Server Core App Compatibility Feature on Demand: troubleshooting with a GUI

Server Core App Compatibility Feature on Demand allows you to troubleshoot Windows Server Core with GUI tools that are locally installed. Let's see how.

Window Server Core has certainly come of age with Windows Server 2019. Businesses are seeing the advantages of having the Windows Server Core version backing their production infrastructure. However, aside from benefits from a security and surface area standpoint, the recent adoption trend of Windows Server Core has been brought about by new tools introduced by Microsoft that make Server Core a much more viable option.

One of these new tools and feature sets that has been introduced by Microsoft is the Feature on Demand (FoD) App Compatibility tools that are available for installation with Windows Server 2019 Core. The installation of the App Compatibility Features on Demand packages can be extremely helpful when troubleshooting Server Core. Let's take a look at troubleshooting Windows Server Core with FoD tools.

What is Feature on Demand (FoD)? ^

One of the challenges that IT administrators looking to adopt Server Core installations have long had is managing Server Core. Since Server Core is lacking the very familiar GUI interface of the Windows Server Desktop Experience, many of the common tools used for administration and troubleshooting are not available. This is where the FoD come into play.

A new FoD that was released with Windows Server 2019 is the App Compatibility FoD, which consists of Windows packages that can be added in an ad-hoc fashion to Windows Server Core installations. This subset of binaries and packages from the Windows Server with Desktop Experience contains many of the tools that administrators are familiar with using in the Desktop Experience (GUI) Windows Server.

Benefits of App Compatibility FoD ^

Based on the description of the App Compatibility FoD, you start to see the benefit of adding this to your Server Core installation. It helps you to in a sense have the "best of both worlds" when it comes to making use of Server Core. Specifically, you get the following benefits:

  • Increases the compatibility of Server Core for server applications that are already in market or have already been developed by organizations and deployed
  • Assists with providing OS components and increased app compatibility of software tools used in acute troubleshooting and debugging scenarios

In terms of troubleshooting Windows Server Core installations, there are several added tools as part of the App Compatibility FoD that will make running Windows Server Core in production much easier and more manageable.

What are some of the tools that are useful for troubleshooting Windows Server Core that are included?

  • Microsoft Management Console (mmc.exe)
  • Event Viewer (Eventvwr.msc)
  • Performance Monitor (PerfMon.exe)
  • Resource Monitor (Resmon.exe)
  • Device Manager (Devmgmt.msc)
  • File Explorer (Explorer.exe)
  • Windows PowerShell (Powershell_ISE.exe)
  • Disk Management (Diskmgmt.msc)
  • Failover Cluster Manager (CluAdmin.msc)

Why install these tools locally?

You may ask, "Why do I need these tools when I can connect remotely to my Server Core installation?" Well, for many situations, that may be true. However, what if you were unable to connect to your Windows Server Core installation?

What if your Server Core VM had a broken network connection and you were unable to connect to troubleshoot an issue with remote administration tools? In these situations, it becomes apparent that locally installed tools, consoles, and management utilities are extremely valuable.

Having the ability to bring up a local copy of Event Viewer, Performance Monitor, Resource Monitor, and many of the other tools included in the App Compatibility FoD can allow you to determine the root cause of an issue with your Windows Server Core installation.

Not only is the App Compatibility FoD incredibly useful to have installed with Windows Server Core installations, it is easy to install as well. How easy is it to get the App Compatibility FoD installed? Let's see.

Installing App Compatibility FoD ^

There are a couple of methods to install the App Compatibility FoD. You can install it via a downloaded ISO, but the easiest and most convenient method is online via Windows Update.

This can be done with a simple PowerShell one-liner:

If you do download the ISO for the App Compatibility FoD installation, you can install it using the following cmdlet:

Below, I have logged into my Windows Server 2019 Core installation and exited out to a PowerShell prompt. Installing the App Compatibility FoD is as simple as copying and pasting the command to run the online installation on your Windows Server 2019 Core install.

Running the PowerShell cmdlet to install App Compatibility Feature on Demand

Running the PowerShell cmdlet to install App Compatibility Feature on Demand

The installation of App Compatibility Feature on Demand begins

After installing the App Compatibility FoD, you will need to restart the Server Core server.

App Compatibility installation successful

App Compatibility installation successful

Let's take a look at what can be done now that the App Compatibility features are installed on your Windows Server Core installation.

Troubleshooting Windows Server Core with FoD ^

Now that the App Compatibility FoD tools are installed, let's see how easy it is to launch and make use of traditional "Desktop Experience" consoles and management applications in Server Core.

What if you need to troubleshoot various processes, memory, disk, and network issues on your Server Core installation? It would be great to have access to tools like Resource Monitor. When you install App Compatibility FoD, you can.

Using Resmon locally on the Windows Server 2019 Core installation

Using Resmon locally on the Windows Server 2019 Core installation

What if you have services failing or applications crashing and you need to look at the Windows Event Viewer to find the root cause and, again, you can't remotely connect? With the App Compatibility FoD installed, you can launch the GUI Event Viewer Console to check the event logs as you would normally with the Desktop Experience.

Using event viewer to troubleshoot locally on a Windows Server 2019 Core installation

Using event viewer to troubleshoot locally on a Windows Server 2019 Core installation

Performance Monitor lets you get even deeper into monitoring and capturing information on the system. Installing the App Compatibility FoD allows you to run Performance Monitor and monitor all the key metrics on your Server Core installation.

Running Performance Monitor in Windows Server 2019 Core

Running Performance Monitor in Windows Server 2019 Core

The MMC console allows you to have access to a number of great troubleshooting utilities and management consoles to take a deeper look into various aspects of the Server Core system.

Using the MMC.exe console to launch a number of troubleshooting tools in Windows Server 2019 Core

Using the MMC.exe console to launch a number of troubleshooting tools in Windows Server 2019 Core

All of these tools and many others are available to you for troubleshooting purposes in Windows Server 2019 Core installations. These tools allow you to have access to basically all of the normal troubleshooting and monitoring tools you are used to in the Desktop Experience installation of Windows Server.

Wrapping up ^

Windows Server 2019 Core provides many great benefits to IT administrators, including the ability to install the App Compatibility FoD components. As shown, the App Compatibility FoD installation adds many great troubleshooting tools to your Server Core installations, so you have the ability to run the tools locally.

This is extremely important in case you have a situation where you are unable to remotely connect via the network to your Server Core installation. Keep in mind that the very issue you are trying to troubleshoot may impair your ability to remotely connect to your Server Core installation.

By installing the available App Compatibility FoD tools, you will have the necessary troubleshooting tools available locally on the Server Core installation to troubleshoot issues as needed.

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