Installing Windows Server 2008 R2 and Server Core : Understanding Server Core Installation

1/17/2011 9:29:20 AM
Windows Server Core, an installation option, was one of the most innovative and anticipated features of Windows Server 2008. The Windows Server Core installation provides a minimal environment for running a specific server role, including, but not limited to, a domain controller, web server, or DHCP server. In this situation, only a subset of the Windows Server 2008 R2 binaries is utilized. The Server Core installation is so stripped that traditional installation components, such as a desktop shell, graphical user interface, Windows Explorer, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and the MMC, are not included. Therefore, the server must be fully managed and configured via the command prompt or by using remote administration tools from another server.

By maintaining a minimized installation footprint by only stripping out the typical components and only supporting specific roles, the Server Core installation reduces maintenance, attack surface, management, and disk space required to support the installation.

Another great feature, particularly for administrators who do not understand scripting commands and who heavily rely on the GUI tools to manage a server, is the ability to remotely manage the Server Core installation through MMC.

Windows Server 2008 R2 includes the following new features and functionality for Server Core:

  • .NET Framework— A highly desired feature to be supported on Windows Server 2008 R2 was the .NET Framework. Versions 2.0, 3.0, 3.5.1, and 4.0 are now supported on a Server Core R2 installation.

  • ASP.NET— Because the .NET Framework is now supported, ASP.NET can now be enabled on Server Core R2.

  • PowerShell— Another highly desired feature to be supported on Server Core R2 is PowerShell. Administrators can use a wide range of PowerShell cmdlets on Server Core R2.

  • Active Directory Certificate Services— The Active Directory Certificate Services role can be installed on a Server Core R2 system.

  • SCONFIG— By typing SCONFIG at the command prompt, administrators can easily configure Server Core deployments. Some of the simplified tasks include Domain Join, Rename Computer, Configure Remote Management, Network Settings, and Download and Install Updates.

Performing a Server Core Installation

When installing Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core, the actual installation process is very similar to a regular server install. To recap, an administrator agrees to the licensing terms, supplies configuration responses, and the Windows Server 2008 R2 Install Windows Wizard copies the files and configures the server. However, unlike a traditional installation of Windows, when the installation is complete and you log on, there isn’t a GUI to configure the server. The server can only be configured and managed via the command prompt.

The Server Core installation will reboot your machine or virtual server a couple of times when device detection and the installation takes place. Eventually, you’ll be presented with the logon screen.

Follow these steps to conduct a Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core installation:

Insert the Windows Server 2008 R2 media. The Install Windows page will automatically be launched; otherwise, click on Setup.exe.

Specify the Language to Install, Time and Currency Format, and Keyboard or Input Method, and then click Next.

Click Install Now to begin the installation process.

On the Select the Operating System You Want to Install page, select the Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Core, as shown in Figure 1. Click Next to continue.

Figure 1. Selecting the Server Core installation.

Review the license terms and select the I Accept the License Terms option, and then click Next.

On the Which Type of Installation Do You Want page, select Custom (Advanced), as shown in Figure 2. Because you cannot upgrade a legacy Windows operating system to Server Core, the Upgrade option will not work.

Figure 2. Selecting a custom installation.

On the Where Do You Want to Install Windows page, select the disk where you plan to install the Windows system files. Alternatively, you can click on the Drive (Options) to create, delete, extend, or format partitions. In addition, click Load Driver to install drivers for the Windows Server 2008 R2 installation that are not available on the media.


If the only drive available is Unallocated Space, Windows Server 2008 R2 will automatically create a partition based on the largest size and format the partition with NTFS.

The installation process will commence by copying the files, installing the Windows operating system, and configuring features. After this process is complete, the server will automatically reboot itself and require the installer to change the administrator password for the system. Enter and confirm the administrator password to change the password and log on. You will now be presented with a Command Prompt window, the only GUI available in Server Core.

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