Troubleshooting and Upgrading AD FS Farms

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Troubleshooting and Upgrading AD FS Farms

Troubleshooting and Upgrading an AD FS farms is usually a straightforward and easy task. There are many blogs detailing the process from Server 2012R2 to Server 2016/2019. Here are the general steps for upgrading a farm.

  1. Setup up a new server and install the AD FS role.
  2. Add the server to the existing farm.
  3. Set the new server as the primary server.
  4. Point the other servers to the new primary server.
  5. Install additional servers to the AD FS farm.
  6. Uninstall AD FS on the old servers to remove them from the farm.

What are your options when this process doesn’t work? In my case, I could not add a new server to the farm. PowerShell and the GUI both returned errors when attempting to add a new Windows Server 2019 to the farm. I started looking at troubleshooting options and eventually decided to proceed with an attempt to in-place upgrade the Server 2012R2 farm to Server 2019.

Troubleshooting

Microsoft provides some powerful tools for troubleshooting AD FS issues. AD FS Help provides several troubleshooting guides and diagnostic tools that can help resolve issues with your AD FS farm. The tools are located here: https://adfshelp.microsoft.com/.

The AD FS Diagnostic Analyzer tool can provide a health check for you AD FS farm. To use the AD FS Diagnostic Analyzer, you need to install the AD FS Toolbox PowerShell Module.

Install-Module -Name ADFSToolbox -Force

Import-Module ADFSToolbox -Force

Once the AD FS Toolbox is installed, run the Export-AdfsDiagnosticsFile command which will generate a JSON file for upload. The command will run against the local AD FS server unless the farm is Windows Server 2016 or higher. You can also list the servers with the -adfsServers parameter. The -adfsServers parameter is required for 2012R2 farms. Upload the JSON file to the https://adfshelp.microsoft.com/ site and the site will display the Health Test Results. The site will detail any problems and offer step by step guides or links to documentation to remediate the issues.

Backup and Restore

There is also the AD FS Rapid Restore Tool found here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/identity/ad-fs/operations/ad-fs-rapid-restore-tool. The tool backs up the following AD FS configuration data:

  • AD FS database
  • Configuration file
  • Automatically generated token signing and decrypting certificates and private keys
  • SSL certificate and any externally enrolled certificates and corresponding private keys
  • The custom authentication providers, attribute stores, and local claims provider trusts that are installed

Unfortunately, the Restore Tool only supports a restore to the same version as the backup. This means that you cannot use this method to restore AD FS to a newer version of AD FS. You could restore the AD FS farm to a new set of servers and attempt to add upgraded servers to the farm as outlined above.

Other Tools

The https://adfshelp.microsoft.com/ site provides a number of other tools and support options. There is a full list of AD FS event items for 2012R2/2016/2019 with ID, Name, and Description. Claims X-Ray assists with debugging claims issues in your applications. The AD FS Event Module provides tools to gather and review the events from multiple servers. There are several more tools available as well.

In-Place Upgrade

Even after running the diagnostic tools several times and making the recommended changes, I still was unable to add a new server to the existing farm. The other option is to attempt an in-place upgrade of the servers in the AD FS farm. Technically, this is not supported as upgrading Windows Server with AD FS installed will uninstall the AD FS role. Prior to attempting this method, I made a snapshot (Hyper-V virtual Machines) of the AD FS servers and a backup of the AD FS farm’s current state. I started by upgrading the secondary AD FS server first. If I was unable to add the server back into the farm and promote it to the primary server, then my plan was to use the AD FS Restore Tool and rebuild the farm. These are the steps I took for the in-place upgrade.

  1. Upgrade the secondary AD FS server to Server 2019.
  2. Install the AD FS role.
  3. Add the upgraded server back into the farm.
  4. Set the server as the primary AD FS server in the farm.
  5. Verified that AD FS was still working for our services.
  6. Upgrade the former primary server, reinstall the AD FS role and set it as the primary server.

I also did an in-place upgrade of the Web Application Proxy server and added it to the farm with the Install-WebApplicationProxy cmdlet. The final step is raising the farm functional level with the Invoke-AdfsFarmBehaviorLevelRaise cmdlet. This will enable the new features to Verify the update completed with the Get-AdfsProperties | Select CurrentFarmBehavior cmdlet.

While it is not a supported option, the in-place upgrade of my AD FS farm worked perfectly. Hopefully, it is not an option you will need.

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