Manage Windows Server 2012 Core environment

Since a long time, Windows Server are based on graphical interface until Windows Server 2008R2. This last operating system can be installed in Core mode that means without graphical interface. But Core mode of Windows Server 2008R2 was limited because lot of software were not supported.

In the same way, it is also possible to install Windows Server 2012 Core but more software are supported. But the big change is that the graphical interface is a feature now. As other Windows Server feature, it can be installed and uninstall as wanted. That mean Windows Server 2012 provides a way to add or remove the graphical interface when it is needed.

Windows Server Core mode provides several advantages:

  • The surface attacks is reduced
  • Less downtime because less Microsoft Update to install (and making reboot)
  • Less consumption of resources. Useful on virtualize environment for better consolidation
  • Administrators no longer consider servers as workstations (wallpaper, binaries on desktop etc.) You know what I mean J

The Windows management is not easy without graphical interface for anyone. The Core mode requires Powershell and batch skills. This is why Windows Server 2012 provides a new Server Manager. This new console enables to install or remove remotely roles and feature, create or delete share or manage services. Moreover, classical MMC are present.

Figure 1: Server Manager

Servers installation

To test above presented features, I’m going to create three servers and use an already pre-created for Active Directory (VMADS01). All servers will be installed on Windows Server 2012 Datacenter. Below the three servers that I will create:

  • VMFLS01 : File server installed in Core mode
  • VMSQL01 : MS SQL Server that will be installed with graphical interface and remove after complete installation
  • VMTLS01 : Management server installed with graphical interface

To run my test, all servers are hosted on Hyper-V R3 on Windows 8 pro

Windows Server 2012 Core installation

Figure 2: Language selection

Figure 3: Yes I want install now my server J

Figure 4: Choose the Windows Server edition installation

For VMSQL01 and VMTLS01, I choose Windows Server 2012 Datacenter
Evaluation (Server with a GUI) while VMFLS01 is installed on Windows Server 2012 Datacenter Evaluation (Server Core Installation).

Figure 5: License terms

Figure 6: Custom install

Figure 7: I use Drive 0 and here we go!

Once installation is finished, an administrator password is asked.

VMFLS01 configuration

This server has no graphical interface so no way to make click click to configure server. However a tool exists to simplify first configuration: sconfig.exe.

Figure 8: sconfig

I set server Network (Gateway, IP address etc.), his name and I join the server to domain.

Figure 9: Set server name

Figure 10: IP configuration

Figure 11: join domain

VMSQL01 and VMTLS01 configuration

This server will be configured as usual. With mouse I configure IP, server name, Remote access and the server is added to domain.

Figure 12: IP configuration

Delete graphical interface on VMSQL01

After I have installed MS SQL Server and process to all configuration of server, it’s time to delete graphical interface. To delete this graphical interface, just open Server Manager and select Remove roles and features.

Figure 13: Tab Manage of Server Manager

When Remove features wizard appears, just uncheck User Interfaces and Infrastructure.

Figure 14: Remove features wizard

User Interfaces and Infrastructure is composed of three features

  • Graphical Management Tools And Infrastructure : This is Server Manager part.
  • Desktop Experience : Feature Windows 8 such as theme, Windows Store etc.
  • Server Graphical Shell : Graphical inteface (Internet Explorer, Explorer.exe etc.)

When server will be rebooted, itwill be in same state that VMFLS01 means without graphical interface.

Firewall setting for remote administration

I firewall configuration is needed to authorize some protocol for remote administration such as remote event log management. This is why I have created a GPO to apply some rules to all my servers.

Figure 15: FIrewall rules

Thanks to these rules, I can manage event logs remotely and I can connect with RDP.

Server Manager using for remote management

My central Server Manager is installed on VMTLS01. So I connect to VMTLS01 and open Server Manager. To manage remote server I have to add others servers. Just click on Manage Tab (Figure 13) and click on Add Server. Search servers with Active Directory and add them.

Figure 16: Add servers to manage

To see previously servers added, click on All servers on the left of Server Manager. A warning occurs on each server. Performance counters are not started and Server Manager can’t run servers graphical state (CPU, RAM etc.)

So right click on each server and start performance counters.

Figure 17: Performance counters not started warning

Figure 18: Start Performance counters

Server Manager window is composed of three parts:

  • On the left: Navigation menu between differents views of services and servers.
  • Intitle : Navigation button and tab management
  • Main part : show information











Figure 19: Server Manager

On the left part, servers hosting same services are gathered (DHCP, IIS, WDS etc).


Event logs and services management

En allant sur la partie Dashboard depuis le menu de navigation il est possible d’avoir un état des services d’un seul coup d’œil :

Figure 20: Services state

In this view, we can see events related to services or machine performances (CPU used at 100% for example). When clicking on an event type such as services, more information are detailed:

Figure 21: Event detail

Here, we can see that DHCP service is stopped. Just right click on event and click on start to restart DHCP service.

To display events related to servers, open All servers on navigation menu:

Pour avoir les événements liés aux serveurs, il faut aller dans All Servers depuis le menu de navigation :

Figure 22: Servers events

In this view, event logs Application, Security and System are shown. Filter enables to search in these events. When select all servers, all events of these servers are shown. So if two servers have issues in same time, it is simpler to find common cause.

Under event logs management, there is the services management:

Figure 23: Services management

Via Server Manager, it is possible to

  • Stop service
  • Start service
  • Restart service
  • Pause/resume service


Manage roles remotely

As previous Windows Server edition, MMC administrative consoles such as Active Directory, DNS or WSUS can be installed on remote server. Windows Server 2012 is not an exception and these administrative consoles can be installed via Remote Server Administration Tools feature.

Once this feature installed, MMC can be launched with right click on manage servers via Server Manager. Below an example with Domain Controller:

Figure 24: Start MMC on Domain Controller

Right click on VMADS01 show a contextual menu to open administrative consoles. Other features related to Active Directory are shown such as netdom, NTDSutil etc.


Windows Powershell enables to open remote Powershell session via WinRM :

Figure 25: Remote Powershell session

Add / Remove roles and features remotely

The new Server Manager enables to add or remove roles and features remotely. Just click on Manage tab and click on Add / Remove roles and features. Below I’m going to perform a IIS server installation on VMFLS01 from VMTLS01:

Figure 26: Add roles and features wizard welcome screen

Figure 27: Choose Role-base or feature-based installation

Figure 28: Choose VMFLS01

I want to install IIS server on VMFLS01. It is also possible to choose a virtual hard disk to install role on VHD(x) image. Windows Server 2012 must be installed on this image and be offline.

Figure 29: Add Web Server (IIS) role

Figure 30: Click next on select features wizard

Figure 31: Click next on Web Server role welcome screen

Figure 32: Choose role services

Figure 33: Confirm installation

Figure 34: Web server installation on progress

The Web Server IIS role is installed on VMFLS01 remotely. The same thing is possible to add every role as needed or to delete feature.

Windows share management

N.B : To be able to benefit every features presented below (Quotas for example), File Server Resource Manager must be installed.

Another features very useful of Server Manager is share management remotely. Thanks to share view, all infrastructure share can be shown. Just click on File and Storage Service -> Share from navigation menu :

Figure 35: Shares view

On the above example, all servers shares are displayed. On this view, it is possible to create share remotely. Just click on TASKS and select New Share.

Old Windows Server support

To manage old Windows Server edition from Server Manager, two components are needed:

  • .NET Framework 4.0
  • Windows Management Framework 3.0

For further details :

About Romain Serre

Romain Serre works in Lyon as a Senior Consultant. He is focused on Microsoft Technology, especially on Hyper-V, System Center, Storage, networking and Cloud OS technology as Microsoft Azure or Azure Stack. He is a MVP and he is certified Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE Server Infrastructure & Private Cloud), on Hyper-V and on Microsoft Azure (Implementing a Microsoft Azure Solution).

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