1.1.1 Planning a Server Installation

1.1.1.1 Windows Server 2012 R2 Editions and Installation Options

Since Windows Server 2008 R2, there has not been a 32 bit version of Windows Server. This is because most server processors are now manufactured to the 64 bit standard. This helps when deciding which version of Windows Server 2012 R2 to purchase because there are now only four editions to choose from (see Table 1).

Edition Features
Datacenter
  • Purpose – big powerful servers in data centres with lots of virtualisation
  • Max users – dependant on licence
  • Max SMB connections – 16,777,216
  • Available – through volume licensing and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers)
  • Features fault-tolerance features such as hot-add processor support
Standard
  • Purpose – for physical servers with small amounts of virtualisation
  • Max users – dependant on licence
  • Max SMB connections – 16,777,216
  • Available – through volume licensing, retail and OEMs
  • Limited number of virtual machine instances, but has all of the features as the datacenter edition
Essentials
  • Purpose – intended for small businesses with no more than 50 devices and 25 users
  • Max processors – 2
  • Max users – 25
  • Max SMB connections – 16,777,216
  • Available – through retail and OEMs
  • One physical or virtual server licence
  • Does not include:
  • Server Core
  • Hyper-V
  • Active Directory Federation Services
Foundation
  • Purpose – intended small businesses with basic server requirements and no more than 15 users
  • Max processors – 1
  • Max users – 15
  • Max SMB connections – 30
  • Available – OEMs
  • No virtualisation support
  • Provides basic services for file and print sharing

Table 1: Windows Server 2012 R2 Editions and Features

For more information about the different server editions see: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=41703

Factors affecting the choice of Windows Server edition are:

  • Roles required for the server
  • Virtualisation requirements
  • Licensing plan

It is the job of the administrator to choose an edition which meets the requirements of their organisation with the best return on investment.

When installing the Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard or Datacenter editions there is the option to choose server Core, Minimal Interface and Full. The Core installation provices CLI acess to the server, minimal provides a cut down version of the GUI and the Full version provides the will GUI and CLI options.

Server Core

The CLI option uses the least system resources and has the smallest attack face as many common attack vectors, such as Internet Explorer, are not available (see Table 2).

Advantage Description
Reduced hardware utilisation Removes the some of the memory and processor intensive features of the operating system.
Reduced disk space Requires less disk space for the operating system installation and the swap.
Reduced patch frequency The GUIs for Windows Server are among the most patched aspects of the operating system. Removing them reduces the patch frequency of the server and in turn reduced restarts and downtime.
Reduced attack surface Due to the reduced amount of software running on the server, there are less weaknesses for attackers to try and exploit.

Table 2: Advantages of Server Core

Server Core is the default option when in stalling Windows Server 2012 R2. It does also allow for the install type to be changed after installing, unlike Windows Server 2008. This means the server can be configured using the full GUI, then maintained using the CLI should the administrator wish.

Due to the way Windows Server 2012 R2 can be configured, the CLI is not likely to be heavily used. This is because the Server Manager can be used to remotely manage Windows Servers across the network. This means only a few servers need to be configured with the GUI to manage all of the other servers in the network.

Minimal Server Interface

The minimal server interface provides some of the advantages of the Server Core, but also adds some useful GUI tools too. Most of the hardware intensive UI (User Interface) are removed:

  • Some Windows Shell Features
    • Desktop
    • File Explorer
    • Windows 8 Apps
  • Internet Explorer
  • Some Control Panel Features
    • Programs and Features
    • Network and Sharing
    • Devices and Printers
    • Display
    • Firewall
    • Windows Update
    • Fonts
    • Storage Spaces

It does provide

  • Server Manager
  • MMC
  • Device Manager
  • PowerShell

To install the minimum server interface, first install the Full server installation. Then navigate to “Remove Rolls and Features Wizard” in “Server Manager”. Look for “User Interfaces and Infastructure” feature, then display the sub features and uncheck “Desktop Experience”. This can also be achieved in Windows PowerShell with this command: “Remove-WindowsFeature -Name Server-GUI-Shell -Restart”. This will remove the selected feature and restart the computer in minimal server interface mode.

1.1.1.2 Server Roles

Server roles are collections of services which together make server functions. Roles can be configured in Windows Server 2012 R2 using the Server Manager or PowerShell. The edition selected will determine the role available.

When planning the server, the administrator not only needs to consider which roles the server will need to perform now, but which ones may be required in the future.

Server Core does not support all of the roles available in Windows Server 2012 R2. These are the unsupported roles:

  • Active Directory Federation Services
  • Application Server – this is because it is depreciated
  • Fax Server
  • Network Policy and Access Services
  • Remote Desktop Gateway
  • Remote Desktop Session Host
  • Remote Desktop Web Access
  • Volume Activation Services
  • Windows Deployment Services

1.1.1.3 Virtualisation in Windows Server 2012 R2

Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter and Standard editions both support Hyper-V. Each licence allows for one POSE (Physical Operating System Environment) installation. The two editions differ when it comes to the number of VOSE (Virtual Operating System Environment) installations.

Datacenter edition allows for unlimited VOSE, whereas Standard edition allows for just two VOSE installations. Windows Server Essentials allows for either one POSE or VOSE installation. The Foundation edition is limited to one POSE installation only.

More POSE and VOSE installations can be acquired by purchasing additional licences.

1.1.1.4 System Requirements for Windows Server 2012 R2

Table 3 details the minimum hardware requirements to install Windows Server 2012 R2.

Requirement Specification
Processor 64 bit 1.4Ghz or faster
RAM 512MB
HDD 32GB Available (more is required if installing over a network or the system has more then 16GB of RAM)
Display Super VGA 1024×768 or higher
Peripherals Keyboard and Mouse/Pointing Device
Network Internet Access

Table 3: Minimum Windows Server 2012 R2 Hardware Requirements

There are also some maximum hardware restrictions which may need to be considered (see Table 4).

Requirement Specification
Processors 640
RAM 4TB
Failover cluster nodes 64

Table 4: Windows Server 2012 R2 Maximum Hardware Configurations

1.1.1.5 Features on Demand

In order to allow administrators to add and remove features to the Windows operating system as they please without having to provide the installation medium, all the required components are stored in a folder called “WinSxS”. These files are copied there when the system is installed and is about 5GB in size. Once a system is configured it is unlikely these files will be used and the disk space could be put to better use.

Features on Demand is a new feature to Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8. It allows administrators to remove these files from the local hard disk of the server. In the event the server requires these files, it can get the from a remote source instead, such as Windows Update, NAS (Network Attacked Storage) or from the installation media. Group policy can also be used to specify the new location for Windows Feature payloads. Features on Demand provides three states for features in a system:

  • Enabled
  • Disabled
  • Disabled with payload removed

To remove the payload of a feature, the following command can be used in Windows PowerShell: “Unistall-WindowsFeature [feature] -Remove”. To reinstall the feature from a specific source (other than Windows Update) the following command can be using in Windows PowerShell: “Install-WindowsFeature [feature] -Source [source]”.

The ability to move the storage disabled components to a central local is very useful when disk space is limited and or expensive. Increased virtualisation and SSDs (Solid State Drives) have increased the need for Features on Demand.

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