I have been experimenting with Windows Server 2012 R2. This is, of course, the server version of Windows 8.1. From my limited experience, Server 2012 is far superior to previous releases with one exception: the touch screen UI doesn’t belong within 1 trillion miles of a server OS. It does not belong on a desktop/laptop OS either, but most especially on a server OS. Below is an on-going collection of notes and ideas I have learned or discovered while using Server 2012 R2, which I will just call “Server” from now on.

This is a collection of my notes and any part of the content may change over time. Last update was 1/6/2015.

Notes

Through every step of the way, I made backups. Lots of backups. Before I attempted anything new, I always made a backup. If you are following my notes, just make frequent backups.

I wanted a server with Exchange but with the ability to backup like Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows Server Essentials. Both have the exact same backup program, but Server Essentials supports 25 computers and requires a domain. The discontinued Windows Home Server 2011 did not require a domain and supported 10 computer backups. Server Standard allows you to add the backup features of Server Essentials. But I ran into a problem, as I describe below. I bought four 4TB hard drives: Western Digital Red Pro with the 5 year warranty. The Red series is meant for frequent disk access. I put them in a RAID 5 array with the LSI 9240-8i RAID adapter. This Wikipedia article will describe RAID and all its settings. This LSI adapter supports 8 hard drives. I bought four hard drives, but I figured I would leave room to add a fifth just in case. I did all this thinking Server Essentials could co-exist with Exchange.

But that was my problem. Windows Server Essentials cannot coexist with Exchange Server. I wanted to experiment with Exchange. But I also wanted my learning/experimenting server to replace my aging but still very good Windows Home Server (WHS). My WHS does a daily backup and makes sharing files easy. Server 2012 Essentials has a daily backup feature, the same one that is in Windows Home Server 2011. But Server Essentials does not support Exchange. Server 2012 Standard does support Exchange and you can add the tools found in Server Essentials. I thought I could easily add the two. I needed daily backups, but I also needed to learn how to use Exchange and Server. After many frustrating hours, I have finally discovered the two are incompatible.

That led to look up Hyper-V, the feature in Windows that allows a virtual operating system to run inside your current operating system. Because I had thought I could mix the Essentials tools with Exchange, I installed Server Standard first. Then I installed Server Essentials as a virtual machine. But I messed up. Learn from my mistake and choose one of these options if you want the backup and easy file sharing features of Server Essentials. You must remember that Server Essentials requires you to create a domain, you cannot join one already created. Also, you will need lots of memory, at least 16 GB.

  1. Install Server Essentials first and then create a virtual machine through Hyper-V and install Server Standard on it. This is probably the best option.
  2. Install Server Standard but do not create a domain. Then install Server Essentials are your virtual machine. After Server Essentials finishes its setup process, then join your Server Standard to that domain.
  3. Purchase two licenses of Server Standard and have one with Exchange and the other with the Essentials tools.
  4. If you need less than 10 backup computers, the find a copy of Windows Home Server 2011 and install that as a virtual machine instead. Since my test server is at home, this is the option I finally decided because a home test environment does not need a domain.

Another thing I learned is that drives in Hyper-V are separated. In other words, the virtual machine cannot have the same control over a drive. This is good for the boot drive in the master OS and the virtual machine. But for secondary drives there needs to be a way to easily share drives.

At first, I installed Server on my original RAID 5. Since I thought the backup of Essentials could co-exist, I divided my 12,000 GB (12 TB) of space into 100 GB for critical server files, 11,900 GB for shared files and backups. When I discovered the backup option wasn’t going to work, I went back to planning.

While I was planning, I found a solid-state hard drive with a 10 year warranty on sale at Newegg. I thought that would be great. I could easily clone my RAID 5 drives to the smaller drive and solve all my problems. As it turned out, this was not easy. I spent 3 days trying to figure this out.

What I eventually learned — and remember, this is a learning server — is that you need to do the restore procedure found on the Server DVD. To copy a Windows installation to a smaller drive, you need to make sure all partitions of your boot hard drive does not exceed the capacity of the smaller drive. I deleted the 11,900 GB partition, made a backup, booted the Server DVD, and then told the image recovery to ignore the RAID 5 drives. Success!

Now a new problem. How to install Windows Home Server 2011 (WHS) on a 12 TB hard drive. Older computers could only boot to drives of 2 TB or less. How do you get Hyper V to enable the larger hard drive support? I never did figure out. Although WHS never balked about a 12 TB hard drive, before the entire setup finished the virtual WHS would crash and followed shortly by Server restarting. Since I was using an older non-server CPU, motherboard, and memory, I thought that was the problem. So I ordered a server motherboard, Xeon CPU, and server memory. (I found a customer to buy some of this non-server hardware I had purchased, so I didn’t lose any money.) But the problem with WHS remained.

I finally discovered that the power-saving C1 instructions on the Intel CPU’s are incompatible with virtual machines. After I disabled those features in the UEFI, everything worked fine. I made a few tweaks and was able to get Windows Home Server running and recognized the 12 TB of storage.

I was going to abandon Windows Server 2012 completely but then I became very busy with both business and personal duties and so I put the new server on the back-burner. After I finally had some free time because of the slow holiday period, I decide to start fresh. I installed Server 2012 R2 Essentials on a 120 GB SSD,recreate a fresh RAID-5, and install Server 2012 R2 Standard on a virtual machine. I’m glad I did. I learned a lot. First, the LSI RAID card is very quirky. I finally learned what was causing Windows to crash, and it was the LSI RAID adapter. I had my 120 GB boot drive on the LSI RAID card because my first motherboard I was testing with (before I spent money for a real server motherboard) was either the RAID card or the motherboard SATA ports, but not both. With a fresh mind I decided to see if that still held true with a Supermicro motherboard; it did not. The computer boots with the 120 GB SSD with a 10 year warranty on the motherboard, and the RAID-5 hard drives are all by themselves on the LSI RAID card. No more stability problems.

Now I have a working Server 2012 R2 Essentials backing up, a working Server 2012 R2 Standard running, and also a book so I can play away to my heart’s content. I did learn how to expedite the backups and how to backup a computer without being on the domain. See below for that.

I am still learning with Server, even using it to create a virtual Windows 10 to learn on. (Another blog post on that later.)

Lessons Learned

  • Exchange Server is incompatible with the features of Server Essentials. If you want the backup features of Server Essentials but still need Exchange than you will have to create a virtual machine using Hyper-V to run a separate Windows Server side-by-side.
  • Turn off any C1 CPU settings in the BIOS or UEFI setup. This will kill some power saving features on your computer. But Hyper-V is incompatible with the C1 CPU settings.
  • Hardware RAID cards can be very funny. If you insert a flash drive in your computer then Windows may not boot. If you modify some USB settings, it may interfere with the RAID card too.
  • LSI RAID cards are funny too. When I put the RAID card in a Asus motherboard (not a server motherboard), I could either use the LSI RAID adapter or the motherboard SATA ports, but not both. When I put the LSI RAID card in a Supermicro server motherboard, this was not a problem. If I put a hard drive on the LSI RAID card that was not part of a RAID array, every time I used the RAID hard drives it would cause a problem with Windows.
  • To expedite the backups of your individual computers, you need to set the follow domain policies. Please note that you should not do this if your computer is running a website. These rules might hold true for Windows Home Server 2011, except for the group policies. (Source: http://mctexpert.blogspot.com/2011/02/disable-smb-signing.html)
    • Computer Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Local Policy -> Security Options
      • Domain member: Digitally encrypt secure channel data (when possible) –> DISABLED
      • Microsoft network server: Digitally sign communications (always) –> DISABLED
  • To backup a computer without being a part of a domain, open a command prompt as an administrator and enter this command:
    • reg add “HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\ClientDeployment” /v SkipDomainJoin /t REG_DWORD /d 1
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