Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 Features

At Basefarm we frequently need to ensure that many Windows servers are identical in terms of the roles and features they have installed. Adding features can be done in a number of ways. Mostly the graphical userinterface (Server Manager) is used. Or for large operations System Center or similar. I will show you how this can be done more easily using the command line. This method doesn’t require anything beyond Windows Server 2008 R2 (or later) and PowerShell.

The Server Manager module

The Server Manager module (introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2) has three very useful commands, they are:

  • Add-WindowsFeature
  • Get-WindowsFeature
  • Remove-WindowsFeature

Using these is simple. Start a PowerShell session with administrative privileges (Run As…) . Then check that the Servermanager module is available in your server:

PS C:\> Get-Module -ListAvailable

Get-Module -ListAvailable

This shows that the Server Manager module is available on our server but that it is not yet loaded into the PowerShell session. To load it (and make its commands available):

PS C:\> Import-Module Servermanager

Now the commands of the Server Manager module are available to you. Check which commands are exposed by the module:

PS C:\> Get-Command -Module Servermanager

Ok, we’re all set. Let’s use these commands!

HOWTO: Document what is installed

To see what is installed in a server use:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature

Get-WindowsFeature

ooops, that’s a lot of text flying by on the screen! As you probably can guess only lines with [X] are installed. So we need to filter the list to only show what is actually installed, try this instead:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? { $_.Installed }

Get-WindowsFeature-installed

A nice clean list showing which features are installed on the server ;-), perfect for documenting your server(s)

HOWTO: Clone installed features to another server

As shown above it’s easy to list what is installed. But just having this list on the screen doesn’t make much sense, we need to be able to store this in a structured way so that we can use the list on another server to install the same features. PowerShell makes this very simple. We use the Export-CliXml cmdlet to save the information in a structured XML file:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? { $_.Installed } | Export-Clixml .\features.xml

The output from the Get-WindowsFeature cmdlet is saved in a structured way in the XML file features.xml. This file can now shared to other servers and used as input for the Add-WindowsFeature cmdlet!

HOWTO: Add features from another server (using XML file)

Start PowerShell with administrative privileges.  Now try this:

PS C:\> Import-Module Servermanager
PS C:\> Import-Clixml .\features.xml

Now you have the same list of installed features on the new server. But… this is simply a list in memory and on screen. The features haven’t been added yet. In order to do that we need to pipe the information into the Add-WindowsFeature cmdlet.

Before I show you how to do that there is one important thing I need to explain. When we exported the list of installed features we included all features that were marked as installed. As you saw in the output this resulted in a tree like structure where “[X] Web Server (IIS)” was on the top followed by “[X] Web Server” and so on.

That looks fine but if we use this as input for the Add-WindowsFeature cmdlet we will end up with more than we asked for. The reason is that when the top level feature such as “Web Server (IIS)” is choosen everyting underneath it will also be installed. And in order to keep our servers a lean as possible we do not want this! We need to go back and filter the output of Get-WindowsFeatre a little more. Try this instead of what I showed you earlier:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? {$_.Installed -AND $_.SubFeatures.Count -eq 0 }

Now the output will only contain information from the bottom-up so to speak. This works fine as input for the next server we want to make identical. Save the new list to a file:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? {$_.Installed -AND $_.SubFeatures.Count -eq 0 } | Export-Clixml .\features.xml

Now we can finally install these features in the new server:

PS C:\> Import-Clixml .\features.xml | Add-WindowsFeature

Est Voilá! The two servers now have the same Windows features installed.

As always with PowerShell, if your environment enables PowerShell remoting these commands could be executed on any number of servers from a single commandline. A Power(full)Shell that is!

Summary

This became a longer post than I intended simply because I wanted to explain the details about filtering the export. Here’s a Quick summary of the commands you use to export what is installed:

PS C:\> Import-Module Servermanager
PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? {$_.Installed -AND $_.SubFeatures.Count -eq 0 } | Export-Clixml .\filename.xml

Copy the file ‘filename.xml’ to a network share or other location where the next server can reach it, then do this on the other server:

PS C:\> Import-Module Servermanager
PS C:\> Import-Clixml .\filename.xml | Add-WindowsFeature

All features are installed on the new server without having to click-around in the graphical server manager! To verify what is installed quickly use:

PS C:\> Get-WindowsFeature | ? { $_.Installed }

I hope I have showed you that PowerShell is much better than giving your arms RSI using the mouse to handle feature installations!

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