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Installing Windows Server 2012 and Server Core

This chapter describes the step-by-step process to install a clean version of the Windows Server 2012 operating system, upgrade an existing system to Windows Server 2012, and, finally, install a Windows Server 2012 Server Core edition.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Even though the installation process is intuitive and has been simplified, an administrator must make several key decisions to ensure that the completed installation will meet the needs of the organization. For example, is it beneficial to upgrade an existing system to Windows Server 2012, or is it preferred to conduct a clean install from scratch? What are the ramifications of these alternatives? Will I lose my existing settings, programs, and configurations? This chapter covers the required planning tasks to address administrator questions and concerns.

In addition, this chapter focuses on how to install and manage the Server Core edition of Windows Server 2012.

Planning for a Server Installation

Before you begin the actual installation of Windows Server 2012, you must make several decisions concerning prerequisite tasks. How well you plan these steps will determine how successful your installation is because many of these decisions cannot be changed after the installation is complete.

Minimum Hardware Requirements

Whether you are installing Windows Server 2012 in a lab or production environment, you need to ensure that the hardware chosen meets the minimum system requirements. In most situations, the minimum hardware requirements presented will not suffice. Therefore, Table 3.1 provides not only the minimum requirements, but also the recommended and maximum system requirements for the hardware components.

Table 3.1. Windows Server 2012 System Requirements


Minimum Requirement




1.4GHZ 64-bit

2GHZ or faster dual core

Not applicable



2GB RAM or greater

32GB RAM Standard Edition4TB RAM Datacenter Edition

Disk space


40GB Full installation or 10GB Server Core installation

Not applicable

Choosing the Appropriate Windows Edition

There are only two editions in the Windows Server 2012 family of operating systems. Microsoft is opting to simplify the product line, and as a result, Windows Server 2012 will be available in Standard and Datacenter Editions. There is no longer a feature difference between the editions, only a difference in support for hardware and guest virtual machines (VMs).

Each edition supports a Server Core version. For a full list of Windows Server 2012 features and functionality, see Chapter 1, “Windows Server 2012 Technology Primer,” which covers the editions in depth.

Choosing a New Installation or an Upgrade

If you have an existing Windows environment, you might need to perform a new installation or upgrade an existing server. There are benefits to each of these options. The next two sections outline the benefits for each.

Should You Perform a New Installation?

The primary benefit of a new installation is that by installing the operating system from scratch you are starting with a known good server. You can avoid migrating problems that might have existed on your previous server—whether due to corrupt software, incorrect configuration settings, or improperly installed applications. Keep in mind, however, that you also lose all configuration settings from your previous installation. In addition, required applications on the legacy server need to be reinstalled after the installation of the new operating system is complete. Make sure you document your server configuration information, have all the appropriate software you plan on reinstalling, and back up any data that you want to keep.

When performing a new installation, you can install on a new hard drive (or partition). Typically, most new installations are installed on a new or freshly formatted hard drive. Doing so removes any old software and gives you the cleanest installation.

Should You Upgrade an Existing Server?

Upgrading, in contrast, replaces your current Windows files but keeps existing users, settings, groups, rights, and permissions intact. In this scenario, you don’t have to reinstall applications or restore data. Before choosing this option, keep in mind that you should test your applications for compatibility before migration. Just because they worked on earlier versions of Windows does not mean they will work on Windows Server 2012.

As always, before performing any type of server maintenance such as a Windows Server 2012 installation, perform a complete backup of any applications and data that you want to preserve. Do not forget to include the system state when backing up the legacy Windows operating system. It is required when performing a restore if you want to maintain the existing Windows settings.

To upgrade to Windows Server 2012, you must be running the most recent server level operating system, Windows Server 2008 R2. Upgrades from older operating systems are not supported. Table 3.2 lists edition upgrades.

Table 3.2. Windows Server 2012 Upgrade Paths

Previous Operating System Edition

Upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Edition

Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 Standard

Standard, Datacenter

Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 Enterprise


Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 Datacenter


Determining the Type of Server to Install

One of the first decisions you have to make when installing Windows Server 2012 is whether you will be using a Server Core installation or a server with GUI installation. Server Core installations were introduced with the release of the Windows Server 2008 family of operating systems and consist of only a minimal installation footprint. On a Server Core installation, the traditional GUI tools are not available, and there is also limited managed code support.

Windows Server 2012 supports more roles on a Server Core installation than any earlier version of the operating system. Roles that are supported with a Server Core installation include Active Directory Domain Services, Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS), DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Services, Print Server, Hyper-V, and Web Server (IIS). Windows Server 2012 adds support for the Windows Software Update Services and Remote Access roles along with support for running SQL Server 2012 on a core installation.

Even more important, Windows Server 2012 can be switched from a Server Core installation to a GUI installation with a single command and a reboot. A third installation state exists and is comprised of a minimal GUI installation with some GUI features, such as Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and the desktop, removed. The third state, called the Minimal Server Interface, can be converted to a full GUI server by installing the Server Graphical Shell feature.

Preparing Configuration Information

After the installation of Windows Server 2012, you have the opportunity to configure the core settings required for server operation. Taking the time to gather the information described in the following sections before starting your installation will likely make your installation go faster, smoother, and easier.

Selecting the Computer Name

Each computer on a network must have a name that is unique within that network. Many companies have a standard naming convention for their servers and workstations. If not, you can use the following information as a guideline for creating your own.

Although the computer name can contain up to 63 characters, workstations and servers that are pre-Windows 2000 recognize only the first 15 characters.

It is widely considered a best practice to use only Internet standard characters in your computer name. This includes the letters A–Z (uppercase and lowercase), the numbers 0–9, and the hyphen (-).

Although it’s true that implementing the Microsoft domain name system (DNS) service in your environment could allow you to use some non-Internet standard characters (such as Unicode characters and the underscore), keep in mind that this is likely to cause problems with any non-Microsoft DNS servers on your network. Think carefully and test thoroughly before straying from the standard Internet characters noted in the preceding paragraph.

Name of the Workgroup or Domain

In addition to the server name, you need to determine the name of the workgroup or domain that the server will be joining. You can either enter the name of an existing Windows domain or workgroup to join or create a new workgroup by entering in a new name.

Users new to Microsoft networking might ask, “What is the difference between a workgroup and a domain?” Simply put, a domain is a collection of computers and supporting hardware that shares the same security database using Active Directory. Grouping the equipment in this manner allows you to set up centralized security and administration. Conversely, a workgroup has no centralized security or administration. Each server or workstation is configured independently and locally for all security and administration settings.

Network Protocol and IP Address of the Server

When installing Windows Server 2012, you must install and configure a network protocol that will allow it to communicate with other machines on the network.

Currently, the most commonly used protocol is called TCP/IP version 4, which stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. This protocol allows computers throughout the Internet to communicate. After you install TCP/IP, you need to configure an IP address for the server. You can choose one of the following three methods to assign an IP address:

  • Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA)—APIPA can be used if you have a small network that does not have a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, which is used for dynamic IP addresses. A unique IP address is assigned to the network adapter using the link-local IP address space. The address always starts with 169.254 and is in the format 169.254.x.x. Note that if APIPA is in use, and a DHCP server is brought up on the network, the computer will detect this and will use the address that is assigned by the DHCP server instead.
  • Dynamic IP address—A dynamic IP address is assigned by a DHCP server. This allows a server to assign IP addresses and configuration information to clients. Some examples of the information that is distributed include IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server address, and the DNS domain. As the dynamic portion of the name suggests, this address is assigned to the computer for a configurable length of time, known as a lease. Before the lease expires, the workstation must again request an IP address from the DHCP server. It might or might not get the same address that it had previously. Although servers and workstations can both be configured to use this method of addressing, it is generally used for workstations rather than servers.
  • Static IP address—Using a static IP address is the most common decision for a server configuration. By static, we mean the server or workstation will not leverage DHCP; the IP address and settings are configured manually. The address will not change unless you change the configuration of the server. This point is important because clients and resources that need to access the server must know the address to be able to connect to it. If the IP address changed regularly, connecting to it would be difficult.

Backing Up Files

Whether you are performing a new installation on a previously used server or upgrading an existing server, you should perform a complete backup of the data and operating system before you begin your new installation. This way, you have a fallback plan if the installation fails or the server does not perform the way you anticipated.

When performing a new installation on a previously used server, you overwrite any data that was stored there. In this scenario, you have to use your backup tape to restore any data that you want to recover.

Conversely, if you are going to upgrade an existing server, a known good backup will enable you to recover to your previous state if the upgrade does not go as planned.

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