Windows Server Essentials Configuration Troubleshooter

Good morning,
It has been a little while since I last posted, so I figured it was time to share a little gem.  My team had a case that had us scratching our heads.  I had previously seen the error, but the solution that worked several times before did not work.  In case you are curious here is the error we were seeing:
web server settings error

(There is an error in your Web server settings)

we opted to engage Microsoft support.  The support engineer had a trick up his sleeve and was able to resolve the issue quickly.  After doing some preliminary checking, he ran the configuration troubleshooter.  The tool pointed at a path issue with the RemoteAppPool application pool in IIS.  After fixing the path the errors were resolved.

I tried out this tool and it works great at verifying settings are correct.  The tool can be used to test IIS settings, the certificate authority, Essentials services, and whether ports for Essentials are open.  I am definitely adding this to my tool belt as it will significantly speed up troubleshooting.  You can find the tool here.  Below is a screenshot.  I just ignored the error as it did not seem to impact functionality.

Windows ESS Config Troubleshooter

I hope you found this post useful.  What is your favorite troubleshooting tool for Essentials?  Put the answer in the comments section below.


Windows Server Essentials wizard failing at 16%

Good morning.  I wanted to document an issue I have seen several times.  The fix for this problem is pretty easy in PowerShell, but would take quite a bit of time using Server Manager.  The reason for the wizard is failing at 16% is due to the inability to connect to a domain controller in the domain.  This failure to connect is due to none of the roles being installed and therefore the server not being promoted to a domain controller.  This can all be discovered from the Essentials deployment logs in the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\WindowsServer\Logs folder.

As I stated above the fix is pretty easy.  Run the three PowerShell commands below, changing domainname to the name you want for your domain and the P@ssW0rD! to a password of your choosing.  Keep in mind this password must meet complexity requirements with a length of at least 8 characters and 3 of 4 character types; capital letter, lowercase letter, number, special character.

NOTE: If you do not want the default computer name of WIN-<random string>, then you should change the computer name via the sysdm.cpl application or use netdom.

Install-WindowsFeature AD-Domain-Services,DNS,FileAndStorage-Services,File-Services,FS-FileServer,FS-BranchCache,FS-DFS-Namespace,Storage-Services,NPAS,RemoteAccess,DirectAccess-VPN,Remote-Desktop-Services,RDS-Gateway,Web-Server,Web-WebServer,Web-Common-Http,Web-Default-Doc,Web-Dir-Browsing,Web-Http-Errors,Web-Static-Content,Web-Http-Redirect,Web-Health,Web-Http-Logging,Web-Log-Libraries,Web-Request-Monitor,Web-Http-Tracing,Web-Performance,Web-Stat-Compression,Web-Security,Web-Filtering,Web-Basic-Auth,Web-Client-Auth,Web-IP-Security,Web-Windows-Auth,Web-App-Dev,Web-Net-Ext45,Web-ASP,Web-Asp-Net45,Web-ISAPI-Ext,Web-ISAPI-Filter,Web-Includes,Web-Mgmt-Tools,Web-Mgmt-Console,Web-Mgmt-Compat,Web-Metabase,Web-Scripting-Tools,ServerEssentialsRole,NET-Framework-45-Features,NET-Framework-45-Core,NET-Framework-45-ASPNET,NET-WCF-Services45,NET-WCF-HTTP-Activation45,NET-WCF-TCP-PortSharing45,BranchCache,GPMC,RSAT,RSAT-Role-Tools,RSAT-AD-Tools,RSAT-AD-PowerShell,RSAT-ADDS,RSAT-AD-AdminCenter,RSAT-ADDS-Tools,RSAT-ADCS,RSAT-ADCS-Mgmt,RSAT-DNS-Server,RSAT-NPAS,RSAT-RemoteAccess,RSAT-RemoteAccess-PowerShell,RPC-over-HTTP-Proxy,FS-SMB1,Windows-Defender-Features,Windows-Defender,Windows-Defender-Gui,Windows-Internal-Database,WAS,WAS-Process-Model,WAS-Config-APIs,Search-Service,Windows-Server-Backup,WoW64-Support

$Password = ConvertTo-SecureString “P@ssW0rD!” -AsPlainText -Force

Install-ADDSForest -DomainName “domainname.local” -SafeModeAdministratorPassword $Password -Force

After the above commands complete the server will automatically restart and the deployment wizard should complete without further errors.

I hope you found this post helpful.  If you have anything to add, please do so in the comment section below.

How to re-deploy VPN in 2016 Essentials in legacy mode.

This is the third article in a series of articles covering VPN in Windows Essentials.  In the first article I covered an issue with VPN and DHCP.  In the second article I covered how to re-deploy VPN with PowerShell in 2016 Essentials.  In this article I will cover how to re-deploy VPN in legacy mode.

  1. First we must clear the configuration. Launch a PowerShell session as administrator.
  2. Run Uninstall-RemoteAccess.  Hit enter when prompted.
  3. Install the RRAS (Routing and Remote Access Service) console by running the following command: Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess-Mgmt
  4. Run rrasmgmt.msc to launch the RRAS console.
  5. Right-click on the server name and choose “Configure and Enable Routing and Remote Access”
    RRAS 1
  6. Click Next.
  7. Ensure the Custom configuration radio button is selected and click Next.
    RRAS 2
  8. Check the box for VPN and click Next.
    RRAS 3
  9. Click Finish to complete the initial configuration.  You will get a popup indicating a policy was created.  Click OK to continue.
    RRAS 4
  10. When prompted to start the service, click Start service.
  11. RRAS is now running, but there are two more required steps to complete the configuration.  Right-click the server name and choose Properties.
    RRAS 5
  12. Click on the Security tab.  At the bottom of the screen, choose the correct certificate and click Apply.  Click Yes to restart RRAS.
    RRAS certificate
  13. Click the IPv4 tab.  Click the radio button for Static address pool and click the Add button.  Fill in the start IP address and end IP address and click OK twice.
    RRAS static pool
  14. Restart the RRAS service.

At this point RRAS should be configured properly.  Optionally you can disable the unused protocols in RRAS.  To do so right-click on Ports and click Properties.
RRAS ports

Only SSTP is used in Essentials by default, so the other protocols can be removed/minimized.  Highlight IKEv2 and click Configure.  Change the maximum ports to 0 (zero) and click OK.  Click Yes on the popup.  Repeat this with L2TP and GRE.  For PPTP you cannot reduce to zero, but you can reduce to 1 (one).  I also like to reduce the number of ports to match the number of IP addresses in the static pool.  This is to ensure that all connections get a valid IP address.  So I limited the ports to 20 for SSTP.  When complete it should look something like below.
RRAS ports limited

I hope you found this article informative.  If you have anything to add or just want to comment, please do so below.

Why I am unable to access any resources on my Essentials VPN?

Windows Server Essentials is a great product.  Easy to configure and it uses the existing network infrastructure to save money and resources. There is a situation that I see fairly regularly with the VPN (Virtual Private Network) on Essentials though.  I have seen this issue on all versions of Essentials from 2011 to 2016.

My customer will setup the VPN using the anywhere access wizard and it completes without any errors.  He/she will then test the connection with a client.  The client connects without a problem, but is unable to access any resources on the Essentials network.

The problem is that RRAS (Routing and Remote Access), the VPN server in Windows, is not able to lease an IP from the DHCP server running on the router.  Failing to lease an IP, Windows reverts to using an APIPA (Automatic Private IP Addressing) address.  This will be an IP in the subnet.  More likely than not this is on a different subnet than the rest of the Essentials network.  This effectively isolates the VPN client from the Essentials network.

The fix is quite easy on Essentials 2011, 2012, and 2012 R2.  Simply add a static pool to the VPN server configuration.  Here are the steps:

  1. Install the RRAS management console, if not installed.
    • Run Windows PowerShell as administrator
    • Run the following command: Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess-Mgmt
  2. Run rrasmgmt.msc to launch the RRAS console
  3. Right-click on the server name and choose properties
    static pool
  4. Click on the IPv4 tab
  5. Click the radio button for “Static address pool”
  6. Click the “Add” button
  7. Fill in the start and end IP address for the pool.  This should be a range that is not included in the router’s DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol) range, but that is part of the same subnet.
  8. Click OK twice.
  9. Restart the Routing and Remote Access service. PowerShell: Restart-Service RemoteAccess

For Essentials 2016 the fix is a bit more involved.  Unfortunately the RRAS configuration cannot be edited to simply add a static pool.  The anywhere access wizard in 2016 uses PowerShell to configure RRAS and disables the RRAS console.  This would be fine, but Microsoft neglected to include a PowerShell command to modify the IP address management.  Since the configuration cannot be modified it must be torn down and re-deployed outside the anywhere access wizard.  I may add this to this article in the future.

I hope this article has been informative.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please post them below.



How to upgrade Windows Server Essentials to Standard edition

Time for another quick tip.  In case you hadn’t guessed already, I really like Essentials.  You get quite a few features for a much better price than Standard edition.  There are some limitations though with Essentials.  The good news is that the server can later be upgraded to Standard and the process only takes a few minutes.  On the flip side, a standard license has to be purchased.

Let’s walk through the upgrade process.

  1. Purchase a Windows Server Standard license
  2. Open an administrative PowerShell command
  3. Run the following command to verify the target edition:
    dism /online /Get-TargetEditions
    You should see Target Edition : ServerStandard or something similar
  4. Run the following command to complete the upgrade:
    dism /online /Set-Edition:ServerStandard /ProductKey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX /AcceptEula
    Change the edition and product key to match the ones you have.

You should see output similar to below.  Reboot when prompted.


I hope you found this informative.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below.

Windows Server 2016 Essentials and Remote Desktop Services, the untold story

Good morning.  Time for another installment.  Today I wanted to talk about 2 of my favorite Microsoft technologies in one article; RDS (Remote Desktop Services) and the Essentials experience.

Recently I have seen a rise in the deployment of RDS, specifically Session Host, on Windows Server 2016 Essentials.  While this seems like the perfect money saving combination, Essentials is about $200-300 cheaper than the Standard SKU, it is not.  While not well documented, this configuration is not supported by Microsoft*.  This may not deter some admins.  However, it also will not work properly.  While I have seen this issue on several occasions in customer environments, I figured I would reproduce this.  Below is the documentation of that process.

I started by installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials into a generation 2 VM (Virtual Machine).  I ran the initial configuration wizard to complete setup.  I verified that only 2 simultaneous interactive logon sessions would work.  See the screen capture below.


I then shutdown the server and took a checkpoint.  After booting the VM back up, I installed RDS via the installation wizard.  The roles installed properly, but I received an error when creating the session collection.  After a reboot the session collection did show up.  This seemed odd to me, but upon checking Server Manager all seemed to be normal.  I then tested the number of simultaneous connections again.  I ran into the same 2 user limit.

Maybe this is due to RDS licensing not being installed or configured?  I then installed and activated a license server on the same machine.  I added a 50 pack of user CALs.  Finally, I added the license server and the network service account to the Terminal Server License Servers group in AD.  After a restart, RD Licensing manager is reporting all green checks.  However RD Licensing Diagnoser is reporting it is not configured with a license server.  See the screenshots below.  This led me to check the deployment properties and I found it was configured for Per User mode with the correct server.



At this point it is pretty clear this is not going to work properly, but I wanted to dig a little deeper and find out why.  Time to break out the PowerShell.  I ran the following commands to manually configure Session Host via PowerShell:
$obj = gwmi -namespace “Root/CIMV2/TerminalServices” Win32_TerminalServiceSetting$obj.ChangeMode(4)

Upon running the last command I receive an error indicating the method is not specified, meaning the parameter doesn’t exist.  This led me to output all parameters from the Win32_TerminalServiceSetting object.  This is how I discovered the root cause for the limitation.  It appears that even though I have install Session Host, the server is still in Remote Desktop for Administration mode.  In this mode it is not possible to specify a license server or licensing mode.  Also there is the limitation of two simultaneous interactive logon sessions.


So is it possible to get around this or correct it?  The good news is that the process is fairly easy.  The bad news is that an upgrade to standard edition is required.  A walk-through of the upgrade process can be found here.  I went through this process in my test environment.  After reactivating my license server and updating the licensing mode in the deployment properties, my RD Licensing Diagnoser reported no issues.  Also for curiosity sake, below is a screenshot of the same PowerShell output after upgrading to Standard.


So the moral of the story is if you need RDS in Windows Server 2016 you will need Standard edition or higher.  I hope this has been informative for you.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below.



*There is only one reference, that I could find, to the supportability of RDS on the Essentials SKU.  It is in the Windows Server 2012 R2 Licensing Datasheet.  On page 5, look for footnote 8.

The DNS management console fails to update or gets “stuck”

Another quick tip here.  I recently had a DNS (Domain Name System) console that was failing to update.  I knew that DNS was functioning properly and that all the records were there.  They were just not showing up on this particular server.  This is actually a pretty easy fix.

To reset the DNS console, or most mmc consoles, you just need to delete the settings file.  There is a settings file for each user that has logged in.  This file is located at C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\MMC\dnsmgmt.  You may notice other files in this directory.  Those files are the settings files for their respective mmc consoles.