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Server Core Installation Option

Updated: January 21, 2008

Applies To: Windows Server 2008

In the Windows Server® 2008 operating system, administrators can now choose to install a minimal environment that avoids extra overhead. Although this option limits the roles that can be performed by the server, it can improve security and reduce management. This type of installation is called a Server Core installation.

A Server Core installation is a minimal server installation option for Windows Server 2008. Server Core installations provide an environment for running the following server roles:

  • Active Directory Domain Services

  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS)

  • DHCP Server

  • DNS Server

  • File Services

  • Hyper-V

  • Print Server

  • Streaming Media Services

By choosing to use the Server Core installation option on a server, you can reduce your administrative effort and help limit security risks. A Server Core installation provides these benefits in three ways:

  • By reducing the software maintenance required

  • By reducing the management required

  • By reducing the attack surface

To accomplish this, the Server Core installation option installs only the subset of the binary files that are required by the supported server roles. For example, the Windows Explorer user interface (or "shell") is not installed as part of a Server Core installation. Instead, the default user interface for a server running a Server Core installation is the command prompt.

A Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008 supports the following optional features:

  • Backup

  • BitLocker Drive Encryption

  • Failover Clustering

  • Multipath IO

  • Network Load Balancing

  • Removable Storage

  • Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)

  • Subsystem for UNIX-based applications

  • Telnet client

  • Windows Internet Name Service (WINS)

The Server Core installation option is designed for use in organizations that either have many servers, where some only need to perform dedicated tasks, or in environments where high security requirements require a minimal attack surface on the server.

Since no graphical user interface is available for many Windows operations, using the Server Core installation option requires administrators to be experienced in using a command prompt or scripting techniques for local administration of the server. Alternatively, you can manage the Server Core installation with Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-ins from another computer running Windows Server 2008 by selecting the computer running a Server Core installation as a remote computer to manage.

You should review this topic and additional documentation about the Server Core installation option if you are in any of the following groups:

  • IT planners and analysts who are technically evaluating the product

  • Enterprise IT planners and designers for organizations

  • Those responsible for IT security

  • IT Pros managing the following server roles: Active Directory Domain Services, AD LDS, DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Services, Print Server, or Streaming Media Services

The Server Core installation option does not add new functionality to the server roles it supports. Each server role, however, might have changes for Windows Server 2008.

Server Core installations provide the following benefits:

  • Reduced maintenance. Because a Server Core installation installs only what is required for the specified server roles, less servicing is required than on a full installation of Windows Server 2008.

  • Reduced attack surface. Because Server Core installations are minimal, there are fewer applications running on the server, which decreases the attack surface.

  • Reduced management. Because fewer applications and services are installed on a server running a Server Core installation, there is less to manage.

  • Less disk space required. A Server Core installation only requires about 1 gigabyte (GB) of disk space to install, and approximately 2 GB for operations after the installation.

A server running a Server Core installation does not have a user interface or provide the ability to run applications. A Server Core installation is a minimal installation for running the Active Directory Domain Services, AD LDS, DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Services, Print Server, and Streaming Media Services server roles.

The management experience will also be different using a Server Core installation. A Server Core installation requires you to initially configure the system from the command line, or using scripted methods such as an unattended installation, because it does not include the traditional full user interface.

Once the server is configured, you can manage it from the command line, either locally or remotely with a Terminal Services remote desktop connection. You can also use MMC snap-ins or command-line tools that support remote connections to manage the server remotely.

Administrators managing a Server Core installation need to be aware that there is no graphical user interface (GUI) available.

Although no changes are required to the configuration of your network, you might need to become familiar with command-line tools.

The Server Core installation option does not add or change any settings. However, you should review the documentation for each of the supported server roles that are available with the Server Core installation option, to check for changes in Windows Server 2008.

The changes in each of those roles are the same whether you are using the Server Core installation or full installation option.

The Server Core installation option is not an application platform, and you cannot run or develop server applications on a Server Core installation. A Server Core installation can only be used to run the supported server roles and management tools.

Servers running a Server Core installation support development of management tools and agents, which can be divided into two categories:

  • Remote management tools. These tools do not require any changes, as long as they use one of the protocols supported in Server Core installations to communicate with the remote management workstation, such as remote procedure call (RPC).

  • Local management tools and agents. These tools might require changes to work with Server Core installations because they cannot have any shell or user interface dependencies, and cannot use managed code.

The Windows Server 2008 Software Development Kit (SDK) includes a list of APIs that are supported in Server Core installations. You need to verify that all APIs called by your code are listed, and you also need to test your code on a Server Core installation to ensure that it behaves as expected.

No changes to your environment or infrastructure are required.

The Server Core installation option only supports a clean installation onto a server. You cannot upgrade to a Server Core installation from a previous version of Windows.

To install a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008, start the server computer with a bootable Windows Server 2008 DVD in the computer's DVD drive. When the Autorun dialog box appears, click Install Now, and then follow the instructions on the screen to complete the installation.

noteNote
In many cases, a Server Core installation will be installed using an unattended installation script.

The following optional features require appropriate hardware to be able to use them:

  • BitLocker Drive Encryption

noteNote
Some BitLocker functionality is available without specific hardware.

  • Failover Clustering

  • Multipath IO

  • Network Load Balancing

  • Removable Storage

There are no prerequisites for the following optional features:

  • Backup

  • Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)

  • Subsystem for UNIX-based applications

  • Telnet client

  • Windows Internet Name Service (WINS)

The following resources provide additional information about Server Core installations:

The following resources on the Microsoft Web site provide additional information about some of the commands you can use to configure Server Core installations and enable server roles:

The following resource provides additional information for deploying, configuring, and managing a Server Core installation, and also for enabling a server role on a Server Core installation:

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