What’s changed in Windows Essentials 2019

Good afternoon. Longtime readers of this blog likely figured out that I work quite a bit with Essentials. I wanted to take a few minutes to go over the changes good and bad and my views on why we see are seeing them. I have heard a lot of grumbling over the removal of some features. This article will attempt to take a more unbiased review of the situation. Just a couple disclaimers first though. I do not work for Microsoft and my views here are my own.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first. The removal of the essentials experience. This includes the dashboard, connector software, remote web access and client PC backup. Based on my interactions, most people I talk to see this in a negative light. I tend to view this as business as usual.
I say this as I have been supporting Microsoft small business products for about 15 years now. I started out supporting SBS 2003. I watched that product mature into SBS 2008 and then peak with SBS 2011. Unfortunately due to the all interactions between the different software packages, SharePoint, Exchange, Active Directory, etc… it meant that putting out SBS 2014 was not going to happen. This is why I believe Microsoft decided to re-badge Windows Home Server as Windows Server Essentials edition. The product was changed some, but when first released was about 98% the same. Windows Server Essentials then matured into Essentials 2012, then 2012 R2 and finally peaked with 2016. While Essentials has been great in the past, the number of issues has been steadily creeping up. There are two that I believe contributed to the demise of Essentials. The first is the client PC backup feature. This feature, while great for a few workstations, does not scale well. The second problem though is likely a bigger part of why the Essentials experience was removed. Within the last few years the client connector software has become more troublesome to maintain. This seems likely due to the change in how updates are packaged for Windows 10. I have seen many workstations that required a reinstall of the connector software after an update. It’s not all bad though. I have seen quite a few Essentials environments that have been working great. These environments tend to run Windows 7 for the workstations, and have fewer than 10 workstations and/or users.

So were the building problems the only reason that the essentials experience was removed? I don’t think so. There is a lot of grumbling that Microsoft has removed the essentials experience to drive more customers to their hosted services. While there is likely some truth to this, I don’t believe it is the primary reason. It is more likely that the segment of the market that the essentials experience serves has shrunk to the point it is no longer profitable to continue development and support of the product. If it were, then Microsoft would devote more resources to the problems with the essentials experience.

So I like to consider myself an optimist and look at the bright side. There is definitely a silver lining here if you look closely. Through testing of Windows Server 2019 Essentials edition I have found several positive points. The first is the removal quite a few of the restrictions placed on previous Essentials editions. It is no longer a hard requirement to have an Active Directory domain in place. The licensing compliance checks will pass without problems if the server is left in a workgroup. This is a huge win for a lot of small businesses as it brings down the IT cost of maintaining and setting up a server. The server can simply be managed as a workstation would be. Another positive is that CALs (Client Access Licenses) are still included with the Essentials edition. While the 25 user limit is still in place, all 25 users are licensed without additional cost. Finally the cost of Essentials edition has remained largely unchanged. For less than half the cost Standard edition you get a server class OS with 95% of the features and very few restrictions*.

I hope you have found this informative. If you have an opinion on the subject or have another viewpoint please feel free to comment below.

*Remote Desktop Services and Data Deduplication have been removed from Windows Server 2019 Essentials edition. This is not really a change from 2016 Essentials edition as Remote Desktop Services, while there, did not function properly.

The bootfile is too small to support persistent snapshots

Good afternoon. It has been too long since I last posted. Today I found a solution to a problem I have seen several times and I wanted to share it.

I had a customer that was experiencing backup issues with a new load of Windows. When trying to backup the server in Windows Serer Backup the backup would always fail with the error “Windows Backup failed to create the shared protection point on the …”. An important point to note is the error would always occur during the VSS snapshot phase of the backup.

Below is the resulting Application event log with the key event highlighted.

At this point it is probably helpful to get a high level overview of how Windows Server Backup and VSS work. When Windows Server Backup starts a backup one of the first steps is to call VSS to take a snapshot. When the backup destination is local disk, the request is for both the backup destination and the backup source. This is so that Windows Server Backup can compare the blocks in both to perform an incremental backup. This means that a failure to snap the source or destination can cause the backup to fail.

I have seen this issue a handful of times and the consensus was the backup drive was causing the problem. While this can be the case, today I learned how to pinpoint which volume is actually causing this error with the event log. The key to determining this is the volume GUID ( Globally Unique Identifier) specified in the description of the event. This is the volume that cannot be snapped by VSS and is causing the backup to fail.

So how do you take the GUID and get the drive letter? This is the easiest part. Simply open an admin cmd window and run the command “mountvol”. At the end of the output all volumes with GUIDs and drive letters will be listed. In our case it was the D:\ drive that contained user data. We ran a test backup excluding the D:\ drive and it completed with no errors.

How do I fix the volume, so it will backup? Obviously we will not want to exclude a volume from the backup. There are two methods to repair this issue. First a chkdsk /f can be run to attempt and repair the volume. If that fails though, then you are likely looking at a bit of work to recreate the volume. Here is the process:

  1. Backup the data with robocopy or another file level backup utility. For robocopy an example command: robocopy <source> <destination> /MIR /XJ /W:5 /R:3 /LOG+:c:\robolog.txt
  2. Run diskpart and “clean” the disk. To do this run diskpart at an admin cmd, select the problem disk, then run the clean command.
  3. Recreate the volume
  4. Restore the data with robocopy or whatever file level backup utility used previously.

I hope you have found this post informative. If you have another way to solve this problem I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Windowsupdate.log is filled with GUIDs

Good afternoon. I found an interesting solution I wanted to share. I needed to collect the Windowsupdate.log file on a Windows 2016 server today. To do this I needed to run the PowerShell command Get-WindowsUpdateLog. The file is no longer continuously created as with previous Windows versions. This is all well and good, if the command worked 100% of the time. There have been some instances though where I ran that command and just get a file filled with GUIDs. See the example below.

1600/12/31 18:00:00.0000000 824 1056 Unknown( 10): GUID=638e22b1-a858-3f40-8a43-af2c2ff651a4 (No Format Information found).
1600/12/31 18:00:00.0000000 824 1056 Unknown( 11): GUID=bce7cceb-de62-3b09-7f4f-c69b1344a134 (No Format Information found).
1600/12/31 18:00:00.0000000 824 1056 Unknown( 11): GUID=638e22b1-a858-3f40-8a43-af2c2ff651a4 (No Format Information found).
1600/12/31 18:00:00.0000000 824 1056 Unknown( 50): GUID=6ffec797-f4d0-3bda-288a-dbf55dc91e0b (No Format Information found).
1600/12/31 18:00:00.0000000 824 1056 Unknown( 12): GUID=00497b4f-20f7-3ec8-96ab-8a593aa9824d (No Format Information found).

I have always wondered why this happened. I finally discovered the answer today. When I ran the PowerShell command I kept getting a popup about website security. I checked the box to not ask again and clicked OK. I then received a file full of nothing useful. I had a hunch that the command needed to grab information from the Internet to decode the GUIDs. Perhaps IE ESC (Internet Explorer Enhanced Security) was causing an issue with that process. I disabled IE ESC and re-ran Get-WindowsUpdateLog. Sure enough the file was created correctly.

So now you know. If you get a Windowsupdate.log file full of GUIDs there are two items to check. Verify the server has Internet connectivity and that IE ESC is turned off.

I hope you found this article informative. If you have anything to suggest or add to the content, please leave it in the comments below.

Problems installing RDS CALs on a 2019 license server

Good morning.  I had an interesting issue this morning I figured I would share.  I had a customer that was having a tough time installing his RDS CALs.  At both activate.microsoft.com and in the install license wizard we were receiving the error “Invalid license code” and “The serial number is not valid.” respectively.  I assumed this was due to a bad license code, as I have seen that a couple of times in the past.  After emailing Microsoft, I was able to confirm the license code was good. 

The serial number is not valid.

After going back to my customer, I found out that the license server was running Windows 2019.  Normally this should not be a problem as you can install down-level CALs.  For instance, it is possible to install 2012 RDS CALs on a 2016 license server.  It appears that may no longer be the case with 2019 or this may be a bug.  Time will tell.  In the end we fixed the problem by installing licensing on the Windows 2016 server.  The CALs then installed without issue.

If this changes in the future I will update this blog post.  I hope you found this blog post useful.  If you have any corrections or anything to add, please do so in the comments below.