Windows 8 Server Core Promises Cheaper Clouds

Stripped down version of Windows Server 8 aims to significantly reduce storage costs for organizations building private clouds.
Windows 8 Beta: Visual Tour
Windows 8 Beta: Visual Tour
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Microsoft has enhanced Server Core in Windows Server 8 to make it more flexible and user friendly, and as a result the company says organizations can save thousands of dollars--or more--simply by using the feature in their private cloud deployments.

Server Core is a stripped down version of Windows Server that includes only the bare essentials necessary for certain types of server roles, such as a DNS server or file and print server, that don't require all the components included in Windows Server, such as a GUI and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft first introduced the Server Core installation option with Windows Server 2008, but adoption was limited as many users complained that it wasn't sufficiently flexible or customizable. In essence, it was an all-or-nothing configuration that required users to install the full version of Windows Server or a pared-down version with functions preselected by Microsoft.

"Customer feedback showed that adoption of Server Core in Windows Server 2008 was limited," said David Cross, Microsoft's Windows Server partner program manager, in a blog post Tuesday.

[ Learn 8 Ways Windows Server 8 Handles Storage Better. ]

Cross said many customers didn't need the full installation of Windows Server, but also couldn't get by with what was offered in the initial version of Server Core. Only nine of 17 possible server roles ran, there was no support for SQL Server or PowerShell, and there was no pathway from Server Core to full-blown Windows Server 2008.

As a result, many customers were unable to realize the economic and administrative benefits offered by Server Core, which include significant savings on storage space and simplified server management. With Server Core in Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has taken steps to make the option more viable. "In planning this release, we spent over $10 million and a year talking to the community and cloud solution builders," said Cross.

In Windows Server 8, Server Core now supports 14 server roles, including DNS Server, Hyper-V, Print and Document services, Web server, and Routing and Remote Access. To ease management, Microsoft has added an option that allows users to layer some GUI components on top of Server Core. "With a single command, it is now possible to go from a Server Core machine with a command prompt-only user interface to Server with a GUI with the complete Windows desktop," said Cross, adding that the reverse is also possible.

Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are now an optional package in Windows Server 8. Also available is a new configuration called Minimal Server Interface, which offers some GUI management tasks.

The bottom line is that, for organizations building private clouds, or even traditional, distributed computing networks, which can consist of hundreds or even thousands of servers, the use of Server Core can significantly reduce storage and other costs.

"As growing numbers of virtual machines vie for space on relatively expensive, high-performance disks, SANs, and SSDs, we saw the need to enable administrators reduce the disk footprint of Windows Server 8," said Cross. "In Windows Server 8, we have added the capability for administrators to completely remove unneeded roles and feature from their installations."

Microsoft has not announced an availability date for the final version of Windows Server 8. A beta version is now available for download from the company's website.

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