Windows Server 2008: Web Server Core

Windows Server 2008, due for its official launch today, is a major upgrade for Microsoft's server platform, the first for around five years. Requiring a graphical user interface (GUI) on a server operating system always seemed odd, even back in 1993 when Microsoft released Windows NT 3.1. It has taken Microsoft until now to begin […]

Windows Server 2008, due for its official launch today, is a major upgrade for Microsoft's server platform, the first for around five years. Requiring a graphical user interface (GUI) on a server operating system always seemed odd, even back in 1993 when Microsoft released Windows NT 3.1.

It has taken Microsoft until now to begin fixing the problem. Server 2008 comes with an installation option called Server Core, and although it is not quite GUI-free (Notepad and Regedit still run), it is command-line driven and lacks most of the baggage that previously came as standard. The snag with Server Core is that it is incomplete.

For example, you can install Microsoft's web server, Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0, but you cannot install ASP.NET, PowerShell scripting, or SQL Server. PHP, on the other hand runs fine on Server Core. More about that in a moment.

To be precise, Microsoft has organized the capabilities of Windows Server into optional roles and features. There are 18 roles and 35 features available in our installation of Server 2008 Datacenter Edition. However, Server Core only supports eight roles, being essentially file and print, Active Directory and domain services, web server, and virtualization. There is also no way to upgrade a Server Core install to have full features, so it is only useful if you are sure from the outset what the box will need to do.

Beauty beats brains: Another sign of progress in separating Server 2008 from its desktop cousin Windows Vista is that "Desktop Experience" components like Windows Media Player and Desktop Themes are bundled into an optional feature that presumably few will install. This may be why Server 2008 feels snappier than Vista on the same hardware, even though both share the same core code.

Why can you not start with Server Core and build it up to the complete edition? "That's a beautiful design goal and our long-term ambition," according to Microsoft product manager Gareth Hall.

The problem is that Server 2008 is only partially componentized. It is not yet quite what it should be but Server Core is progress, being more lightweight and manageable. According to Microsoft, Server Core is preferable to a full install in scenarios where it will work, such as for Active Directory or virtualization. IIS has a powerful command-line tool called AppCmd that is ideal for Server Core. There are also numerous options for remote management, including Remote Desktop to the command line, Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-ins, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) scripts, and Windows Remote Shell.

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Microsoft, Windows Server 2008, WS2008, Win2K8, Server Core, Web Server