Server Core could top Windows Server 2008 features

Tools that Windows administrators can use to list and install Roles and Role Services make Server Core a popular Windows Server 2008 feature.

Server Core in Windows Server 2008 is being hailed by many as potentially the best feature of Microsoft's latest

operating system. If you're unfamiliar still with Server Core and what it can provide, prepare yourself for this version of Windows, which arrives with no GUI, no support for many types of managed code and little more than a command-line prompt for console administration.

Even though the meat of the OS has changed quite a bit, the core of it remains relatively the same. This holds true for administering and maintaining your Server Core instances once they're installed.

Once you've installed Server Core on your machine and completed the initial configurations that bring it online, you'll need a set of command-line tools to install Roles or Role Services. As Server Core doesn't have any GUI support, those tools are all command-line based.

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 The main command-line tool you'll be using to install Roles and Role Services is not the same one you would use in the full version of the OS. For full versions of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft provides a command-line adjunct called servermanagercmd.exe that can manipulate the configuration and install/uninstall components as desired. That tool is easy to use and aligns with most of the functionality you get in the GUI form of Server Manager.

For Server Core, however, things are a little different. The servermanagercmd.exe tool is an executable that relies on managed code, and Server Core does not support that execution. So Microsoft had to create another version of the same tool that didn't have such needs. Why buy one when you can have two for twice the price?

In Server Core, there are actually two tools you'll use to list and install your Roles and Role Services. The first, oclist.exe, will list the possible Roles for the server as well as identify those which are currently installed. When you run oclist.exe on a freshly built instance of Server Core, it presents a list that looks similar to the following:

Microsoft-Windows-ServerCore-Package
Not Installed:BitLocker
Not Installed:BitLocker-RemoteAdminTool
Not Installed:ClientForNFS-Base
Not Installed:DFSN-Server
Not Installed:DFSR-Infrastructure-ServerEdition
Not Installed:DHCPServerCore
Not Installed:DirectoryServices-ADAM-ServerCore
Not Installed:DirectoryServices-DomainController-ServerFoundation
Not Installed:DNS-Server-Core-Role
Not Installed:FailoverCluster-Core
Not Installed:FRS-Infrastructure
Not Installed:Microsoft-Windows-RemovableStorageManagementCore
Not Installed:MultipathIo
Not Installed:NetworkLoadBalancingHeadlessServer
Not Installed:Printing-ServerCore-Role
|
|--- Not Installed:Printing-LPDPrintService
|
Not Installed:QWAVE
Not Installed:ServerForNFS-Base
Not Installed:SNMP-SC
Not Installed:SUACore
Not Installed:TelnetClient
Not Installed:WindowsServerBackup
Not Installed:WINS-SC

You can see in the list above that there are 23 possible components that can be installed to a Server Core instance. One, the Printing-LPDPrintService, relies on Printing-ServerCore-Role to function.

In order to install one of these components, use the tool ocsetup.exe -- specifically, ocsetup.exe {role name}. To uninstall a role, use the command ocsetup.exe {role name} /uninstall. The rest should be fully automated.

One important issue here is that the role name is case-sensitive. In a long-held Microsoft tradition of case-insensitivity, this is one glaring omission that may be fixed by the full release. It is probably because of the XML-based nature of many of the new server configurations, as XML itself is case-sensitive.

If the entire command-line nature of Server Core strikes you as odd, consider that much of the administration of these Roles and Role Services is likely to be performed using the Remote Server Administration Tools. You're not likely to be managing the configuration of the server from the Server Core instance itself. Rather, the remote tools that you commonly use to manage other servers work with Server Core in much the same way.

The same goes for WMI and PowerShell-based management. Server Core instances have a WMI store that can be managed through any WMI-capable tool or scripting language. Although you cannot directly run PowerShell scripts on the server itself, you can use Windows PowerShell on your desktop to manage the WMI store of your Server Core server.

The big question now is whether Server Core will be the most exciting feature in Windows Server 2008, which many people expect it to be. Time will tell. Although Microsoft makes Server Core capable of running other code, it is likely that the backup, virus protection and management software that are part of your standard baseline will not immediately include a Server Core-capable installation until some third-party tools are ready.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Shields, MCSE: Shields is an independent author and consultant based in Denver with many years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such IT topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available at www.sapienpress.com.

This was first published in March 2008

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