Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 1) - Configuring initial settings, Understanding roles and features

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After installing Windows, the real configuration process begins. Postinstallation configuration is where you really define a particular server's purpose and the services it provides. Just as you have a checklist defined for installation tasks, you should have a similar checklist defined for standard configuration tasks.

Notes from the field

Media not required

Starting with Windows Server 2008 R1, you are no longer required to provide the installation media when adding or removing Windows components to the OS. Microsoft has added the necessary files to the system as part of the installation. You can safely remove that DVD after the OS is up and running.

1. Configuring initial settings

After logging into Windows for the first time, you will be presented with a page that will assist you in performing important initial configuration tasks (see Figure 1) such as naming the computer, choosing the time zone, and configuring the IP address. Let us take a look at each of these initial configuration settings:

  • Activate Windows—Selecting this link will allow you to activate Windows.

  • Set Time Zone—You can use this option to set the appropriate time zone for the physical location of this server.

  • Configure Networking—Configure Networking will take you to the Network Connections window, where you can manage which network adapters are enabled, and which protocols to use, and set the IP configuration for each adapter.

  • Provide Computer Name and Domain—You can use this option to name the computer and optionally join it to a Windows domain.

  • Enable automatic updating and feedback—This option allows you to enable and configure automatic updates which can be set up to regularly download and installation Windows and other Microsoft updates. You can optionally configure Windows to send error reports to Microsoft anonymously. 

  • Download and install updates—Use this option to install the latest updates prior to configuring any roles or installing any applications. By installing the latest updates, you will ensure that your server is properly secured prior to production deployment

  • Add Roles—Select this option to add Windows Server 2008 R2 roles. Roles help define the server's purpose and services that it provides. We will discuss roles in more detail shortly.

  • Add Features—Add Features allows you to add features such as Windows Backup, or Clustering Services.

  • Enable Remote Desktop—Use this option to enable Remote Desktop. Remote Desktop allows you to connect to the server's console remotely to administer the system.

  • Configure Windows Firewall—You can optionally set up any special configurations for the Windows firewall at this time.


Figure 1 Initial Configuration Tasks.

Configure networking

The first configuration step that most administrators perform is setting up the network configuration. This can be as simple as assigning a static IP address or as complicated as adding additional network adapters or protocols. By default, the network adapter for your server will be configured to receive a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) IP address. In most cases, especially, when setting up mission critical servers, you will want to change this setting to a static IP address. If you do choose to use DHCP to assign IP addresses to your servers, you will want to ensure that you have a highly available and reliable DHCP infrastructure. If your servers do not have static IPs or cannot request a DHCP address, they will be inaccessible from the network. Microsoft never recommends DHCP addresses for DNS servers and Active Directory domain controllers. If you want to play it safe, use static IPs for your servers.

Notes from the field

NIC teaming

These days most servers come from the factory with at least two network adapters that can be configured in what is known as a Network Interface Card (NIC) team. NIC teams allow multiple physical network adapters to appear to the OS as one logical network adapter. In the event that one physical adapter, or the network switch port that it is connected to, fails, the server will fail over to the other adapter with little or no loss of network connectivity.

Naming a computer and joining domains

Each Windows computer on your network will need to be given a name. This name is used to uniquely identify the computer. When naming your computers, be sure to come up with a naming standard that makes sense. You should be able to easily look at a computer's name and know, to some extent, what purpose it serves. For example, you may want to name a Web Server Web1 or a file server NYFS1.

In most situations, you will be joining your Windows Servers to an Active Directory domain. If this is the case, you will want to do this during the initial configuration. Joining a server to a domain offers many advantages over a stand-alone, non-domain joined server.

2. Understanding roles and features

Microsoft began introducing a concept known as “roles” in Windows Server 2003. The idea was to provide an easy way to install components that are necessary to support a specific function. For example, if an administrator wanted to set up an Internet Information Services (IIS) Web Server, to support .Net Web applications, he would historically need to know how to add the IIS components, the ASP.Net components, etc. Microsoft felt that it would be easier for administrators if individual administrator could just select the role such as “Web Application Server,” and all necessary components would be installed to support that. The Windows Server 2003 role screen can be seen in Figure 2.


Figure 2 Windows Server 2003 Role Management.

Microsoft further evolved the role concept with the release of Windows Server 2008 R1 and now Windows Server 2008 R2 by making the addition of roles as the only way to install components to support a specific function.

Beginning with Windows Server 2008 R1, Microsoft took components that provided additional features, and that were not necessarily required to fulfill a specific role, and grouped them into the “Features” area. Features allow you to add additional functionality, such as backup services to the server. For example, you may want to install the File Server role on a server to provide file sharing capabilities to your organization. You may later decide that you want to make the file server highly available. You would need to add the Fail-Over Cluster feature to provide this additional functionality to the File Server role.

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