Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Product activation and Key Management Services

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Microsoft OSs are often used by individuals and business organizations that either do not purchase the licenses to use the software or purchase fewer licenses than they really use. To help counter illegal software piracy, Microsoft introduced product activation in retail editions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Microsoft learned that many organizations were not necessarily looking to illegally deploy software, but that they failed to properly manage their license counts or casually reused licenses on multiple computers. Microsoft has continued to include product activation in Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 R2. Additionally, Microsoft now requires volume license customers, who previously did not have to activate Windows to activate their installations using Volume License Activation Services. It is important to understand how product activation works, so that you can ensure that Windows Servers on your network are properly licensed.

Understanding Windows Server 2008 R2 product activation

After installing Windows Server 2008 R2, the first option on the initial configuration page is to activate Windows. Product activation is a process where your server installation presents an installation ID to Microsoft activation servers over a secure connection. The activation servers verify the validity of the installation ID. If the ID is determined to be valid, the activation servers send a confirmation ID back to your server and activate the system. You will be reminded regularly with a pop-up notification that you need to activate, until you do so. If you fail to activate Windows within a 30-day grace period, the desktop background will turn black, and you will continue to be reminded to activate. Services and applications will continue to function normally even after the 30-day grace period. Previous versions of Windows would prevent you from logging into the system and certain services would cease to function if you failed to activate Windows within the 30-day grace period. Microsoft chose to remove these limitations in Windows Server 2008. Perform the following steps to activate Windows properly:

  1. Click the Activate Windows link either on the initial configuration page or inside the Server Manager.

  2. Enter the product key that came with your license purchase (see Figure 1). Then click the Next button.


    Figure 1. Windows Server 2008 R2 Product Key.

  3. Windows will begin trying to activate using the server's internet connection (see Figure 2).


    Figure 2. Windows Server 2008 R2 Activation.

  4. If activation is successful, you will see a success screen as seen in Figure 3. If the activation fails, you will need to use the option to activate via telephone.


    Figure 3 Successful Windows Server 2008 R2 Activation.

Notes from the field

Should I activate my lab computers?

If you are setting up temporary lab computers (used for less than 30 days), do not activate them. Keep in mind that you should use this option only if the servers are temporarily set up for a lab or test environment. If you use the server for more than 30 days, or as a permanent lab, you are legally required to purchase a license for that server. Alternatively, you can purchase a TechNet or MSDN subscription which has special license considerations for test lab and development servers.

Overview of Key Management Services

As previously mentioned, Microsoft now requires even volume license customers to activate their installations of Windows. This activation is known as the Volume License Activation. You can probably imagine that this may pose several problems to large enterprises that may deploy hundreds or thousands of servers and workstations with Windows installed. To help make this process more manageable for volume license customers, Microsoft introduced Key Management Services (KMS). KMS allow you to set up your own activation or KMS servers on your network. These KMS servers securely connect to Microsoft activation servers using an enterprise activation key. The Microsoft activation servers verify whether the key is valid and determines how many licenses are covered with the entered enterprise key. The Microsoft activation servers then return information back to your KMS server, informing it of how many Windows Servers can connect to it for activation. The KMS server then builds a pool of activations. When a server on your network successfully activates using KMS, one activation is removed from the pool and assigned to the server that requested activation. Once all activations have been used, additional servers can no longer use KMS to activate. Activations can, however, be returned to the pool if the servers using them are decommissioned and removed from your network. Servers that use KMS to activate are required to check in, or contact the KMS server at least once in every 180 days. If the server fails to check in with KMS, then the OS will be deactivated. Deactivation will tell the server to act as if it were never activated at all. KMS can be installed on any Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, or Windows Server 2008 R2 computer. It can coexist on the same server as other network services. Figure 4 depicts how KMS works for volume license customers.


Figure 4 Microsoft Key Management Services.

Designing a KMS infrastructure

You should properly plan and design your network to support KMS if you plan on using it for product activation. It is important to provide redundancy for KMS services on your network to ensure that systems can fail-over to another KMS server if your primary server fails. Servers requiring activation depend on the use of DNS Service (SRV) records to locate KMS activation servers on your network. As part of your KMS deployment, you need to ensure that you also have redundant DNS servers on your network.

Notes from the field

KMS and Windows 7

KMS can also be used to activate Windows 7 workstations on your network. You simply need to enter a Windows 7 Enterprise Activation Key on your KMS servers, and they will begin activating Windows 7 workstations.

After setting up KMS, you will want to ensure that you properly monitor the availability of KMS services on your network. You should see special event log events related to KMS. There is also a System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2007 Management Pack available that can be used to monitor KMS via a SCOM 2007 or SCOM 2007 R2 deployment.

Installing and configuring KMS

KMS are easily installed on any Windows Server 2008 R1 or R2 server by running a simple command from a command prompt. To install KMS perform the following:

  1. Open a command prompt from the Start Menu.

  2. Type the command:

    • cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs –ipk <Your Enterprise KMS Key>

Then press Enter.

  1. Now activate the KMS key by typing:

    • cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs –ato

From the same command prompt, then press Enter. The KMS Server will activate and create its own SRV records within DNS, assuming that DNS services have been properly established on your network.

Notes from the field

Minimum number of computers required for KMS

KMS will not begin activating computers until you have reached a minimum threshold of systems on your network. You must establish 25 Windows Vista or Windows 7 workstations or 5 Windows 2008 R1 or R2 servers on your network before KMS begins activating systems. If you do not meet this requirement, you will want to continue activating computers with Microsoft using MAK keys.

  •  Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 5) - Configuring disk drives - Creating a RAID 5 volume
  •  Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 4) - Configuring disk drives - Creating a mirrored volume
  •  Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 3) - Configuring disk drives - Basic disks versus dynamic disks, Dynamic disk volumes
  •  Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 2) - Windows Server 2008 R2 roles
  •  Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 1) - Configuring initial settings, Understanding roles and features
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