Leading Your Customers to Modern IT with Windows Server 2012 R2: Minimal vs Core install (and what is this Nano thing?)

Todd Sweetser

Everyone is familiar with the traditional install of Windows Server 2012r2. Many are not familiar with some of the other options at install time that can assist with limited hardware resources or requirements around security, limiting the amount of overall exposure from outside.

How can this be accomplished? By using other Windows Server installation options called Server Core and Minimal Server Interface

When installing Windows Server 2012r2 it will now default to “Server Core” with an option to install “Server with a GUI.” Now why would you want to use the Server Core option? Some areas that provide value are:

  • Use less disk space. When using Server Core it will use around 4GB less disk space than Server with a GUI. This can save much space, especially when using multiple VMs with no hard GUI requirements.
  • The potential attack surface is decreased. This can be very important in scenarios where the potential threat is high.
  • The servicing requirements around a Core install is less hence less updates are required to stay compliant when needed.

Another option is to implement the Minimal Server Interface. This is done when starting with a “Server with a GUI” option but after implementation you want to lessen the disk space (by about 300MB) and attack surface. Internet Explorer 10, Windows Explorer, the desktop, and the Start screen are not installed using Minimal Server Interface while Microsoft Management Console (MMC), Server Manager, and a subset of Control Panel are still present.

One thing to note – you can now switch between these install modes without starting from a clean install. Using PowerShell commands you can start with the GUI option and then reduce it to the Core option. In this scenario, you can also re-enable the GUI option later with PowerShell as the files will remain on the disk. (You can also remove the files after the fact by using the Feature on Demand capabilities. If this is done you will need access to install binaries to re-add the feature(s) if needed again.)

This is all documented well on the Windows Server Installation Options TechNet page. There is also a table that clearly lays out what features that are available based on the install type.

Now, another item you may have heard about recently is the Windows Nano Server. This is a new offering that will be available in the future. The idea is like the Server Core – but even less resources used. It’s focus will be Born-in-the-cloud applications as well as the Microsoft Cloud Platform infrastructure. Here is how the current documentation describes Nano Server: “Nano Server is a remotely administered server operating system optimized for private clouds and datacenters. It is similar to Windows Server in Server Core mode, but significantly smaller, has no local logon capability, and only supports 64-bit applications, tools, and agents. It takes up far less disk space, sets up significantly faster, and requires far fewer updates and restarts than Windows Server. When it does restart, it restarts much faster.”

You can see how we have taken the idea of Server Core and pushed it farther, making it a prime offering to be used in public and private cloud scenarios.

For more details on the Windows Nano Server option see:

Please check out our whole series on Windows Server 2012 R2 at https://aka.ms/ts2windowsserver2012r2!

Thanks! And good selling!