The Reduced Footprint of Server 2012

Posted on February 28, 2013


One of the best features about Windows Server 2008 in my opinion was the introduction of the Server Core Edition.  Selecting this install stripped the OS down to its bare essentials, ridding itself of the graphic user interface entirely.  After logging on, the Windows splash screen would inform you that it was preparing your desktop which was always rather amusing since the desktop consisted of only one item every time; a simple command prompt.

The benefits of Server Core were three fold.  For one thing it drastically reduced the footprint of the OS.  Server Core edition could be easily installed on any old server that met the specs of Windows Server 2000.  It ran fast and efficient and required few resources.  Another benefit was a drastic reduction in the number of Windows updates that were required which constituted in a fewer number of reboots.  And finally, because of its reduced footprint and simpler structure, it just plain ran, every day, dependably.  It had a few limitations in that it couldn’t run .NET applications for instance but it was perfect for that everything box that you set up for AD, DNS, DCHP, File Server, etc.

I was always surprised that it didn’t take off more than it did.  One of the main reasons was the fact that the command prompt interface made it more challenging and time consuming for the average server admin to configure the installation.   Completing the IP configuration for the NIC for instance required large drawn out commands and DC promo was no longer a simple wizard.  Configuration applications such as CoreConfig came out on the market  which offered a GUI interface for some task functions but this required an additional application installation.  For these reasons, many server admins just stuck with the tried and true full server installation.

Server 2012 solves this problem and the solution is one of the best features of this latest server OS.  Server 2012 offers three installation options, Server Core, Minimal Server Interface and Full Standard GUI.  Then, unlike Server 2008 in which once you selected Core or Full edition you were stuck with it for life,  Server 2012 allows you to switch back and forth between these options.  So in other words, you can do your initial install as the full standard GUI version.  You can then use the GUI interface to install all of the roles and features you need, configure the NICs and install the printers with ease.  Then, when all of your configuration settings are complete, you can access PowerShell and convert the server to Server Core edition with one command.  The command is simply:

Remove-WindowsFeature User-Interface-Infra.

What if you need to modify the server roles or features or maybe install a new printer?  You can use PowerShell to revert back to the GUI version that you are comfortable with and perform your configuration modifications.  Then revert back to Server Core.  This flexibility will entice more administrators to enjoy the benefits of Server Core.

The new option called Minimal Server Interface puts itself in the middle of the traditional options.  It is similar to the GUI installation except it doesn’t include the Desktop, Start screen, Windows Explorer or IE.  It does give you tools such as the MMC snap-ins and Server Manager.

Speaking of Server Manager, Server 2012 again shows flexibility over its Server 2008 predecessor.   As you know, Server Manager for Server 2008 is a local tool only.  In Server 2012, the management tool has been redesigned to facilitate the management of multiple remote servers from a single console.  It is also included  in the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) as well for Windows 8.  Building upon this flexibility, the new Server Manager can also be used to manage earlier operating systems such as Server 2008 R2, Server 2008 and even Server 2003.

Server 2012 is definitely a big step above that of Server 2008.  The new OS incorporates many design modifications and improvements.  Server 2012 is all about all the buzzwords and catchphrases of today such as the cloud, virtualization and fault tolerance .  It is a server operating system that is definitely designed for the needs of today and the near future.