Using VHDs to Evaluate System Center 2016

The release of System Center 2016 is right around the corner. In fact, Microsoft announced that they will be releasing Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 at Ignite this year.

But you don’t have to wait until Ignite to start testing these products. Microsoft has made Technical Previews available to try. Currently we are at Technical Preview (TP) 5.

You can access the downloads from the TechNet Evaluation Center. However, these are the EXE’s, similar to what we would get with ISOs at RTM. What that means is, you’ll have to create your own Virtual Machines (VMs), install the OS, etc. and then run the EXE installation to try the latest bits. If only there was an easier way!

Thankfully Microsoft has also made System Center 2016 Technical Preview 5 available via evaluation VHDs. In theory, this is a “pre-configured” VHD file, that you extract, and enables you to create a virtual machine with everything ready/running.

For reference, here are the direct links to the System Center 2016 Evaluation VHDs:


So it sounds great. All I need to do is download a VHD, create a VM using that VHD, and I’m off and running in my new shiny System Center 2016 evaluation. Unfortunately, not all of it is this simple and straightforward.


The Good

Let’s start with the good example. Probably since I’m a SCOM guy, I tend to always start testing new System Center releases with SCOM. So that’s what I did for the Eval VHDs. I downloaded all the BIN files, and ran the EXE to extract it. No I have a nice new shiny “SCTP5_SCOM.vhd” (Note that yes, it is a .VHD, and not a .VHDX file).

Following the accompanying eval guide, we need to create a Generation 1 virtual machine. Don’t ask me why it won’t work/support with a Gen2, it just doesn’t.

So now we have the VM created, and the eval VHD attached. Time to start it up! Specific to the SCOM eval VHD, when you first launch the VM, you get this nice splash screen.

SCOM 2016 VHD Helper

SCOM 2016 VHD Helper

According to the eval documentation, this is the “Operations Manager preparation window”. Basically you enter in all the information, and it will automate the installation, configuration, etc. of SCOM; even joining the VM to the domain.

Note: You have to have a Domain Controller already installed/configured on the network the VM will reside in. Also, I had issues trying to use an external Virtual Switch in Hyper-V, so I had to also create a DHCP server/scope to get it to work correctly (but that could just be my environment).

After everything is said and done, you’ll have a nice new shiny installation of SCOM 2016 TP5 to play with.

Since I started with the SCOM eval VHD, this set my expectation for all the rest of the eval VHDs.


The Bad

As it turns out, all of the other eval VHDs do not have this nice “VHDHelper” embedded in them. Interestingly, some of the VHDs have a different Workgroup configured (i.e. the DPM VHD has “DPMDOM02” as the Workgroup).

In all the other eval VHDs, you have to manually change the Computer Name, join it to your domain, install the supporting SQL Server components, and then install the product! So basically, just the same process you would have to follow if you were to just download and use the ISOs instead.

Most of the VHDs will have a shortcut on the desktop to install/config SQL Server, but ironically, the “pre-configured” parameter settings install a Named Instance of SQL Server, but it’s named “MSSQLSERVER” (also known as the Default Instance Name).

SCORCH Desktop Installers

SCORCH Desktop Installers

The only “good” thing about this, is that the .INI file for the SQL installation has the required features pre-selected. But really, if you’ve been working with System Center, you either know that SQL features are required, or you have a handy reference list (i.e. see my SQL Server Features page).



So if you want to evaluate System Center 2016, you can use the eval VHDs to get started, but you can just as easily use the ISOs directly.

I will say though, that at least with the eval VHDs, you have all of the source files for installation (i.e. SQL Server, etc.) already present.

I’m just not clear why the System Center product teams wouldn’t align on the delivery of this. Especially since other tools released by Microsoft (the PowerShell Deployment Toolkit, and PowerShell DSC) are available for fully automated deployment of the entire suite.

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