Connecting Client PCs to Windows Server Essentials 2016

Connecting a Windows Home Client to Windows Server Essentials

As mentioned, if you have a PC running a Home edition of Windows, it’s still invited to the Essentials party. Just remember that while PC Backups and Shared Folder features of Essentials will be available to you, any feature that requires a domain, such as Group Policy configuration and management, will not. You’ll continue to sign into the Home PC with your local account or Microsoft account credentials.

The process to connect a Home PC to Windows Server Essentials is very similar to that which we just walked through. However, you’ll need to supply the server administrator’s account details in the Configuration wizard. Obviously, the steps we took to create and configure domain accounts on the Windows Pro PC are not required.

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The Third Way: Connecting a Windows Pro PC to Windows Server Essentials Without Joining the Domain

So far we’ve connected a Windows Pro PC to Windows Server Essentials and joined the PC to the server domain. This creates a new, clean and sparking domain user account. We’ve also connected a Windows Home PC to the Essentials network, retaining our existing local account details and associated files and folders. There’s a third scenario you may have guessed.

What if you have a Windows Pro PC that’s been around for some time, with local or Microsoft accounts packed full of apps, folders and files? Connecting it to the server requires a new domain account, and none of those files and folders will be automatically migrated to that domain account. Some users out there simply don’t want the hassle of having to migrate everything over to a new account!

This scenario can be served by an unsupported workaround. One that has been published by Microsoft, but is strictly unsupported. Meaning: “don’t come to us (or me, for that matter) if everything blows up.”

The workaround, as outlined on Microsoft Technet (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2752321) requires you to edit the Windows Registry with a setting that will skip the domain join process. Before proceeding with this option, you should backup your registry settings (details here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/322756).

Remember, this option is supported only on PCs running a “Pro” version of Windows, such as

  • Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Windows 8 Enterprise
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Ultimate
  • Windows 7 Professional

Note that:

  • All features that are available only to domain-joined computers (for example, domain credentials, Group Policy, and VPN) will not be available to this PC
  • All third-party add-ins and applications that are available only to domain-joined computers will not work on this PC

Happy to proceed? OK, first, open an elevated command prompt on the client computer. To do this, on a Windows 10 PC, right-click the Start button and select Command Prompt (Admin). If you’re running an earlier release of Windows you can get to an elevated Command Prompt via the following steps:

  • In Windows 8, go to the Start screen, type cmd, right-click the Command Prompt icon on the left side of the screen, and then click Run as administrator at the bottom of the screen.
  • In Windows 7, click Start, type cmd in the Start search box, right-click cmd.exe, and then click Run as administrator.

At the command prompt, type the following command, and then press Enter (ignore the line break below, it’s just one command):

reg add “HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\ClientDeployment” /v SkipDomainJoin /t REG_DWORD /d 1

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Now, follow the steps outlined earlier to connect your Windows Pro client PC to the Windows Essential Server.  When you reach the step below, which asks you for your “new network user name and password”, you actually need to enter your Server Administrator details, rather than your user account details.

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If you try entering standard server user account credentials at this point, they will be rejected.

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Proceed with the remaining steps of configuration, which will flow just as if you’re connecting a Windows Home PC.

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You can back up and restore your Windows Pro PCs and take advantage of many Windows Server Essentials features, without the need to migrate the data from your existing Windows Pro PC account to a new domain-joined user account.

As mentioned, this is an unsupported feature and should only be implemented by the brave, foolish or desperate! There’s absolutely no guarantee that issues will not happen down the line – however, many users successfully run client PCs with Windows Server Essentials using this workaround. Your mileage may vary however and if it does, you’re on your own!

You can proceed to install the Windows Server 2016 Essentials Connector on your remaining PCs and continue on to your next adventure.  Before we leave this section, however, there is one more item to take a quick look at, which is our growing “devices” list in the Dashboard.  Remember, you can connect up to fifty devices in Windows Server 2016 Essentials.  If you lose a hard drive on a computer, you can perform a Bare Metal Restore of that computer in only a few hours. If you lose the complete computer, you can restore any of the data needed to a new PC.

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11 comments

  1. I had to leave a comment to thank you so much for these 4 part series on Windows Server 2016. Very well thought and written. It was a life saver for someone new to the Windows Server world like myself. Incredible job. Many thanks!

  2. I decided to use the “third way” (not joining the domain) in my clients because I access them via RDC when traveling. So they all have static IP addresses with my internet provider DNS servers (adapter Internet Protocol v4 TCP/IPv4 settings). I noticed that when I turn on the server (I just use the server for back ups) all the internet provider DNS in the adapter settings disappear (and of course I start to have problems accessing sites until I put the DNS servers back in). Anybody noticed that problem? Any solution? I spent hours researching the internet without success (I’m not a network expert btw!).

    1. I googled a bit more and I found the solution for the problem here:
      https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2862551
      From the article above:
      To skip the automatic DNS detection on a client that is managed by Windows Server Essentials, run the following command on the client computer from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingServerDiscovery” /v SkipAutoDNSServerDetection /t REG_SZ /d true
      You can also change the behavior of all clients that are managed by a Windows Server Essentials server. To do this, run the following command on the Windows Server Essentials server from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingClientDns” /v SkipAutoDnsConfig /t REG_DWORD /d 1

      Life is good!

  3. Hi terry, Thank u for posting the steps. It seems very similar to 12 r2 essentials that i recently setup. I actually followed your above instructions including setting up the client restore option (which i had neglected to setup earlier) for 12 r2. Thank u. One think missing from 12 r2 essentials is dedup. Can you check if it is there is server 16 essentials? It would be under server manager, then the tab server roles, file and iSCSI services, and under it as an option called “data duplication”. If it is there, that would be one benefit to migrate to 2016. Thank you again.

      1. Thanks Terry for checking on it. So it appears that 2016 essentials has that same limitation as 2012 r2 essentials.

  4. Hi Terry, in this article you list the connector as compatible with “MacOS v10.12 Sierra” however in your other article “Connecting Apple Macs to Windows Server 2016 Essentials” you mention specifically that it is not. It may be good to update this article as the connector currently does not work on Sierra.

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