Installing and/or Upgrading a Multi-Server SQL Server Reporting Services 2012 SharePoint Mode Farm

A few months ago I posted an article discussing how to upgrade integrated mode Reporting Services from 2008R2 to 2012. That article pretty well assumed a small SharePoint farm, with a single SharePoint server, a single SQL server, and with Reporting Services running on the SharePoint server. In this article, I’d like to address upgrading and/or installing on a medium or large farm, but to do so, I need to first discuss the nuances involved in scaling out the Reporting Services service application of a SharePoint 2010 farm.

As I discussed previously, and as the Service Application architecture of Reporting Services 2012 makes plain, Reporting Services bits from the SQL server installation media must be installed on a server that has the SharePoint bits installed, and is joined to the farm. In the simple farm scenario mentioned above, that’s fairly straightforward – it’s the SharePoint server (NOT the SQL server!). However, if your SharePoint farm consists of multiple servers, you need to decide where you want your Report processing to be done. With 2012, Reporting Services is a full fledged SharePoint application, which means that it is relatively straightforward to load balance this processing.

A recent project that I worked on had an architecture very similar to the diagram found on the MSDN article explaining how to scale out Reporting Services:

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The only difference in my case was that there were 4 servers in the front end role (1). Of course the servers in the application role served up more than just Reporting Services, but the diagram is essentially accurate. In our case, the SQL Server cluster was running SQL Server 2008 R2, but that was inconsequential because only the Reporting Services instances on the two Application Servers were being upgraded.

If you are are upgrading, there are a number of other steps in addition required first. No matter what, the encryption key should be backed up first. It will be needed after the upgrade unless you want to recreate all of your data connections. Once that is backed up, you should of course back up your two Reporting Services databases. Next, if you have a load balanced (Reporting Services) environment, I recommend removing from rotation all of the load balanced RS servers, leaving only the server that will be used for the primary upgrade. To make things very simple, I also recommend completely uninstalling Reporting Services from all but the one server.

Once complete, the main server can be upgraded according to the instructions laid out in my previous article. However, you may find, as I have, that SSRS doesn’t always want to be upgraded cleanly. The good news is that this is relatively easy to recover from. The SSRS service application works like other service applications in that when it is being created, and you specify an existing database, that database will be upgraded automatically. Therefore, if you find yourself with an uncooperative SSRS installation, simple uninstall it, and install the 2012 components from scratch, making sure to use the name of your existing RS database when the service application is being created. Once complete, restore your encryption key, and you should be good to go.

Whether or not you are upgrading or installing fresh, there are a number of differences when installing to a multi server farm compared to a single server installation.

Firstly, when installing SSRS 2012, you will be presented with a screen where you may choose the SQL features to be installed.

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There are two components to Reporting Services in SharePoint mode, Reporting Services – SharePoint, and the Reporting Services Add-in for SharePoint Products. A lot of the guidance simply says to select both options and continue. However, in a multi farm environment it is important to understand the difference between the two.

Feature #1 is the core of Reporting Services, what in the past would have been the instance, but is now the service application itself. Feature #2 is the add-in, which has been around since the first integrated mode SSRS. It is used by SharePoint to connect to SSRS. In the past, that was a connection to the SSRS web services, but is now how the SharePoint front end servers connect to the service application. Therefore, in a multi server farm, feature 1 should be installed on every application server that will process SSRS reports, and feature #2 must be installed on every server participating in the front end role. Since application servers often perform a dual role, at least for administrators, I recommend installing both features on application servers.

I’m not going to walk through the steps required to create the service application and light up the features in this article, as there is quite a bit of good guidance on that available. I also wrote one up for installing on SharePoint 2013 which is pretty much identical to 2010 for SSRS.

Once the initial installation is complete, it should be repeated on every server that will participate in the Application server role. Obviously the service application only needs to be created once. Once all of the bits are installed on all of the relevant servers, simply navigate to Services on Server under System Settings in Central Admin, and start the “SQL Server Reporting Services” service on every application server. Once that’s done, you’ll have a load balanced, multi-server Reporting Services service.

It is worth calling out a common error encountered in the multi-server farm scenario. You may find that after your upgrade or installation has completed, attempts to access a report from the front end servers result in a connection error, “The attempt to connect to the report server failed. Check your connection information and that the report server is a compatible version”.

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It’s the last bit of the error that’s relevant. This problem arises when the add-in hasn’t been installed to the front end servers in the farm. Now, you may remember that the Reporting Services Add-In is one of the prerequisites that the prerequisite installer installs on your SharePoint boxes. In the case of an upgrade, you may also remember that you never had to do this before to get SSRS working. So why is it that we need to do this now? It’s because the add-in included with the prerequisite installer is for SSRS 2008 R2, and we’ve just added SSRS 2012. The add ins are not forward compatible, and therefore, it need to be on every front end server in the farm.

So to recap, in order to scale out reporting services, Install the service on one application server, and get it working in the farm. Then, install the service on the remaining application servers, start the service on each server, and install the RS add-in for 2012 on all of the front end servers.

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