Synchronizing Files Between Windows Servers

I am sure you have needed to copy files from one server to another. Sometimes it is sufficient to use Windows Explorer across a UNC path and do a simple copy and paste. With that simplicity comes the lack of control and advanced features. Two great free options exist that can be set to run as a scheduled task in a simple batch file, XCOPY and Robocopy.

If you are familiar with XCopy, you know that it has a variety of parameters that can be configured to meet many of your business requirements. If you need more advanced features then Robocopy will most likely meet your needs. You can think of Robocopy as XCOPY on steroids, providing features that tolerate network interruptions, skip identical files, and so forth. The latest version also includes multithread copying.

Robocopy and XCopy are both good solutions to keep a backup copy of your files in a remote location. When your requirements include the need to synchronize the same files across multiple servers, you can setup multiple Robocopy jobs that keep files in sync in multiple directions. That can quickly turn into an administrative nightmare.

Fortunately there is another technology that makes this an easy task to accomplish and administer known as Distributed File System (DFS). This technology started to come to maturity with the release of Windows Server 2003 R2 and continues to improve with each release of Windows Server, including Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 (also known as Windows Server 8). While there are a multitude of guides on the Internet about DFS including all of the different features and configuration options, I want to hone in on a simple feature that many of us come across regularly; the need to keep a set of files and folders synchronized across multiple servers.

Before we start you should note that in order to properly use DFS, the servers need to be part of an Active Directory Domain. If they are not then you either need to add them to a domain or fall back to using Robocopy or XCopy. In this demo we will be synchronizing a single folder across two servers.

The first step is to install the DFS Role on each of the servers that you want to synchronize files between. In Server Manager, highlight Roles in the left tree view and select Add Roles under Roles Summary.

Roles Summary

This brings up the Add Roles Wizard. On the Select Server Roles page, check the box beside File Services and click Next.

Files Services

On the Select Role Services screen, check the box for DFS Replication. For this scenario we don’t need DFS Namespaces. Click Next.

DFS NameSpaces

Now you will finish the steps of the wizard to install DFS Replication. Once you have DFS Replication installed on each of the servers, we can move forward with configuring DFS Replication.On the server, click Start -> Administrative Tools -> DFS Management. This opens up the DFS Management console. Right click Replication and choose New Replication Group.

DFS Management

You are now presented with the New Replication Group Wizard. Stay with the default selection of Multipurpose replication group and click next.

Replication Group Type

At the next screen give the replication group a meaningful name. You will notice that your default Active Directory domain is set. If not, click Browse… to select it.

Name and Domains

Next select two or more servers that you want to synchronize files across. Click Add and look up the servers in Active Directory. Once you have the servers selected click Next.

Replication Group Members

For the topology, we will select Full mesh. That allows the files to stay in sync between all of the servers regardless of where the file is updated. You will note that to use Hub and spoke, you need at least three servers and it increases the complexity of your DFS environment. I have only had a couple of scenarios where I have needed to use Hub and spoke.

Topology Selection

At this screen you can limit the bandwidth and even configure DFS to run on a schedule. Since we are on an intranet network we’re going to use full bandwidth and we want to keep the files in sync all the time so the default options work well for us. Click Next after you have configured this to your liking.

Replication Group Schedule and Bandwidth

Next we need to select the Primary member. Full mesh topology treats all servers as equals and keeps all the files synchronized nearly instantaneously after the first synchronization is complete and the DFS database is built. For the first synchronization, though, DFS needs to know which server to set as the primary member if there are file conflicts. In that case, it treats the files on the Primary member as the master files just this one time. After the initial synchronization there is no longer a Primary member. Click Next after selecting your Primary member.

Primary Member

It is time for us to select the folders that we want to replicate. Click the Add… button to bring up another window. Click the Browse… button to pick a local folder on this server to replicate. You can use the automatically generated name of the folder or pick a custom name if needed. You will note that you can also set custom permissions. From my experience the default existing permissions will work in most situations. Click the Next button when you’ve picked the local folder.

Folders to Replicate

You are now presented with a screen for the other server that you selected in the replication group. You will note that the local path is not set and it is disabled. Make sure it is highlighted and click the Edit… button. Here you will select enabled and choose the local folder on the remote server. While you can set a target path on the remote server that is different than the path on the local server, I recommend that you keep the paths the same on both servers to simplify management. Click OK and then Next.

Local Path of Temp on other Members

You are presented with the final screen that gives you one last chance to review what you have selected. Once you have reviewed the settings, click the Create button. You will be prompted with a reminder that it will take some time for the initial replication to occur. From my experience it usually takes from 15 – 30 minutes for initial replication to begin. After that, it can take some time for initial replication to complete based on the number and size of the files.

Following the steps above, you can now easily keep sets of folders synchronized between multiple servers.


Disable Internet Explorer Enhanced Security on Server 2012

Internet Explorer can be a pain of its own when it is set to its default settings. It gets even worse when Microsoft locks it down so much that you can’t even pull down anything to download. Instead of adding every website to a trusted site zone, you can disable the security for IE on the server, and then re-enable it when you aren’t using it.

In Windows Server 8, it can be even more difficult to find where the hell to disable the Enhanced Security Features for Internet Explorer. It changes every time Microsoft decides to release an OS…

1) Open Server Manager

Go ahead and open server manager. It should be the icon in the lower left hand corner of a default Windows Server 8 installation. Click on “Local Server”. Once you have the “Local Server” highlighted, you will see IE Enhanced Security Configuration set to “On”.

2) Click “On” to bring up the Internet Explorer Enhanced Security settings

From here, you will be able to turn off the security for Internet Explorer so you can go an grab the files that you need for your new server. Yes, you could always download them to your flash drive and transfer them… but sometimes we don’t always have those handy!


10 cool new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials will now allow Essentials features in larger domains as a Windows Server role. See what else John Joyner picked as the best new features.


Along with the Windows Server 2012 R2 official release this month, there is another member of the Windows Server family that deserves attention, which is Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. I’ve written here previously about Windows Server 2012 Essentials, and can report that Microsoft continues to invest in the Essentials product. While optimized for a hybrid small office scenario, new with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials is the option to deploy Essentials features in a larger domain as a Windows Server role. Here are 10 new and cool things about Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials:

1. Server deployment

You can install Essentials as a member server in a domain of any size. Previously, Windows Server 2012 Essentials could be installed as the only domain controller of a small office network. Now Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials can be installed on a virtual server or physical server, and on a member server in an existing domain of any size. When installing as a member server, you can have more than one server running Essentials in your domain. Figure A shows the option in Windows Server 2012 R2 Server Manager to install the Essentials Experience role.


Figure A



Installing the Essentials Experience role on a member server in an existing domain.

2. Client deployment

You can connect computers to your domain from a remote location. In other words, you can domain join your users’ mobile computers even when they are not on your corporate network. Directing a new employee to the “/connect” virtual directory of Essentials remote access website (see Figure B) launches a simple wizard that prompts the user for four pieces of information:


  • Username and password for the domain.
  • If the computer is only for you, or for you and other domain users.
  • An optional description to type such as “TechRepublic Windows 8.1 Tablet”.
  • Will you want the computer to wake up for backups or to only perform backups when the computer is running.

Figure B





The Connect web page hosted by Essentials will domain-join a computer locally or on the Internet.

3. Pre-configured auto-VPN dialing

If you need access to on-premise network resources there is a pre-configured VPN client.Figure C shows the box that appears after connecting the computer to the network over the Internet. The user can optionally trigger auto-VPN dialing so they are always connected to the workplace.


Figure C





A pre-configured VPN Client can be optionally set to auto-dial the office.

4. Server storage

You can create shared folders such as user home folders on a secondary server on the network. Get an alert when a server folder grows beyond its defined quota.

5. Health Report

A really useful Health Report is integrated with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and no longer needs to be installed as an add-in. Depending on your business needs, you can customize the system health reports to display items that you prefer to monitor. Figure Dshows a daily health report viewed on a smartphone. This is a quick and easy way to keep your pulse on the health of a small network.


Figure D





Health Report viewed on a mobile device.

6. BranchCache

You can turn on BranchCache to improve data access if the server running Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials is located offsite. BranchCache is a wide area network (WAN) bandwidth optimization technology that is included in some editions of the Windows Server Windows client operating systems. To optimize WAN bandwidth when users access content on remote servers, BranchCache copies content from a main office or hosted cloud content servers and caches the content at branch office locations, allowing client computers at branch offices to access the content locally rather than over the WAN.

7. Office 365 integration

The following functionalities are new in Office 365 integration with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials: SharePoint Libraries management and Office 365 Distribution Groups management. For the small business that is looking for a way to accelerate their cloud journey by moving some functions like email to Office 365, it’s hard to imagine this being any easier.

8. Mobile Device Management

If your Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials server is integrated with Office 365, you can manage your mobile devices using the Exchange Active Sync functionalities from the Essentials dashboard, such as define email access from a mobile device, set up password policies, and remote wipe of the mobile device.

9. Client Full System Restore

Client Full System Restore is now supported by Windows Deployment Services (WDS). You can create client restore service using the Set up Client Restore Service task and perform client full system restore over the network with WDS instead of using an image saved on a DVD.

10. Remote Web Access

Remote Web Access is updated and optimized for touch devices and enhanced with rich HTML5 support. Figure E shows off this really nice looking interface. 

Figure E

The Remote Web Access home page is optimized for touch screen devices like tablets.