Installing Windows Server 2008 R2 and Server Core : Preplanning and Preparing a Server Installation

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Before you begin the actual installation of Windows Server 2008 R2, you must make several decisions concerning prerequisite tasks. How well you plan these steps will determine how successful your installation is—as many of these decisions cannot be changed after the installation is complete.

Verifying Minimum Hardware Requirements

Whether you are installing Windows Server 2008 R2 in a lab or production environment, you need to ensure that the hardware chosen meets the minimum system requirements. In most situations, the minimum hardware requirements presented will not suffice; therefore, Table 1 provides not only the minimum requirements, but also the recommended and maximum system requirements for the hardware components.

Table 1. Windows Server 2008 R2 System Requirements
ComponentMinimum RequirementRecommendedMaximum
Processor1.4GHZ 64-bit2GHZ or fasterNot applicable
Memory512MB RAM2GB RAM or greater32GB RAM Standard Edition 2TB RAM Enterprise and Datacenter Editions
Disk Space32GB40GB Full installation


10GB Server Core installation
Not applicable
Take note: When designing and selecting the system specifications for a new server solution, even the optimal system requirements recommendations from Microsoft might not suffice. It is a best practice to assess the server specifications of the planned server role while taking the load during the time of deployment and future growth into consideration. For example, a Windows Server 2008 R2 system running the Exchange Server 2010 Mailbox Server role will require much more than 2GB of RAM to run adequately. In addition, SQL Server 2008 R2 running on a Windows Server 2008 R2 server that is providing business intelligence solutions for 10,000 users might require 32GB of RAM. Therefore, size the system accordingly and test the load before going live into production.


Windows Server 2008 R2 ONLY supports 64-bit processor architectures. A server running 32-bit processors is NOT supported.

Choosing the Appropriate Windows Edition

There are four main editions in the Windows Server 2008 R2 family of operating systems. The editions include Windows Server 2008 R2, Standard Edition; Windows Server 2008 R2, Enterprise Edition; Windows Server 2008 R2, Datacenter Edition; and Windows Server 2008, Web Edition. An organization or administrator must understand their workload needs and requirements when selecting the operating system to utilize. For example, the Enterprise Edition might be selected if there is a need to sustain a 16-node failover cluster or autoenrollment with Microsoft Certificate Services. Or the Standard Edition could be utilized if there is a need to implement virtualization with Hyper-V.

Choosing a New Installation or an Upgrade

If you have an existing Windows environment, you might need to perform a new installation or upgrade an existing server. There are benefits to each of these options. The next two sections outline the benefits for each.

Should You Perform a New Installation?

The primary benefit of a new installation is that, by installing the operating system from scratch, you are starting with a known good server. You can avoid migrating problems that might have existed on your previous server—whether due to corrupt software, incorrect configuration settings, or improperly installed applications. Keep in mind, however, that you will also lose all configuration settings from your previous installation. In addition, required applications on the legacy server will need to be reinstalled after the installation of the new operating system is complete. Make sure you document your server configuration information, have all the appropriate software you plan on reinstalling, and back up any data that you want to keep.

When performing a new installation, you can install on a new hard drive (or partition) or in a different directory on the same disk as a previous installation. Typically, most new installations are installed on a new or freshly formatted hard drive. Doing so removes any old software and gives you the cleanest installation.

Should You Upgrade an Existing Server?

Upgrading, on the other hand, replaces your current Windows files but keeps existing users, settings, groups, rights, and permissions intact. In this scenario, you don’t have to reinstall applications or restore data. Before choosing this option, keep in mind that you should test your applications for compatibility before migration. Just because they worked on previous versions of Windows does not mean they will work on Windows Server 2008 R2.

As always, before performing any type of server maintenance such as a Windows Server 2008 R2 installation, you should perform a complete backup of any applications and data that you want to preserve. Do not forget to include the System State when backing up the legacy Windows operating system. It is required when performing a restore if you want to maintain the existing Windows settings.

To upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2, you must be running a server-level operating system. You cannot upgrade Workstation or Home Editions of operating systems such as Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system, Windows 7 to Windows Server 2008 R2. To upgrade your existing server, you must be running Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2003. An upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Server are not supported. Table 2 lists the available upgrade paths to Windows Server 2008 R2.

Table 2. Windows Server 2008 R2 Upgrade Paths
Previous Operating SystemUpgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2
Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter EditionYes, fully supported
Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter Server Core EditionYes, fully supported to Server Core
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2, Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter EditionYes, fully supported
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating systems with Service Pack 1 (SP1), Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter EditionYes, fully supported
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating systems with Service Pack 2 (SP2), Standard, Enterprise, or Datacenter EditionYes, fully supported
Windows NT 4.0Not supported
Windows 2000 ServerNot supported
Windows XPNot supported
Windows VistaNot supported
Any 32-Bit Windows EditionNot supported


A direct upgrade from any version of Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core is not supported. If a Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core is warranted, a fresh Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core install or an upgrade from Windows Server 2008 Server Core is necessary.


If there is a need to preserve settings and upgrade a legacy operating system such as Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server, the system should first be upgraded to Windows Server 2003 and then again to Windows Server 2008 R2. Typically, this is not the recommended approach as the hardware is typically outdated; however, the multiple upgrade approach is doable.

Determining the Type of Server to Install

You have the choice of making your server an Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS), a member server, a standalone server, or a Server Core installation. After you determine the tasks the server will perform, you can determine the role or roles that you will assign to it.

Domain controllers and member servers play a role in a new or existing domain. Stand-alone servers are not joined to a particular domain. Finally, Server Core installations were introduced with the release of the Windows Server 2008 family of operating systems and only consist of a minimal installation footprint. On a Server Core installation, the traditional graphical user interface (GUI) tools are not available and some of the roles that are supported include Active Directory Domain Services, Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS), DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Services, Print Server, Streaming Media Services, and Web Server (IIS) roles. Type oclist at a Server Core command prompt to determine the available server roles. However, with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft has introduced a new command called SCONFIG that allows for an easier configuration of a Server Core installation.

As in earlier versions of Windows, you are able to promote or demote server functions as you desire. Standalone servers can be joined to the domain to become member servers. Using the dcpromo utility, you can promote member servers to domain controllers. And, by uninstalling the Active Directory Domain Services role from a domain controller, you can return it to member server status. In addition, with Windows Server 2008 R2, server roles such as Web Server (IIS), DHCP, and DNS can be added or removed via the Server Manager tool.

Gathering the Information Necessary to Proceed

During the installation of Windows Server 2008 R2, you will have to tell the setup wizard how you want your server configured. The wizard will take the information you provide and will configure the server settings to meet your specifications.

Taking the time to gather the information described in the following sections before starting your installation will likely make your installation go faster, smoother, and easier.


Although items such as the server name and IP address are required for a server to function, they are manually entered after the installation is complete, unless an unattended installation with an answer file is used.

Selecting the Computer Name

Each computer on a network must have a name that is unique within that network. Many companies have a standard naming convention for their servers and workstations. If not, you can use the following information as a guideline for creating your own.

Although the computer name can contain up to 63 characters, workstations and servers that are pre–Windows 2000 recognize only the first 15 characters.

It is widely considered a best practice to use only Internet-standard characters in your computer name. This includes the letters A–Z (upper- and lowercase), the numbers 0–9, and the hyphen (-).

Although it’s true that implementing the Microsoft domain name system (DNS) service in your environment could allow you to use some non-Internet standard characters (such as Unicode characters and the underscore), you should keep in mind that this is likely to cause problems with any non-Microsoft DNS servers on your network. You should think carefully and test thoroughly before straying from the standard Internet characters noted in the preceding paragraph.

Name of the Workgroup or Domain

After the server installation is complete, you need to determine the name of the workgroup or domain that the server will be joining. You can either enter the name of an existing Windows domain or workgroup to join, or create a new workgroup by entering in a new name.

Users new to Microsoft networking might ask, “What is the difference between a workgroup and a domain?” Simply put, a domain is a collection of computers and supporting hardware that shares the same security database. Grouping the equipment in this manner allows you to set up centralized security and administration. Conversely, a workgroup has no centralized security or administration. Each server or workstation is configured independently and locally for all security and administration settings.

Network Protocol and IP Address of the Server

When installing Windows Server 2008 R2, you must install and configure a network protocol that will allow it to communicate with other machines on the network.

Currently, the most commonly used protocol is called TCP/IP version 4, which stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. This protocol allows computers throughout the Internet to communicate. After you install TCP/IP, you need to configure an IP address for the server. You can choose one of the following three methods to assign an IP address:

  • Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA)— APIPA can be used if you have a small network that does not have a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, which is used for dynamic IP addresses. A unique IP address is assigned to the network adapter using the LINKLOCAL IP address space. The address always starts with 169.254 and is in the format 169.254.x.x. Note that if APIPA is in use, and a DHCP server is brought up on the network, the computer will detect this and will use the address that is assigned by the DHCP server instead.

  • Dynamic IP address— A dynamic IP address is assigned by a DHCP server. This allows a server to assign IP addresses and configuration information to clients. Some examples of the information that is distributed include IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server address, and the Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS) server address. As the dynamic portion of the name suggests, this address is assigned to the computer for a configurable length of time, known as a lease. Before the lease expires, the workstation must again request an IP address from the DHCP server. It might or might not get the same address that it had previously. Although servers and workstations can both be configured to use this method of addressing, it is generally used for workstations rather than servers.

  • Static IP address— Using a static IP address is the most common decision for a server configuration. By static, we mean the server or workstation will not leverage DHCP; the IP address and settings are configured manually. The address will not change unless you change the configuration of the server. This point is important because clients and resources that need to access the server must know the address to be able to connect to it. If the IP address changed regularly, connecting to it would be difficult.


Windows Server 2008 R2 includes the latest TCP/IP protocol suite known as the Next Generation TCP/IP stack. The legacy protocol stack was designed in the early 1990s and has been modified to accommodate future growth of computers networked together. The new TCP/IP stack is known as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

Backing Up Files

Whether you are performing a new installation on a previously used server or upgrading an existing server, you should perform a complete backup of the data and operating system before you begin your new installation. This way, you have a fallback plan if the installation fails or the server does not perform the way you anticipated.

When performing a new installation on a previously used server, you overwrite any data that was stored there. In this scenario, you will have to use your backup tape to restore any data that you want to preserve.

On the other hand, if you are going to upgrade an existing server, a known good backup will allow you to recover to your previous state if the upgrade does not go as planned.


Many people back up their servers but never confirm that the data can be read from the backup media. When the time comes to recover their data, they find that the tape is unusable or unreadable, or that they do not know the proper procedures for restoring their server. You should perform backup/recovery procedures on a regular basis in a lab environment to make sure that your equipment is working properly, that you are comfortable with performing the process, and that the recovery actually works.