server 2012, unless you enjoy using the IE7 Compatibility View.
There we have it. A nice and fast CRM 2011 sandbox image running Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 in a 36 GB image stored on a very fast thumb drive. I’m sure I’ll be struggling with keeping the image small enough with all the updates, service packs, Office, Visual Studio and other bloat that’s bound to end up there. On the plus side I’ll be able to carry the sandbox on my keychain and plug it into any PC with sufficient memory to run the environment (3.5 GB & 2 CPU reserved for it currently) and enjoy SSD level disk I/O performance. We’ll see if it was worth all the trouble at the end, but hey – don’t we all just enjoy fiddling with the latest software and fastest hardware?
Edit 2013-05-04: For anyone looking to move completely towards developing for Dynamics CRM on top of Windows Server 2012, please note that the Dynamics CRM Outlook client does not support Windows Server 2012 yet. If you try to run the setup, all you will get is the following message: “Cannot install Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Outlook. Install Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2, and then try again.”
Edit 2013-05-04, Part 2: If you’re interested in the detailed steps for building a Dynamics CRM sandbox, please refer to articles like Creating a MS CRM 2011 VM by Mark Kovalcson or Setting up a CRM demo environment in Windows Azure Virtual Machines by Shan McArthur (unfortunately the images on this post no longer work). It doesn’t really matter on which virtualization platform you’re building your sandbox on. I’m using VirtualBox simply because I have other existing virtual machines on it, but with Windows 8 built-in Hyper-V support you don’t necessarily need any additional software. Also, as you can see from Shan’s post, running these environments in Azure is also a perfectly viable option.