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Windows Server 2012 Technology Primer : Versions of Windows Server 2012

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4/14/2014 3:05:53 AM

Microsoft has greatly simplified the licensing and version options for Windows Server 2012. There are effectively only two versions of Windows Server 2012 now: the Standard edition and the Datacenter edition. Microsoft eliminated the Enterprise edition and the Web edition of the software, which effectively just enabled or disabled feature sets. In a virtualized world such as we’re in, organizations really only choose the density of their virtualization, whether they are running physical (or lightly virtualized systems) or that they are heavily virtualizing their server environment. So, the two versions fulfill those requirements.

When installing Windows Server 2012, beside choosing Standard or Datacenter editions, the installer of Windows will choose either the full graphical user interface (GUI) version of Windows Server or a the non-GUI version called Server Core.

Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition

The Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition is the recommended version of Windows Server for a physical server that won’t usually be virtualizing guest sessions. The Standard edition provides a license for the physical system, and includes all the features and functions built in to Windows Server 2012.

Unlike in the past, where the Standard edition did not do clustering or had caps on the amount of memory supported by the system and the like, with Windows Server 2012, the Standard edition has all the same features/functions as the Datacenter edition, just supports fewer simultaneous virtualized guest sessions.

A basic Windows Server 2012 x64-bit Standard edition system supports all the server roles available in Windows Server 2012. It is a good version of the operating system for physical servers (high-performance database servers, standalone web servers, and the like).

It used to be you put utility servers (such as DNS or DHCP), file servers, print servers, media servers, and domain controllers on the Standard edition of Windows. In a highly virtualized environment, however, these servers are simply guest sessions of a larger Windows Datacenter edition host system. The good thing with the new licensing model for Windows is that you don’t have to worry about capacity planning and starting off “small” with Standard edition and then having to completely rebuild the Standard edition servers with an Enterprise or Datacenter edition as your needs grow. The new licensing model simplifies implementation solely on the density of servers that’ll be virtualized on a system.


Note

One of the first things an organization becomes aware of is that Windows Server 2012 comes in 64-bit (x64) versions only. 32-bit hardware and a 32-bit installation is not supported. The most recent version of the Windows Server operating system that supports 32-bit is Windows Server 2008.



Windows Server 2012 Datacenter Edition

Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition is the most common license organizations buy these days because the Datacenter edition provides support for an unlimited number of virtual guest sessions on the server. So, in a highly virtualized environment where a server might be running 5, 6, 8, 10 guest sessions, the Datacenter license is a flat cost, and therefore it gets cheaper per guest session every time additional sessions are added to a server.

Unlike early editions of Windows Datacenter edition that only worked on proprietary hardware, the Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2012 is nothing more than a different way of licensing the software. The code is basically the same across the Standard edition and Datacenter editions. As noted about the Standard edition, there are no limitations in features in the Standard edition. All features and functions, including clustering, load balancing, certificate services, and so on, are included in the Standard edition and the Datacenter edition. So, only from a licensing standpoint does an organization end up being able to support more guest sessions with Datacenter than with Standard edition.

An organization can scale out or scale up its server applications. Scale out refers to an application that performs better when it is distributed across multiple servers, whereas scale up refers to an application that performs better when more processors are added to a single system. Typical scale-out applications include web server services, electronic messaging systems, and file and print servers. In those cases, organizations are better off distributing the application server functions to multiple Windows Server 2012 systems. However, applications that scale up, such as e-commerce or data warehousing applications, benefit from having all the data and processing on a single server cluster. For these applications, centralization for scalability purposes provides the added benefit to the organization. In either case, though, with Windows Server 2012, the version of the license (Standard or Datacenter) has no impact on how the organization is forced to deploy the application; it is now up to the organization to decide the best application architecture fit.

Windows Server 2012 Server Core

Initially introduced in Windows Server 2008 and now supported also with Windows Server 2012 is a Server Core version of the operating system. Windows Server 2012 Server Core, shown in Figure 1, is a GUI-less version of the Windows Server 2012 operating system. When a system boots with Server Core installed on it, the system does not load up the normal Windows GUI. Instead, the Server Core system boots to a logon prompt, and from the logon prompt the system drops to a DOS command prompt. There is no Start button, no menu—no GUI at all.

Image

Figure 1. Windows Server 2012 Server Core.

Server Core is not sold as a separate edition, but rather as an install option that comes with the Standard and Datacenter editions of the operating system. So, when you purchase a license of Windows Server 2012, the DVD has both the normal GUI edition code plus a Windows Server 2012 Server Core version.

The operating system capabilities are limited to the edition of Server Core being installed, so a Windows Server 2012, Standard edition Server Core server has the same functionality as the GUI version of Windows Server 2012 Standard edition.

Server Core has been a great version of Windows for utility servers such as domain controllers, DHCP servers, DNS servers, IIS web servers, and Windows virtualization servers because the limited overhead provides more resources to the applications running on the server, and by removing the GUI and associated applications there is less of a security attack footprint on the Server Core system. Because most administrators don’t play Solitaire or use Media Player on a domain controller, those are applications that don’t need to be patched, updated, or maintained on the GUI-less version of Windows. With fewer applications to be patched, the system requires less maintenance and management to keep operational.


Note

With the Server Manager remote administration capabilities of Windows Server 2012, administrators can now remotely manage a Server Core system from the Server Manager GUI interface on another server. This greatly enhances the management of Server Core hosts so that administrators can use a GUI console to manage the otherwise GUI-less version of Windows Server.


Those who have tried Server Core in early editions of Windows (2008 or 2008 R2) may have found the nongraphical experience with Server Core to not be pleasant or event usable. With SConfig on the Server Core system, server administrators can now have a graphical-like experience for configuring server name, IP address, joining the domain, and the like and do not have to remember long text strings for configurations. Additionally, the new Windows 2012 Server Manager console allows remote installation of server roles, features, and the like that greatly improves the experience of setting up Server Core.

In addition, Microsoft provides the ability for an organization to take a Server Core system, temporarily make the Server Core system into a GUI-version of Windows (to potentially install an application, drivers, and so on) and then drop the configuration back down to Server Core once installed. This provides the best solution for applications that may have previously not been supported in installing on Server Core to be installed in a GUI console, and then remove the GUI back down to a base Server Core system.

 
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