Surface Pro as Server

Feb 21st, 2014

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Surface Pro as Server

Now having bought the Surface Pro 2 – I was at a bit of a loss to know what to use my original Pro for. It basically is a lovely device – but with a couple of ‘if at first you don’t succeed – call it version 1.0’ flaws. The worst of these is that the battery life (about five hours at reasonable utilization) is just a bit too short to be able to use it for travelling anywhere you are not likely to be able to plug in. So last year if I was flying anywhere, I would take the pro and the RT, use the RT as a tablet and save the battery on the Pro for when I really needed to do some work. But the Pro 2 has fixed that – with more than 7 hours battery time it lasts for any journey I am likely to make with no available power.

So I had a few ideas for what to use the original Pro for. Firstly I had an idea that it might be useful for doing wireless tests – but for this we would be better off with Linux – partially because the kit for doing this in Windows is very expensive, but also because the access to low level networking libraries is better. So we put Ubuntu on it – but it proved quite unsatisfactory. The basic OS was there and worked in a basic sort of way, but it was unstable and the touch screen was hardly usable. I am not a Linux fan at the best of times – but on the Surface it really turned a lovely tablet into a downright unpleasant user experience.

I then had another idea – I was much in need of a development server which could live in my office, but also be accessible when I was out and about (and even on site). So I put Windows Server 2012 R2 on the Surface. I wasn’t sure how well this would work – but as it turns out – it was surprisingly easy to install, and works well and smoothly now it is on.

For anyone interested – these were the stages.

a) Make a bootable USB stick with the server OS on it.
b) From Update and Recovery -> Recovery -> Advanced Startup start the Surface off the USB
c) Install the OS as usual – there were no problems or glitches with this.
d) Once the base OS is installed. Go to add Programs and Features and under Features, add the wireless service. Then start it (this shouldn’t really have thrown me but I was so used to this just working in Windows 8 that I didn’t ask myself when I last saw a server running on WiFi).
e) Also add the Desktop Experience Feature – this enables various ‘non-server’ bits such as access to the Store which are handy for a tablet.
f) Set the power management to your liking – obviously while it is just working in the back ground it makes no sense to have the screen fired up.

I then put Hyper-V and IIS on it. With all this installed (but no VMs running), it is at about 30% memory utilization and its CPU is not straining at all. I think it should have no problems with one or two smallish VMs and being a development web server. But the other good thing about it is that it is still a nice tablet and without close inspection you would never know it from a consumer device. All the drivers work perfectly, the screen is just as good as in Windows 8.1, and you can even install Apps from the store, look at your photos and play Mahjong. But behind all this is the power of a full on Server OS.

Let’s see anyone do this on an iPad….

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