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Windows Server 2008 Core (or Core Server)

Server Core is a new concept for installing the the Windows Server 2008 operating system.  Since there is no GUI, you have to work from the keyboard because that is all you have!  This is a good time for learning command line utilities such as Netsh, Netdom and Ocsetup.

Rationale Behind Server Core

The whole rationale of the Server Core is less of everything, the result is that you only get the essential features of Windows Server 2008.  One of the killer reasons to investigate this GUI-less version is for setting up the parent Hyper-V server.

  • Less maintenance – Fewer updates
  • Less disk space – GUI apps not installed
  • Less surface area – Fewer entry points for attacks

Install Server Core for Windows Server 2008

98% of the core installation is the same as that of a GUI Windows Server 2008.  For Server Core you need the same DVD, and the same Product Key as a full GUI setup.  The crucial difference is during setup make sure you click on the option: ‘Server Core Installation’, for example from this on-screen menu:

Select the edition of Windows that you purchased
Windows Server 2008 Enterprise (Server Core Installation)

Just to emphasise that regarding installation, there are no special settings, and no other differences between a Server Core and a GUI version of Windows Server 2008.

However, keep in mind that if you go for the ‘Headless’ Server Core there is no way to add the Graphical User Interface later.  Equally, if you have a GUI version, you cannot convert to a Server Core.

How to Connect to your Server Core Remotely

  • Terminal Server
  • MMC Snap-in from another machine
  • Windows Remote Shell

For those who love the GUI, they are thinking, ‘I must be able to connect to the (Headless) Core Server from another server’.  Remote is administration is indeed possible, provided the firewalls permit connection via RPC, and you have a normal Windows Server 2008 GUI.  The technique is to use the Remote Connection facility of any of the usual snap-ins in the MMC, for example, Server Manager or Terminal Services.

Configuring settings at the keyboard of the Server Core

To set the administrative password at first logon:

  1. Even though there is no GUI, you still need to press CTRL+ALT+DELETE to logon.  Then type ‘Administrator’ for the user name, and leave the password blank at first logon.
    You can also change the password with this command:
    Net User Administrator *
  2. The system will tell you that the password has expired, and will prompt you to enter a new password.
  3. Remember the password that type!

For those who are willing to configure more tasks from the command-line, useful utilities include:

  • Netdom – Join the domain, or rename the Core Server.
  • Slmgr.vbs – (Command to activate your copy of Windows Server 2008)
  • Shutdown and restart – Shutdown /r /t 0   (Shutdown is a built-in command /r reboots).
  • Oclist – Lists possible Server Roles.  For example, DHCP Server or Hyper-V.
  • Ocsetup –  Add more roles – (Start /w ocsetup xyzRole). Bizarrely, these xyzRoles are case sensitive.
  • Dcpromo – Convert a member server into a Domain Controller.  Also, occasionally used to demote.
  • Netsh – Lots of configuration commands, for example: IP address, DHCP and IPv6 address (optional).
  • Dnscmd – List dns resource records, or create some new A (Host) records.
  • PowerShell – A whole new scripting language to replace VBScript.

Extra features

Consider adding extra ‘Features’ to your Core Server, for example, Backup, possibly BitLocker encryption, maybe SNMP.  Again, type Oclist to see what is available for your edition on Windows Server 2008.

Disadvantages of Core Server

Obviously, you don’t get a GUI, neither can you install one later.  The only other drawback is that some roles are not available in Core Server.  However, all the principle roles of File and Print, Active Directory, DNS and DHCP are available.

Summary of Windows Server 2008 Core Server

There have been numerous requests for Microsoft to develop a minimal version of the operating system, even one without a GUI.  Core Server delivers this minimal server which is particularly suitable as the host operating system for Hyper-V.

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