Installing Windows Server 2008 Core

by Daniel Petri - January 8, 2009

As I wrote in my previous articles, a Windows Server 2008 Server Core installation provides a minimal environment for running specific server roles, which reduces the maintenance and management requirements and the attack surface for those server roles. The advantages of Server Core are: security improvement (reduced attack surface), needs less system resources (occupies only one third disk space), patching is easier, boots up faster.

A server running a Server Core installation supports the following server roles:

  • Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS)
  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS)
  • DHCP Server
  • DNS Server
  • File Services
  • Print Services
  • Streaming Media Services
  • Internet Information Services (IIS)
  • Windows Virtualization

In Windows Server 2008,  Server Core installation does not include the traditional full graphical user interface (GUI). You can read more about how to locally and remotely manage Server Core machines by reading the list of articles in the Related Articles section at the bottom of this page.

Installing Server Core is pretty straightforward, but I thought I'd list the necessary steps here for additional information. However, please note the following:

  • There is no way to upgrade from a previous version of the Windows Server operating system to a Server Core installation. Only a clean installation is supported.
  • There is no way to upgrade from a full installation of Windows Server 2008 to a Server Core installation. Only a clean installation is supported.
  • There is no way to upgrade from a Server Core installation to a full installation of Windows Server 2008. If you need the Windows® user interface or a server role that is not supported in a Server Core installation, you will need to install a full installation of Windows Server 2008.

Follow this procedure to install a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008:

1. Insert the appropriate Windows Server 2008 installation media into your DVD drive. If you don't have an installation DVD for Windows Server 2008, you can download one for free from Microsoft's Windows 2008 Server Trial website.

2. Reboot the computer.

3. When prompted for an installation language and other regional options, make your language selection and press Next.

4. Next, press Install Now to begin the installation process.

5. Enter your Product ID in the next window, and if you want to automatically activate Windows the moment the installation finishes, click Next.

If you do not have the Product ID available right now, you can leave the box empty, and click Next. You will need to provide the Product ID later, after the server installation is over. Press No.

6. Because you did not provide the correct ID, the installation process cannot determine what kind of Windows Server 2008 license you own, and therefore you will be prompted to select your correct version in the next screen, assuming you are telling the truth and will provide the correct ID to prove your selection later on.

7. If you did provide the right Product ID, select the Windows Server 2008 - Server Core Installation, and click Next.

8. Read and accept the license terms by clicking to select the checkbox and pressing Next.

9. In the "Which type of installation do you want" window, click the only available option – Custom (Advanced).

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10. In the "Where do you want to install Windows", if you're installing the server on a regular IDE hard disk, click to select the first disk, usually Disk 0, and click Next.

If you're installing on a hard disk that's connected to a SCSI controller, click Load Driver and insert the media provided by the controller's manufacturer.

If you're installing in a Virtual Machine environment, make sure you read the "Installing the Virtual SCSI Controller Driver for Virtual Server 2005 on Windows Server 2008" article.

If you must, you can also click Drive Options and manually create a partition on the destination hard disk.

11. The installation now begins, and you can go and have lunch. The time it takes to install server core is significantly shorter than installation of a full server, so don't eat heavily…

The installation process will reboot your computer, so, if in step #10 you inserted a floppy disk (either real or virtual), make sure you remove it before going to lunch, as you'll find the server hanged without the ability to boot (you can bypass this by configuring the server to boot from a CD/DVD and then from the hard disk in the booting order on the server's BIOS)

12. Then the server reboots you'll be prompted with the new Windows Server 2008 type of login screen. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to log in.

13. Click on Other User.

14. The default Administrator is blank, so just type Administrator and press Enter.

15. You will be prompted to change the user's password. You have no choice but to press Ok.

16. In the password changing dialog box, leave the default password blank (duh, read step #15…), and enter a new, complex, at-least-7-characters-long new password twice. A password like "topsecret" is not valid (it's not complex), but one like "T0pSecreT!" sure is. Make sure you remember it.

17. Someone thought it would be cool to nag you once more, so now you'll be prompted to accept the fact that the password had been changed. Press Ok.

18. You will then notice how, incredibly, Windows creates the user profile and prepares for the first logon. The Preparing your desktop message appears for a few moments, which is quite funny, mostly because there IS NO DESKTOP in server core…

19. Finally, the command prompt appears and that's it, you're logged on and can begin working.

Next, follow my server core articles found on the "Related Articles" section below to properly configure the server's settings.

For Official Microsoft information on Windows Server 2008, see the Windows Server 2008 hompage.

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