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Managing Windows Licensing and Activation : Managing Volume License Activation (part 3) - Managing licensing and activation, Implementing KMS activation

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4. Managing licensing and activation

As you can well expect, Microsoft provides various tools, technologies, and scripts with which you may manage licenses. This section introduces some tools, including the following:

  • The Windows Software License Management Tool (slmgr.vbs)

  • The Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT)

Windows Software License Management Tool

All of the current license information for each workstation can be accessed using Windows Management Instrumentation, or WMI. In addition to querying information, you may also make changes and perform activations using WMI objects. Using WMI allows you to write scripts and applications tailored to the needs of your organization. However, Microsoft has also included with Vista a VBScript for basic management tasks. The script is referred to as the Windows Software License Management Tool and named slmgr.vbs.

When run without options, slmgr.vbs will provide you with a list of its available options (as shown in Figure 5). As you can see, the tool can both query the existing license and activation status as well as make changes, such as changing the product key. Although this script is very useful for individual machines and automation, it lacks the ability to report or act on multiple machines without further customizations of the script.

Figure 5. Windows Software License Management Tool options

Volume Activation Management Tool

For managing activations of multiple machines, use the Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT). Although the tool is not included with Windows, it is a free download from Microsoft at www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=12044DD8-1B2C-4DA4-A530-80F26F0F9A99&displaylang=en. As shown in Figure 6, the VAMT allows you to see the activation status of many computers at once. It can also be used to initiate online activation or perform MAK proxy activation. Not only does the VAMT allow you to view volume license status, it also shows you the license and activation information for retail and OEM licensed computers.

To use the VAMT, you begin by adding computers. As you may have a large number of computers to manage, the VAMT requires that at least one group be created to organize these computers. This group is not related or associated with any security groups and is only used inside VAMT. With an initial group created, computers can be discovered by searching the Active Directory Domain Services or a Workgroup. You may also add individual computers by name or IP address, although in larger organizations it would not be practical to add all computers manually.

Figure 6. Volume Activation Management Tool user interface

As computers are found and added to the tool, their licensing and activation status is queried and displayed. The list of computers and all of their information are stored locally as an XML file called the Computer Information List. Therefore, if you want to see this information from another computer, you can either re-create the groups and rediscover all of the workstations, or you may export the Computer Information List using VAMT, which can be imported on the other workstation.

After the Computer Information List is built or imported, the VAMT can be used to view licensing information, perform MAK proxy activation, initiate MAK independent activation, or manage MAKs. Importantly, the VAMT can query the MAK activation pool and report on the number of activations remaining on your MAK, a good thing to know before you actually run out!

NOTE

If the Windows Firewall is used, no configuration is required on the client computer because bidirectional TCP sessions that originate from the client computer are automatically allowed. You can configure the TCP port on the client computer or KMS host by using the slmgr.vbs script or setting registry values. An exception has been added to the Windows Firewall to facilitate opening the default port 1688.

5. Implementing KMS activation

Before attempting to deploy KMS activation, be sure to plan your layout ahead of time. One item to consider is the number of KMS servers to deploy. The load placed on a KMS server is very light when you consider that computers only communicate with the KMS servers every seven days during normal operating conditions. Additionally, the amount of information stored about activations is minimal. Lastly, the two network packets required for activation are very small, around 250 bytes, which should not overburden even the most modest of networks. In practice, a single KMS server should be able to handle well over 100,000 clients. In reality, you may want more than one server for redundancy reasons.

Fault tolerance is a strong reason to have multiple KMS servers. In most environments, we recommend that you implement at least two KMS servers. The only time this is not recommended is if your client count is not sufficient to keep both KMS servers at their 25-client minimum. In an environment with over 200 clients, for example, keeping both servers above their minimums should not pose a problem.

NOTE

For additional guidance, see the Microsoft home page for Volume Activation at technet.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsvista/bb892849.aspx. You can also find a video demonstration of how to set up KMS on Windows Server 2008 at www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=bbf2eb61-2b30-4f2d-bccddf53e220b8e9&displaylang=en.

After you have properly planned your environment, implementing KMS activation is relatively straightforward process consisting of two primary steps. The first step is to deploy your KMS server or servers. If you plan to use Windows Server 2003 as a KMS server, you will first need to download and install the KMS Server component, the Software Licensing service. Windows Server 2008 and Vista include the necessary services, but for Windows Server 2003, an update for KMS 1.1 is online at support.microsoft.com/kb/948003.

NOTE

KMS for Windows Server 2003 v1.0 will activate only Vista RTM and Vista SP1 KMS clients. If hosting KMS on Windows Server 2003, make sure to install v1.1 of KMS to support activation of Windows Server 2008 KMS clients. You'll then need to install a new KMS key and then activate the KMS host before use.

As mentioned earlier, KMS hosted on a Windows Vista machine can activate only Windows Vista KMS clients; it cannot activate any editions of Windows Server 2008 as KMS clients. The Windows Server 2008 editions that can be activated by the KMS host depend on the KMS key that you install on the KMS host. It is also important to note that you will need to activate this KMS host before the host can begin accepting activation requests from KMS clients. The first step to configuring a KMS server is to install the KMS server activation key, which is obtained from Microsoft after purchasing Windows Server 2008 or Vista volume licenses. Although the Software Licensing service has WMI interfaces and an API you can leverage, the recommended method of configuring the activation key is by using the built-in VBScript, slmgr.vbs.

The following steps provide command line guidance for installing a VAK via VBScript:

  1. Launch a command prompt as administrator.

  2. Use the following command to install your VAK key with the built-in VBScript:

    slmgr.vbs -ipk <Product Key>

  3. Once the VAK key has been installed, the server must be activated either via the Internet or over the phone. If the server has Internet access, activate it with the following command:

    slmgr.vbs -ato

    If Internet access is not available, run the following command and follow the prompts to activate by phone:

    slui.exe 4

After the VAK key has been installed and the server has been successfully activated, the KMS server should be ready to begin accepting incoming client requests. If you are using dynamic DNS, clients in the same domain as the KMS server may begin activating immediately. For other domains, you need to configure the server to register in additional domains, manually add DNS entries for the KMS server in other domains, or manually configure the clients to use the KMS server.

To configure the KMS server to register in additional domains, add and configure the following registry value using regedit:

Value: HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion \SL\
   DnsDomainPublishList
Type: REG_MULTI_SZ
   Value Data: <List of DNS domains to publish, each on a
   separate line>

Instead of using DNS auto-discovery, the clients may also be manually configured for a specific KMS server and port. Static KMS server configuration is generally performed with the slmgr.vbs script. The most efficient way of implementing this would be though a startup script or similar mechanism. To configure a client for a specific KMS server manually, use the following command:

slmgr.vbs -skms <KMS Server>:<port>

Although using a fully qualified domain name for the KMS server, IP addresses and NetBIOS names also work. The port number is only required if using a nonstandard port number.

6. Implementing MAK independent activation

Implementing MAK independent activation is a very simple process for most scenarios. The key step in deploying MAK independent activation is configuring each client with the MAK. This is generally performed through one of the following ways:

  • Manually during installation

  • Using an unattended answer file

  • With the System Control Panel applet

  • Using a script

  • Using the VAMT

If providing the MAK during installation manually, the computer will activate automatically and no additional administration is necessary. When using the System applet of the Control Panel, a simple process of clicking a link and typing in the MAK is required after installation. Although this requires minimal effort, performing this action on hundreds or thousands of computers is very inefficient. By providing the key in an unattended answer file or by using the slmgr.vbs script to configure the MAK, deployment can be automated so that no administrative effort is required during the deployment process to configure MAK activation. Finally, the VAMT also has the capability to install a MAK on any recognized workstations.

NOTE

Regardless of the method chosen to install the MAK, the VAMT can both verify that the activation is successful and monitor the number of activations remaining in the activation pool.

7. Implementing MAK proxy activation

When using MAK activation where a direct Internet connection is not available to clients, MAK proxy activation can be used. To activate a computer using MAK proxy activation, use of the VAMT is required. The process begins by configuring clients to use a MAK. The options for installing a MAK are the same as for independent activation. The difference is that the workstations will not be able to activate themselves after being configured for MAK activation.

Begin activation by first using the VAMT to discover the necessary clients requiring proxy activation. If necessary, this tool may be used to install a MAK as well. After the necessary clients appear in the VAMT, you may use the tool to obtain the Installation ID (IID) from the computer, send it to Microsoft, and obtain a Confirmation ID (CID). After the Confirmation ID has been obtained, the VAMT can be used to activate the client using the Confirmation ID.

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