Part 3 of our Windows Server 2012 Server Core series is a step-by-step guide of how to install Server Core.

Install Server Core

To install Windows Server on a physical or virtual machine, you will need the installation media. This can be a DVD, a USB flash device, an ISO file, or the installation files copied to a second or removable hard drive from one of the three earlier mentioned formats.

You will need to boot to the installation media.

Note:
If you’re using copied installation files as your installation media, make sure you format the disk as a bootable device and add the device to your boot list. After you’ve booted to the installation files, run setup.exe.

When you boot from the installation media, after the initial loading stages, you will be presented with the following screen:

Server Core install - Start Screen

Server Core installation - Start Screen

On this screen, you can choose the Language to install, the Time and currency format, and the Keyboard or input method. On most installation media, only one language will be available to install, although Hyper-V installations tend to be coupled; English and Chinese on one DVD, for instance, was a pretty common combination in the Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 timeframe. While the time, currency, and input method settings might seem trivial, for a Server Core installation they’re not. These settings do not just apply to Windows Setup; they are also used as the defaults in your Server Core installation. Choose your settings and then click Next.

Server Core - Install now

Server Core - Install now

On the next screen, click the Install now button, or hit Enter on your keyboard, since the button is the GUI element selected by default.

Note:
If your Server Core installation is a physical machine without a prior Operating System, I recommend you click the Repair your computer link. Then click Troubleshoot and click the Command Prompt Tile. Here, update the firmware of your server, check the machine’s RAM, and perform other diagnostics with the tools supplied by your manufacturer, before you restart the server to restart Windows Setup.

You will see the text Setup is starting at the bottom of your screen.

Server Core Installation - Enter Product Key

Server Core Installation - Enter Product Key

Depending on your media, you will be prompted to Enter the product key to activate Windows. Type the product key supplied with the installation media. This screen will not be shown on Hyper-V Server 2012 or when you use volume licensed installation media because:

  • Hyper-V Server 2012 does not require a product license key to install.
  • Volume Licensed Windows Server 2012 installation media have been configured with Generic Volume License Keys (GVLKs) to be activated with Key Management Services (KMS) or through Active Directory-based Activation.

Click Next when you’ve typed the product key correctly.

Server Core Installation - Enter Administrator Password

Server Core Installation - Enter Administrator Password

When you install the Standard Edition or Datacenter Edition of Windows Server, you’ll be presented with the Select the operating system you want to install screen. You’ll notice Microsoft has made the Windows Server 2012 Standard (Server Core Installation) choice the default choice. This is not by accident; Microsoft really wants you to deploy Server Core installations instead of Servers with GUIs.

Make your choice and click Next to proceed.

Server Core License Terms

Server Core License Terms

Next, you’ll need to agree with the License terms. Select the I accept the license terms option and click Next to proceed.

Which type of installation do you want

Which type of installation do you want

Since this is a clean Server Core installation, on the Which type of installation do you want? screen, we’ll select the Custom: Install Windows only (advanced) option.

On the Where do you want to install Windows? screen, select the disk on which to install Windows Server. If no disks appear in the list, you can load a driver for your mass storage device (e.g., a RAID controller) with the Load driver option. Windows Setup will scan your CD, DVD, and USB flash drives, but you can also Browse to the driver files of your choice manually.

On a clean disk or RAID volume, you don’t necessarily have to create partitions or volumes for Windows to install to. When you pick a drive with unallocated space from the list, Windows Setup will create two partitions for you automatically. After Windows Setup completes, you can shrink partitions and volumes, too, as a last resort.

Click Next to proceed to the actual installation of Windows Server.

Installing Windows

Installing Windows

Installation of Windows Server will take approximately 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the speed of your hard disk, the type of installation media, and available processor power.

Log on to Server Core

After installation, you will be presented with the Windows Server Lock Screen:

Windows Server Lock Screen

Windows Server Lock Screen

Press the infamous Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination to log on for the first time:

Administrator Tile

Administrator Tile

Click the Administrator Tile.

The user's password must be changed before signing in

The user's password must be changed before signing in

You will be notified to change the password before logging on.

Note:
A Server Core installation, by default, has a local Administrator account with a blank password. Since accounts without passwords are not accessible from the network, this makes sure the Server Core installation is secure by default.

Click OK.

Server Core Logon Screen

Server Core Logon Screen

Notice the keyboard layout depicted in the right bottom of the screen. Type the new password for the local Administrator account, twice. After you’ve typed a password, you can use the password peek feature to the right of the password input field to check for proper typing.

Note:
Your password must meet complexity requirements. It will need to meet the default length, complexity, and history requirements. Do not try to use “Yoda” as your password; it’s too short.

When you’ve typed the new password twice, either click the blue arrow or press Enter on your keyboard. You will receive confirmation on successfully changing the password:

Your password has been changed

Your password has been changed

Click OK.

Now log on to your Server Core installation with the password you’ve supplied.

After logon, you’ll be greeted from the Command Prompt:

Server Core Command Prompt

Server Core Command Prompt

Notice that the Command Prompt is run as Administrator. In Server Core installations, as the built-in Administrator, you will not be bothered by User Account Control (UAC) and instead can perform your duties from the command line with the utmost efficiency.

Concluding

Installing a Server Core instead of a Server with a GUI is not difficult or all that different. Since Server Core installations are intended for “fire and forget” scenarios, make sure you fire your Windows Setup and then forget about the installation by choosing the right options during installation.

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