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FAQ: What you need to know about the Server Core installation option

With Microsoft pushing admins to use the Server Core installation option in Windows Server 2012, this short FAQ helps you weigh its pros and cons.

Microsoft is pushing IT administrators to consider the Server Core installation option in Windows Server 2012. The benefits are manifold: Server Core has a smaller attack vector, is less resource intensive and, with PowerShell v3, is about as extensible as running the full server interface.

Here's what you need to know about the Server Core installation option in Windows Server 2012.

What's the difference between Server Core and the full GUI?

Think of Windows Server 2012's Server Core feature as the bare minimum you need to get a server up and running. Admins will see a command-line interface and that's basically it -- all management tasks can be completed from that interface. How? Using the bevy of new cmdlets in the latest version of Windows Server.

PowerShell v3 added cmdlets to improve remoting and also improved its task orchestration feature, Workflow.

How has Server Core changed in Windows Server 2012?

Beyond the additional bevy of cmdlets for more granular server management, the biggest addition to Server Core in Windows Server 2012 is that the installation isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. The OS allows for Server Core installation via the GUI and then being able to disable it and switch to Server Core. In previous versions, this wasn't possible without reinstalling the operating system.

For a barebones interface, it still has some great GUI elements. The Server Core interface can display an integrated scripting environment and a bunch of other neat tricks. Microsoft allows admins to easily switch between the graphical shell and the barebones Server Core interface.

What is the Minimal Server Interface and how is it different from Server Core?

Unlike Server Core, the Minimal Server Interface offers a GUI interface. But you don't get the full experience: Explorer and the Web browser aren't available, and any app that uses them will not function within the OS.

Why would you want to run the minimal interface? First and most importantly, experts say a server without Web browsing capabilities reduces the attack surface. After all, the primary focus of attack on Windows operating systems is through IE.

Second, it's a good way to work around the complexity within Windows Server 2012's new interface. It can also increase uptime.

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