How to: Install Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 on the EX490

Windows Home Server has had a long history that came to a fairly abrupt ending. Now those home users with big data requirements are forced to move to Windows...

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Windows Home Server has had a long history that came to a fairly abrupt ending. Now those home users with big data requirements are forced to move to Windows Server Essentials. The latest version Server Essentials 2012 R2 is still in preview, but with the announcement that Win8.1 will ship in October, you can expect server products won’t be far behind it.

Those of us who got into WHS with a HP MediaSmart EX490 or 495 are in serious need of a migration plan. The software that shipped on the box is Server 2003, a 10 year old operating system which needs to dissapear. So with your terabytes of critical data like family photos and videos, it’s important that we tread very carefully in the migration.

Given the two OS’s are so different, there is no officially supported method, so we need to use workaround techniques to get the job done. Before we get started on the steps involved, know that these come from my personal experience after going through the process. Also those wondering about the hardware, yes it’s aging hardware, but surprisingly it meets the requirements for Server Essentials 2012 R2.

1. Eliminate data
My WHS had around 6TB of data stored on it that had accumulated over the 5 years I’ve had the EX490. The first step is to eliminate any unnecessary data, this will make the process much faster. I was able to clear at least 2TB of old installers in my download folder and I also deleted my entire music folder (I have Spotify now).

2. Install drives in PC
This process will require a number of extra drives depending on how successful you are in step 1. Install the spare drives that in total amount to a larger capacity than the amount of your data. You can choose to install internal drives via SATA cables and/or external drives via USB. You will need to connect these to a machine running Windows 8.

3. Setup Storage Spaces
One often forgotten about feature of Windows 8 is Storage Spaces. This takes a bunch of disks and creates a storage pool you can throw data at. Forget about drive letters for data, gaming, programs, photos etc. The one storage pool model was one of Home Server’s best features. Thankfully we don’t have to say goodbye to that.

You can do this in the Control Panel, look for an item called Storage Spaces. When you click the Create a new pool and storage space link, it’ll display all non-OS drives and you’ll need to add them. The reason we need fresh drives is that this process will erase any data.

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4. Copy data
With a second big storage array (Storage Space and WHS) on your network, it’s now time to copy and paste, this step will take hours and depend on how many TBs you have. Before you move on, ensure the data copied over without error. Go and open photos, documents etc from the new location to confirm. At this point I would turn off your PC and disconnect your storage space drives to ensure that data remains safe and no accidents happen. They can physically stay in the case, just disconnect the SATA, USB and power cables to them.

5. Install Windows Server 2012 R2
At this point you will need to choose a new OS drive. I chose the OS drive from my EX490. Again this will be formatted. This is where you’re passing the point of no return. The next step is to create a bootable USB drive from the Server 2012 R2 ISO. At this point you’ll also want to transfer the network drivers for the EX490 to the USB drive. When the OS installs to the new drive, it’ll look at the hardware you’re currently using, the PC and get the relevant drivers, not the EX490. This means when you do the next step, it won’t work if you forget this.

Reboot with the USB drive connected to the PC, boot to it (may need to change your BIOS to boot to USB). During the install, ensure you choose the clean drive you’re using for the new OS. This is precisely why we disconnected the data drives to make sure we don’t accidently format the wrong drive.

Just follow the install steps, and your machine will reboot and you’ll see the new Metro Server 2012 R2 interface.

Got Windows Server 2012 R2 running on the EX490.. Productive night.

6. Install drive in EX490
Before we start this step, remove all drives inside or connected to the WHS. At this point it’s time to take the drive out of your PC so shut down the computer. Take the drive out, install it into the drive caddy and slide it into the bottom drive bay of the EX490. Connect your original Windows 8 drive as the boot drive in your PC, remove the USB drive and power on the PC again.

7. Complete software install / updates
Once the computer and the Home Server have booted (keep in mind this may take 5-10 minutes for the server), you should then be able to use remote desktop to the server (I called mine MEDIASMART).

8. Install fresh drives
You can now install your original drives back into the server and then go through the process of adding the drives to a Storage Space on the server. As you add drives they will need to be formatted and you are removing your original data (assuming you don’t have another set of spare drives).

9. Copy data back
When this storage pool is large enough to hold the amount of data you copied earlier, you can now copy them back to the new updated server.

10. Complete
At that point you have completed the data migration. Again, test the data and make sure you’re comfortable it all came across successfully. You could use the temp drives (still in the PC) as backup drives for the Server, at least until the backup to Azure option is out of beta and we have the NBN.

It’s now time for the fun bit.. expanding the functionality of your server. It’s easy to forget, but this is a fully fledged server that offers an amazing range of services. Head to the Services and Add-ins pages from the Get Started page of the Dashboard and enable things like remote access and connect computers to backup.

Moving your critical data is a scary concept, but if you test that your data is safe and tread carefully, take your time and follow the steps, it is possible to run the latest Server OS on the EX490.

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