Headless installation of Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Headless installation of Windows Server 2012 Essentials

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Tobias Hertkorn, one of our Microsoft Premier Field Engineers from Germany would like to share with you his tips on installing Windows 2012 Essentials, using a neat little trick and help from Hyper-V.


 

The trick

Headless installation can be cumbersome and nerve-wrecking. “Did it boot from my USB stick correctly?”, “Is it hanging somewhere waiting for input?”, etc…  Those are the kind of questions going through my head every time I did a headless installation in the past and waited, often for hours, until the server finally gave me some meaningful feedback. No more, because:

  • The new setup experience for Windows Server 2012 Essentials takes headless installations into account;
  • I now know a nice little trick that makes the installation experience an even better one Smile

The first part of the installation can be done on any PC running Hyper-V. Up to the first reboot of the setup there are no device specific things going on, so why not doing them with the benefit of full visual control?

Hyper-V makes everything easier

Who would have thought Hyper-V even makes installing hardware server easier?  Not me.  But by making the soon-to-be server drive the main disk within a Hyper-V session actually lets you start the installation process right up to the point where it is ready to be popped into the server to finish the installation.

To do that connect the new server drive to a second PC.  I did this using the Sharkoon SATA QuickPort PRO HDD docking station.  It’s a great piece of hardware, especially when you are experience hardware problems. And then it’s usually too late to order one, so my advice:  Every house hold should have one anyway, so go out there and buy one now.  I’ll wait here.

Did you buy one?  Good.  For me the QuickPort PRO is best suited, because it has eSATA support, which from my experience will greatly speed up both restores and headless installs.1

Mark the newly attached disk as offline and add it to Hyper-V

In order for the new drive to be consumed by Hyper-V it must be marked as offline for the host OS. For that go into the disk management MMC snap-in.  I usually do that by right-clicking on “Computer” and selecting “Manage”. Finding the server disk, I right-click it and select “Offline”. In this screenshot Disk 2 is the server disk and it is now marked as offline.

disk management MMC snap-in

With this done, I can now create a new virtual machine using the Hyper-V manager. Going through the wizard, I select 2048MB of RAM, select no connection yet and select “Attach a virtual hard disk later”.

Now I open the settings dialog for the virtual machine, because I need to change a couple of things, in order for the installation to go through smoothly. First of all, I upgrade the number of processors to 2. Then I remove the Network Adapter and add a Legacy Network Adapter instead.  Strictly speaking this is not necessary for this particular installation. But it helps and it is vital for restores.  So I do it anyways.  For the network I choose my external network that shares the network interface.

For the VM to boot into the installation I attach the ISO of the installation disk to the DVD drive on IDE Controller 1.  Finally I select the IDE Controller 0 and add a hard drive.  Then I select “Physical hard disk” and in the dropdown I choose the server disk.  That’s it.  Now the settings dialog should look like this:

the settings dialog

 

Start the installation and watch out for the reboot

Now I start the VM in order to begin the installation.  For the rest to work flawlessly it is important that I shut down the VM right before or at least during the very first reboot the installation initiates.  In case of the Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation it is right after the installation screen looks this way:

Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation

 

Finishing the installation

Next thing to do is put the server disk as the primary disk into the server. And power it on. After a short while I am able to connect to the IP the DHCP server assigned to the new server and continue the installation via browser.

Completing the Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation

 

Here the installation for 2012 Essentials especially shines, since it lets me supervise the process of the final installation.

Finishing the installation

Finally, after the installation is done I am presented with a website that lets me connect my clients to my freshly baked server. 

a website that lets me connect my clients to my freshly baked server

Final words

I hope you enjoyed this little trick. For me it became absolutely helpful, not just for the installation of the server, but especially during restores of client backups. Using the Hyper-V it is super easy to do the restore to a new drive without worrying about network drivers or flaky hardware.

1 Note: Recommendations of non-Microsoft hardware and/or software are based on my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft.


Written by Tobias Hertkorn; posted by Arvind Shyamsundar, MSPFE editor.
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  • Do you know how to install Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials headless? When I go to the headless machine via http://ipaddress, I get the IIS logo.  But attempts to navigate to Setup/Launch.aspx or such pages are met with nothing.

  • Amir, Did you find out how to get to setup?  My install is doing the same thing, just a IIS welcome window and no setup after transplanting the HDD.  

  • My setup was hanging on the serial. Switched to hyper-v again and entered my serial. After that setup goes to screenshot 5. Before it starts, power down your VM. Then switch the harddrive to your physical server again. After that you can use the weblink again.

  • I have followed instructions to a "t", I too get the IIS welcome page . I am trying to install Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 on a HP EX495. I have also tried suggestion by Anonymous with no luck. How long should I wait to see the OS once I move drive to server? Please help.

  • Same problem here; I get to an IIS apge after installing on my EX490.
    Did any of you ever find a solution?

  • Same....I can get to the default IIS web page, but nothing else. Can you provide more detail once you place the drive in the server??

  • Well, I finally managed to get Windows Server R2 Essentials installed..
    The Hyper-V method to bring the installation halfway still works with the R2 version, and is (I think) at least as convenient as a USB key method. However, the rest of the install cannot be done headless, or so it seams. The method described in the article only works for the R1 version. I cannot imagine why Microsoft thought it would be a good idea to remove that option in the R2 version, but obviously they did...

    It took a while before I could follow up, because the debug board I ordered got stuck in a backlog in Chicago, but once it arrived and I connected it, it became clear that the installation stopped because an admininstrator password needed to be typed in. Thanks to the debug board that was now easy, and the rest of the install went smooth.

  • Thanks for this - I have an Acer H340 headless unit and used the install the drive in another machine method (rather than HyperV) and found with 2012 r2 Essentials you actually have to leave the drive in the donor machine until the second reboot, after the first reboot you are presented with a number of questions, once answered the machine will try and reboot again, that's the time to change it across to the headless unit. (then wait an hour or so) hope this helps somebody else! (BTW the Acer seems much happier than it did with WHS2011)