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Windows 8 Server Beta First Look

By Paul Ferrill (Send Email)
Posted March 19, 2012


February 29, 2012 was more than just a leap day. It was the appointed time for the release of both the Windows 8 desktop, or the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (CP), and the Windows 8 Server Beta. Microsoft has made a number of changes and added new functionality since the Developer Preview (DP) was released in September 2011.

Installation Options

Microsoft offers two downloads for the Windows Server 8, including a Hyper-V virtual machine image and an .iso file for installation purposes. You'll need a system with at least a 1.4 GHz 64bit processor, 512 MB of memory and 32 GB of disk space. If you choose the .iso route, you'll have two options, the basic Server Core with no GUI or Server with a GUI (see Figure 1). If you go with the VM download, you'll get a version with the GUI installed (see Figure 2).

Figure 1

 Basic Server Core with no GUI or Server with a GUI

Figure 2

VM Download With GUI Installed

One of the new features in this release is a set of PowerShell cmdlets to convert a server from one type to the other. The two verbs are Install-WindowsFeature and Uninstall-WindowsFeature. You can also perform the upgrade using Windows Update as the source for the additional files with the command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell -Restart

To downgrade an existing Windows Server 8 Beta GUI install, use the command:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra -restart

This kind of flexibility makes it possible to start with a GUI install to make it easier to configure. Then you can remove the GUI to put the server into production. Microsoft has stated it expects the majority of installations to be of the Server Core variety. Time will tell if this prediction bears out.

Powerful PowerShell

PowerShell has seen significant enhancements and improvements since the DP release. The biggest noticeable improvement is in the PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) tool. It's somewhat ironic that the expansion and improvement of PowerShell is also one of the biggest challenges Microsoft faces from a user adoption perspective. The sheer number of available cmdlets makes it seem much more intimidating than it should be.

To help with this problem Microsoft added a new Show Commands pane that appears on the right-hand side of the app. This new feature lets you type in part of a command and see the available options (see Figure 3). Once you select a command you may have additional options required. PowerShell addresses this scenario with dialog boxes for filling in specific values that will be properly formatted in the corresponding PowerShell command (see Figure 4). You can even run the command to test the result from the Commands window.

Figure 3

The new Show Commands pane that appears on the right-hand side of the app.

Figure 4

PowerShell command

While we're on the subject of PowerShell, you'll need to use it to enter a few commands if you want to test out the remote management capabilities. The specific scenario where this is needed is when you have a workstation running Windows 8 CP not joined to a domain, and you wish to use it for managing your Windows 8 Beta server. In this situation there is no trust relationship established between the workstation and the server, so you must enter the following command from a PowerShell command window with administrator privileges to establish one.

Set-Item WSMan:\localhost\Client\TrustedHosts -Value "WIN-VMOT64N2BEF" -Force

This command is specifically for the Hyper-V virtual machine version. To make sure the trust is established, you can follow that up with the command:

get-item WSMan:\localhost\Client\TrustedHosts

The output from that command should show something like this:

WSManConfig: Microsoft.WSMan.Management\WSMan::localhost\Client
Type Name SourceOfValue Value  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  -- - --  -- -
System.String TrustedHosts WIN-VMOT64N2BEF

We also had to make an entry in the hosts file with the server name and its IP address. With these two steps accomplished, you should be able to launch the remote management tool and add your Windows 8 Beta server.

Remote Management

The Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 8 Consumer Preview makes it possible to manage your Windows 8 Server instances from a Windows 8 CP desktop. After installing this file, you'll have a new tile on your Windows 8 desktop labeled Administrative Tools. This will open a new Windows Explorer instance showing all the tools available from the Programs menu. On that list is Server Manager (see Figure 5). If you're using a desktop, you can right-click on that item and choose Pin to Start to have a tile available on your main desktop.

Figure 5

Server Manager

Managing a remote server obviously requires the proper administrator credentials. Microsoft has added a new option with this release, allowing you to use credentials other than your default login to manage a remote server. Figure 6 shows what you will see when you right-click on any server in the available list. Selecting Manage As will prompt you for new credentials allowing you to login from virtually anywhere.

Figure 6

Remote Server Management Credentials

The Windows PowerShell option will also prompt you for credentials and then open a PowerShell command window on the remote server. This is analogous to using SSH to open a terminal session on a remote Linux machine. From this window you can run any PowerShell command on the remote system just as if you were sitting in front of it. Of course you could just as easily open a remote desktop session and manage the system that way.

Wrap Up

Microsoft has spent a lot of time making Windows Server 8 easier to manage through the use of PowerShell for automation and the new metro-themed Server Manager tool. The attention to details like adding the new Commands windows in the PowerShell ISE should help address some of the concerns raised from the previous developer release.

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