Primary replica is not joined to the Availability group, or clusters past morphing into clusters present

Problem

I was upgrading an Availability group from SQL 2012 on Win 2012R2 to SQL 2016 on Win2016. I had expected to create the new AOAG as a separate cluster and move the data manually, but the users are always complaining when I want to use my allotted downtime quotas, so I decided to try a rolling upgrade instead. This post is a journal of some of the perils I encountered along the way, and how I overcame them. There were countless others, but most of them were related to crappy hardware, wrong hardware being delivered, missing LUNS on the SAN, delusional people who believe they can lock out DBAs from supporting systems, dragons, angry badgers, solar flares and whichever politician you dislike the most. Anyways, on with the tale of clusters past morphing into clusters present…

I started with adding the new node to the failover cluster. This went surprisingly well, in spite of the old servers being at least two generations older than my new rack servers. Sadly, both the new and the old servers are made by the evil wizards behind the silver slanted E due to factors outside of my control. But I digress. The cluster join went flawlessly. There was some yellow complaints about the nodes not having the same OS version in the cluster validation scroll, but everything worked.

Then came adding the new server as a replica in the availability group. This is done from the primary replica, and I just uttered a previously prepared spell from the book of disaster recovery belonging to this cluster, adding the name of the new node. As far as I can remember this is just the result of the standard “Add replica” wizard. The spell ran without complaints, and my new node was online.

This is the point where it all went to heck in a small hand-basket carried by an angry badger. I noticed a yellow warning next to the new node in the AOAG dashboard. But as the databases were all in the synchronizing state on the new replica, I believed this to be a note complaining about the OS-version. I was wrong. In my ignorance, I failed over to the new node and had the application  team minions run some tests. They came back positive, so I removed the old nodes in preparation for adding the last one. I even ran the Update-ClusterFunctionalLevel Powershell command without issues. But the warning persisted. This is the contents of the warning:

Availability replica not joined.

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And it was no longer a lone warning, the AOAG dashboard did not look pretty as both the old nodes refused to accept the new node as their new primary replica.

Analysis

As far as I can tell, the join AOAG script failed in some way. It did not report any errors, but still, there is no doubt that something did go wrong.

The solution as reported by MSDN is simple, just join the availability group by casting the “alter availability group groupname join” spell from the secondary replica that is not joined. The attentive reader has probably already realized that this is the primary replica, and as you probably suspect, the aforementioned command fails.

Casting the following spell lists the replicas and their join state: “select join_state, join_state_desc from sys.dm_hadr_availability_replica_cluster_states”. This is the result:

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In some way I have put the node in an invalid state. It still works perfectly, but I guess there is only a question about when, not if this issue is about to grow into a bigger problem.

Solution

With such an elaborate backstory, you would not be wrong to expect an equally elaborate solution. Whether or not it is, is really in the eye of the beholder.

Just the usual note of warning first: If you are new to availability groups, and all this cluster stuff sounds like the dark magic it is, I would highly suggest that you do not try to travel down the same path as me. Rather, you should turn around at the entrance and run as fast as you can into the relative safety of creating another cluster alongside the old one. Then migrate the data by backing up on the old cluster and restoring on the new cluster. And if backups and restores on availability groups sounds equally scary, then ask yourself whether or not you are ready to run AOAG in production. In contrast to what is often said in marketing materials and at conferences, AOAG is difficult and scary to the beginner. But there are lots of nice training resources out there, even some free ones.

Now, with the warnings out of the way, here is what ended up working for me. I tried a lot of different solutions, but I was bound by the following limitation: The service has to be online. That translates to no reboots, no AOAG-destroy and recreate, no cluster rebuilds and so on. A combination of which would probably have solved the problem in less than an hour of downtime. But I was allowed none, so this is what I did:

  • Remove any remaining nodes and replicas that are not Win2016 SQL2016.
  • Run the Powershell command Update-ClusterFunctionalLevel to make sure that the cluster is running in Win2016 mode.
  • Build another Win 2016 SQL 2016 node
  • Join the new node to the cluster
  • Make sure that the cluster validation scroll seems reasonable. This is a fluffy point I know, but there are way to many variables to make an exhaustive list. https://lokna.no/?p=1687 mentions some of the issues you may encounter.
  • Join the new node to the availability group as a secondary replica.
  • Fail the availability group over to the new node (make sure you are in synchronous commit mode for this step).
  • Everything is OK.

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  • Fail back to the first node
  • Change back to asynchronous commit (if that is you default mode, otherwise leave it as synchronous).

 

Thus I have successfully upgraded a 2-node AOAG cluster from Win2012R2 and SQL 2012 to Win2016 and SQL 2016 with three failovers as the only downtime. In QA. Production may become an interesting journey, IF the change request is approved. There may be an update if I survive the process…

 

Update and final notes

I have now been through the same process in production, with similar results. I do not recommend doing this in production, the normal migration to a new cluster is far preferable, especially when you are crossing 2 SQL Server versions on the way. Then again, if the reduced downtime is worth the risk…

Be aware that a failover to a new node is a one way process. Once the SQL 2016 node becomes the primary replica, the database is updated to the latest file format, currently 852 whereas SQL 2012 is 706. And as far as I can tell from the log there is a significant number of upgrades to be made. See http://sqlserverbuilds.blogspot.no/2014/01/sql-server-internal-database-versions.html for a list of version numbers.

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