Windows Server 2008 Core Survival Kit

Ok, not really a "survival kit" in the traditional sense.  I don’t have a magic download widget like CoreConfigurator or anything.  This is actually more like an emergency list.  You know, like if you live in areas where you need to keep a list of things handy in case the "big one" happens and you risk losing your house/apartment, etc. Like a hurricane or typhoon or raging fire.

 described WS08-Core as being more of a surgical modification than a ground-up design.  Look for a more robust and architected "core" platform in the next Windows Server release.  The more time you spend poking around in WS08-Core the more this will become obvious to you.  However, it is still an impressive offering and while Linux/UNIX fanboys may scoff at it, it’s hard to argue against how significant this is for Microsoft to have finally made a 180-degree turnaround and actually make good on such a promise.  Indeed, the benefits are real:  smaller overhead footprint,  better performance, and increased security resulting from a smaller attack surface. 

So if you plan on using Windows Server 2008 Core, or as I refer to it "WS08-Core", you need to become familiar with the following features and aspects:

  • SLMGR.vbs – A utility script for resetting a license, extending the eval period, and activating a WS08-Core license
  • CSCRIPT.exe – The age-old script engine.  You will use it quite often to do chores you find painful to do otherwise.
  • CONTROL.exe – Used for invoking select (traditional) Control Panel applets such as time and date, regional settings, etc.
  • OCLIST.exe – List the roles and features installed on the server
  • OCSETUP.exe – Add or Remove roles and features on the server (you still need DCPROMO for making a domain controller)
  • PKGMGR.exe – Vista and WS08 Package Manager is a general maintenance utility (refer to TechNet for more)
  • LOGMAN.exe – The CLI version of Performance Monitor (see TechNet for more)
  • ServerManagerCMD.exe – A CLI version of the WS08 Server Manager, sort of.
  • NETSH.exe – Traditional network configuration shell
  • DCPROMO.exe – Promote and demote a domain controller (role must be enabled using OCSETUP first)
  • SC.exe – Create and manage services (refer to KB251192 for more) 
  • SCREGEDIT.wsf – A general utility script for managing registry settings (check out Guy Teverovsky’s blog for some good info)
  • NETDOM.exe – A general utility for managing domain computer
  • WEVTUTIL.exe – The CLI version of Event Viewer (refer to TechNet for more)
  • WBADMIN.exe – The CLI version of NTBACKUP (refer to TechNet for more)

An example of using ServerManagerCMD would be to add the PowerShell scripting feature to your WS08-Core server.  The syntax would be:

#> servermanagercmd -Install PowerShell

Note that while Server Core is touted to be a CLI-based operating system, it’s really more "Core-ISH" than true "Core".  There are still some features which have not be ported to a CLI paradigm:

  • Registry Editor (regedit.exe)
  • Notepad
  • Task Manager (taskmgr.exe)
  • Regional Settings

There are many more commands you can learn and employ to your benefit.  I can’t overstate the importance of the infamous command utilities like IPCONFIG, NSLOOKUP, REGSVR32, SHUTDOWN, TASKLIST or ICACLS.

Keep in mind that some commands listed work on WS08 (GUI) only, such as WINVER, while others work on both or only on WS08-Core.  Some common tasks are handled differently as well.  For example, you can’t just jump into DCPROMO and make a domain controller with WS08-Core.  As with WS08 (GUI), you must first add the Active Directory Domain Services role to the server, then use DCPROMO to promote it to the domain controller "role".  However, with WS08-Core, there’s no "wizard" to walk through when using DCPROMO.  You need to first prepare an "answer file" with all the desired parameters spelled out, and then you hand it to DCPROMO to do the processing.  This is only a small sampling obviously, and you will find much more information as you work with WS08-Core yourself.  Hopefully this gives you enough to get going on your own for now.  For more tips and information check out this article on TechNet.

It’s often easier to manage WS08-Core from another WS08 (GUI) server or Vista client using remote administration tools, but knowing how to effectively administer WS08-Core at the console is definitely something to know.


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