Benefits of a Windows Server 2012 R2 Core installation

In a lot of my recent talks with IT pros in the community I’ve found that there seems to be this very real fear of managing and troubleshooting Windows Server Core boxes in production environments. I’m not sure if it’s the blinky curser of the CLI that scares them, or what, but we NEED to embrace this as the beneficial change that it is for server infrastructure in our industry.

Common answers I get from folks when I ask why they haven’t adopted use of Server Core are:

1. I don’t have time to learn a new product/feature.

2. I don’t know how to use the CLI/Powershell

3. I’m not confident I could troubleshoot a Server Core box in an emergency type situation.

While these are all valid concerns, they don’t merit the outright boycott of this new server deployment methodology.

Thus, with that in mind, this will be the first in a several part series regarding the setup, management, and troubleshooting of Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 Server Core.


The first section of this series is going to center around the “Why?” question.

Why should you, as the trusted Sys-Admin in your environment, run Windows Server 2012/2012 R2 Server Core in your datacenter?

I will cover the key benefits.


1. Resource Consumption

For those that don’t know, Windows Server Core is a stripped down GUI (Shown in the picture below) provided in Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 that loads only the key roles and features that are needed to serve up your critical Microsoft services, such as Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, File Services, and Hyper-V. Things like Explorer, Internet Explorer, the Start Menu, and Windows Defender are not installed into the OS as they are not critical to the functionality of our core roles.


Because of this, Windows Server Core machines do not require as much overhead as far as system resources are concerned. This means we can save those resources for other functions. Or, in the case of Hyper-V, this allows us to save as many resources as possible for allocation to our ever-important virtual machines.

System CPU and RAM requirements are greatly reduced in the core model and you can get by with as little as 4GB disk space for the actual Windows OS. This is much smaller than the traditional “Full-GUI” methodology, leaving us more resources for our critical workloads.


2. Security

Everyone is concerned about security today right? We’re always looking for ways to make things more secure, and to make things easier to manage while ensuring that they stay secure.

Windows Server Core provides amazing benefits in this space via a reduced attack surface. Things are more secure simply because there is less there to attack.

Additionally, because the top offending applications with security holes are not present, we don’t have to worry as often about things such as 0-day vulnerabilities and all of the other associated security holes that come along with applications like IE. This inherently makes Windows Server Core much more secure.


3. Reduced Management

Most people are going to be surprised by this one. You’re going to say to yourself, “Wait…..  Server Core is harder to manage right? So, how can it possibly require LESS management?”

Well it IS a true statement. The usual problematic software is no longer present, so we don’t have to waste cycles troubleshooting and managing it anymore. We can more effectively use our time on the more important things.

Ok…  that’s fine and dandy, but your still going to say I haven’t addressed your preconception that Server Core is harder to manage.

The fact is, is that Server Core is VERY easy to manage. Upon the initial boot-up after the installation, you’ll launch a nice CLI wizard called sconfig (Shown in the previous picture) that is going to run you through the basic configuration of your server. Things like domain joining, hostname changes, IP management, and Windows Updates can all be managed from the CLI easily and quickly with this built-in utility.

Once you’ve completed the basic configuration of your server with sconfig, the remaining configuration and future management can all be done remotely via the Windows RSAT tools and Powershell (Your learning it right?). So, once the initial configuration is done, administrative effort from that point on, is minimal.


Now, if you’re like me, you don’t trust something until you’ve seen it in action and had your hands on it. So, in my next post in this series I will be posting a video howto on the initial configuration of Server Core and remote management via Server 2012/2012 R2 Server Manager.

Stay Tuned!


Other posts in this series:

Part 2: Initial Configuration of Windows Server Core

Part 3: Installing 3rd Party Drivers in Windows Server Core

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