One of the downsides to use Windows Server 2012 Essentials is that its built-in alerts, while useful for keeping your environment up to date, can be more than a bit too chatty. These alerts seem to pop-up for the most inane of infractions, and you will waste a lot of time dealing with them at first.

I wish I had better news on this one. If you’re familiar with how alerts worked in Windows Home Server 2011 or Windows Small Business Server Essentials 2011, then you understand the basics. But this is one area where Essentials 2012 actually does a worse job than its predecessors: In fact, the alerts are a bit out of control.

So what I can offer you for now—Microsoft tells me it will look at fixing the volume of alerts at some point—is more along the line of coping strategies than easily reproducible advice. The thing is, your approach to these alerts will vary according to the needs of your environment, where a home office might elect for more relaxed approach while a managed small business might want to take them a bit more seriously.

Also problematic is that some of these alerts force you down a rabbit hole of more complex management Windows Server administrative interfaces. These interfaces can be unfamiliar and inscrutable to those who stuck with Windows PCs or Windows Home Server in the past.

Anyway. Let’s see how this works.

If you sign in to the Essentials 2012 Dashboard, you’ll see an alert notification in the upper right corner of the window. This notification uses a series of colors to indicate the health of your environment, which includes not just the server itself but also all of the connected PCs. So you could theoretically see a blue informational icon with a “0” next to it, indicating that all is well and that you have no alerts. But since you will never actually see this, here’s what it looks like, next to the other notification types.

red-yellow-blue

Far more common, unfortunately, is the yellow “bang” color, indicating you have some (real or imagined) issues, or, worse, the red “warning” color, indicating one or more serious issues. Signing into my own real-world Essentials 2012 server this morning, I see that I have 5 alerts to deal with. On a second testing server, I have two.

So let’s see what these alerts are, before moving on to dealing with them. Just click that notification icon to see the Alert Viewer.

alert-01-ess

On my actual Essentials 2012 server, I see the following (in which I slightly edited out non-essential information):

BPA scan results contain Warnings. BPA scan found 1 warnings in your network. From the server dashboard, click Devices tab, select your server, and then click Best Practices Analyzer to view additional details.

Important updates should be installed. ZENBOOK [one of my laptops]. One or more important updates are available to be installed. In the Alert Viewer, click Open Windows Update. Follow the instructions for initiating update installation.

Important updates should be installed. VM-ENT [another PC, in a VM]. One or more important updates are available to be installed. In the Alert Viewer, click Open Windows Update. Follow the instructions for initiating update installation

Low storage capacity on hard drives. MICRO [the server]. The following hard drives are low of capacity: Storage space (S:). To increase the capacity of the storage pool, add a new available hard drive to the storage pool. If you have already plugged the hard drive in, open the related alert, or go to Hard Drives tab on the Dashboard, select the hard drive that is low in capacity, and click Increase storage pool capacity task.

One or more server folders are located on the system hard drive. MICRO. The following server folders are located on the system hard drive: Folder Redirection, File History Backups, Client Computer Backups.  It is recommended that you move the server folders that are located on the system drive to a different hard drive to help protect your data against disaster. To move a server folder from the system drive to a different hard drive, select the server folder, and then click Move the folder task.

So what’s really wrong here?

The first issue, regarding the BPA scan, is related to a new feature of Essentials 2012, in which Microsoft has integrated a Best Practices Analyzer tool into the OS to monitor the system and ensure that it conforms to Microsoft’s known best practices. Here, my server has run afoul of a configuration change I always make on my servers, where I disable Internet Explorer’s Enhanced Configuration feature for administrator accounts; I do this so I can browse the web from the server when needed, but Microsoft does not approve of this behavior. The solution? You can fix it, I guess, or ignore the rule in the BPA tool. Which is what I did. That doesn’t prevent it from appearing in the BPA report, but it does prevent it from triggering an alert.

The next two issues involve two of my client PCs, which I don’t use regularly. Apparently they both need to be updated. On the VM, the required Windows Update isn’t important at all, not by any reasonable measure: It wanted me to install Silverlight. (I’ve also seen this alert triggered for Defender definition updates, which are very common and regular.) On the physical PC, there was a pending update for “Update for Internet Explorer Flash Player for Windows 8.” Now that one is arguably important. But here’s the thing: These PCs are both configured to automatically install updates, so I should never be warned about these issues. Installing the updates “fixed” the problems (removing the alerts), but they’re just going to come back when the inevitable future updates arrive.

The low capacity thing has been bothering me for a few days, and I admit to being stumped on this one. My storage space, the S: drive, is made of 2 3TB hard drives, and because I’m using a two-way mirror, the space “sees” a total of 3TB; the data should be equally spanned between the two disks. I’m only using 1TB of space, so I should have about 2 TB of free space overall. So I’m unclear why I get this error. I will investigate this one further. (In the meantime I simply added two more external hard drives to shut the thing up. Problem “solved.”)

The last issue is easily fixed, and yes, you should move all of the server folders off of the system drive. I’ve moved the other ones to S: (Company, Music, Pictures, Recorded TV, and Users, plus one I make called Software) and V: (Videos) already, and I’m not sure why I didn’t move the others. But doing so via the simple Move a Folder wizard in the Dashboard for each removed the alert.

What I’m left with is one alert that I can’t really fix, not yet. And from experience I know that I’m going to be dealing with some of the same alerts again and again. Like anyone administering a server, what I really want is for it to be working properly and not throwing alerts. Is there any other way to deal with these things?

Yes. As it turns out, you can ignore or delete alerts too. The difference between these choices may seem subtle, but it’s important.

Ignore. If you look at the Alert Viewer, you’ll see an “Ignore this alert” link in the description of each alert. Ignoring an alert will remove it from the health assessment for your environment, which is desirable in some cases, though it will continue to appear in the Alert Viewer. So if you choose to ignore alerts about pending updates on PCs (because you know they will be installed automatically), those alerts will no longer trigger a notification.

Delete. This option is hidden, and you have to right-click the alert name to see it. Deleting the alert removes it from the Alert Viewer (and thus from the network health assessment), which is certainly useful. But if the condition that triggered the alert continues, another alert will be generated.

Of course, most people aren’t going to be signing into the server interactively anyway, at least not regularly, and certainly not after the server is up and running and configured properly. So most of these alerts will be surfaced through the Launchpad application on your client PCs instead. As it turns out, the experience is similar: Tapping the alert notification icon in the Launchpad window will display Alert Viewer, this time on your client PC.

launchpad

That said, you can always turn off these notification in Launchpad, or change the scope so that you’re only alerted to issues that are local to your own PC. To do that, access Launchpad settings from the strange little icon next to the window minimize icon at the top of the window.

This will hide problems, not solve them. But sometimes, after you’ve struggled with these alerts for too long, all you’re looking for is a little respite. And when it comes to these incredibly annoying alerts, selectively ignoring and deleting the alerts for issues you can’t or won’t fix isn’t enough.

That said, you may wish for even more alerts. Essentials 2012 can accommodate that need, too: You can enable an email alert notification through the Dashboard to get these notifications automatically. And you can even install a Health Report for Windows Server 2012 Essentials add-on that will let you run reports, automatically or manually, about the health of your environment.

OK, I’m not going to go there. :)