With a bit of wrangling and some brain surgery from the folks over at Home Server Show forums, I was able to successfully get Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials up and running on my Western Digital DX 4000 server. There really is no trickery to this, and honestly it could not have been any easier. You don’t even really need a TightVNC Bootable USB to craft your subsystem if you set things up right for auto installation. However, there is one small issue I encountered that baffled me for a few days and I’ll cover that caveat a little later in this post so you can learn from my mistake.
[note: autounattend.xml file fixed]
There are a couple ways to get Essentials on the box and in this article I will really only go into the easy way to do this. The more complex method does have its’ merits and is useful, especially for a use case called remote restoration. This is where you basically take a bootable USB and remotely reimage the thing to a zero state. It’s a way to get a factory restoration done to the box. To make this work though, you need to make the DVD yourself. Yep, that’s a bummer. And in my humble opinion, it just isn’t necessary for small scale or one time deployments. If you desire to setup a hosting service, become a deployment services manager or work a large lab, then it could be a great benefit. You can find some of the steps linked above, have fun.
Ok, enough of that stuff let’s get into the skinny of how simple it is to get Essentials installed on the DX4000. As a matter of fact, I’m going to make it so simple for you you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this yourself. And to that I say, because you just didn’t have the spare time… like I apparently did.
Step 1: Download
Download the TVNC_autounattend.zip. It contains two versions for your use. One does and the other does not include commands for TightVNC. Both scripts will wipe disk zero (0) and create 4 partitions (RE, EFI, MSR, and Primary). In order to be able to use TightVNC, you still need to add the bits to both indexes of the BOOT.WIM file (see my previous articles on how to do that). You will need to edit both files and change any areas with XXXXX to the correct properties for installation. These fields are for your license key, name, company, administrator password etc… Just don’t forget to do that or you’ll be wondering why it doesn’t work.
Step 2: Prepare a fresh installer
Mount your Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials ISO or DVD and copy the contents into a fresh directory somewhere. You’ll need to mount both indexes of the BOOT.WIM as well as index one (1) of the INSTALL.WIM and inject the RST drivers for installation. Commit the changes, then copy the contents onto your prepared bootable USB.
Step 3: Install base OS
Place the freshly made installer USB in the first slot on the back of the DX4000, hold the magic button and boot… The installer will kick off, wipe the disk and create the partitions for the system. After the installation has completed its’ initial phase, which you can watch if you so choose using the TightVNC version, the system will reboot and hang beautifully forever.
Step 4: Power Down and help UEFI
After a few minutes, the installer will complete the base preparation and reboot. However, there is one required file needed in the root of the EFI partition to tell the DX4000 where the boot loader is. There is probably a way to automate this part, but I’m skipping it for now… Power off the system.
- Place your trusty WINPE Bootable USB in and with the magic button, boot it up.
- Logon with VNC and fire up DISKPART.
- Select the volume that is labeled “System” and assign it a letter… perhaps the letter “S” would do.
- Exit DISKPART and change directories to the root of the S:\ partition.
- Create a file called “startup.nsh”. To do this execute the following command: S:\notepad startup.nsh
- Paste the following text into the file, save it.
NOTE: If you want the LCD messaging, you’ll need to grab the LCDTXT.EFI program from the original system prior to doing anything, or grab a copy from the Western Digital Recovery ISO. Copy it into the root of the EFI (system) partition along with the startup.nsh file and change the file to pump a message:
LcdTxt 0 “LOADING OS ”
LcdTxt 1 “PLEASE WAIT…. ”
Step 5: Power Down / Up
After adding the one required file, power down the system by executing WPEUTIL SHUTDOWN and pull the USB. Power on the system and wait.
Step 6: Make some coffee
I’m not going to explain how to do that J
Step 7: Open RDP, Have Fun!
It takes a few minutes to complete the process and I generally sit with a command prompt open pinging the server to see when it comes online. Even after it starts responding, RDP services take a minute or two before becoming accessible… just have patience. Fire up your remote desktop connection, you should be presented with a lovely logon screen. Enter the credentials you inserted into the XXXX spot for it in the autounattend.xml file and logon.
Figure 1: Enable Discovery
Figure 2: Essentials PowerShell is starting…
With your patience being tested, wait a minute or more and you will eventually see the Essentials PowerShell script fire… let it do its’ thing as soon thereafter, the Configuration Wizard will be launched and do some scanning. Congratulations, you should get a cookie for your coffee.
Figure 3: Configuration Wizard
Now, “if” you are interested in setting up Essentials for multiple deployments… this is where the complexity starts. You’ll need to kill the configuration wizard and do some monkeying around with the registry, get sysprep’d, and capture partitions to hold zero state images. But that is it. I do not plan to jog those exercises, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. But I hope this gets you started, the only thing left to do is setup the system properties, and a few reboots later.. Essentials is working like a charm.
I’ll just simply say this, do not use an allocation unit size (AUS) greater than 4K for your installation partition (C:\). While the operating system seems to handle this all well and good, for whatever reason the Configuration Wizard will fail if you say, use a 64K AUS. Why? No idea.
On That Note:
One thing to keep in mind, do not change any system properties until after Essentials has completed installing, such as NIC teaming. Just wait until Essentials has completed. You do not need to install any special drivers for Windows 2012 R2 Essentials to do NIC teaming on the DX4000, the adapters have integrated support and the built in teaming features are… quite good.
Windows RE partition? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. Not only does the installer branch that out of your installation partition… it gives you an opportunity to modify it for a way to add some remote capabilities. Indeed you can have a way, that if the system boots into emergency mode, to access it via TightVNC. I will be writing another article on this, which breaks down the steps necessary to do this as well as create a remotabootable (I can to make up my own words) WINPE/RE USB for such cases. See you in the next article and … good luck out there!