Server Core Install vs. Full Install – Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the main event!

This bout, sanctioned by the WWAF (World Windows Administrators Federation), will be 6 rounds or until knock-out and referred by Brian Nelson of ArcticLlama.

In the Blue Trunks weighing in at total installation weight, including all used and unused binaries, is Fuuuuuuuullllll Installllaaaaation!

And in the Red Corner, weighing in much slimmer, with just the essential code necessary to run Windows Server 2008, is Serrrrrrvvvvver Corrrrrre!

Let's get ready to rumble!

Round 1: Resources

This looks like a good one folks. Both of these fighters are members of the newest Windows Academies, but they have very different styles.


And there's the bell. Server Core looks much lighter on his feet than Full Installation.

In fact, with all of that extra code stripped out, it takes up just 1 GB of disk space for installation and can run in just 2 GB of disk space, that's WAY less than the Full Installation.

Oh, that one hurt Full Installation.

Body blow! Ouch!

Full Installation takes a crushing right jab from Server Core which Microsoft documentation suggests can run optimally in just 1 GB of RAM versus a full 2 GB of RAM for Full Installation.

This doesn't even look fair.


Round 2: Installation

Wow! Full Installation's trainer must have given him a heck of a pep-talk between rounds because he is just beating Server Core to a pulp this round.

In fact, with the exception of an initial graphical screen, everything from renaming the administrator account to joining a domain has to be done with tricky command-line functions.

True, an unattended installation can be scripted, but forget about just sitting down and clicking the buttons.

Even worse, the highly praised Initial Configuration Tasks screen isn't available on Server Core, so adding roles, features, or even joining a domain is going to take a knowledgeable administrator working his magic from the command-line.

What a comeback for Full Installation!

Round 3: Administration Ease

Server Manager, command console … yikes! Server Core can't be managed via these great graphical tools which means that only more experienced administrators will be able to handle these servers.

Wait! Server Core counters with a body blow. In addition to a very usable command-line it can be managed remotely if the remote admin tools are installed.

Ouch! Full Installation comes over the top with a smashing blow. Only Full Installation supports the robust Power Shell. Give this round to Full Installation.


Round 4: Security

In this back and forth fight, things are getting tight.

Full Installation has a complete suite of security designed into his very bones, but Server Core is countering blow for blow with much of the same security as the bigger contender. Both utilize the Active Directory system, and both servers will run Bitlocker for more security.

But, wait! Full Installation seems to have been blindsided. A new round of patches and updates are weighing him down.

Every single update has to be installed on Full Installation whereas Server Core only needs the updates to the binaries and services that it is actually running. Those updates aren't as easy as they sound.

Mission critical servers will require approved back-out procedures and will have to be updated overnight or on weekends. Pity the poor administrators.

Oh the humanity! Server Core also has a substantially reduced attack surface.

While running far less services and binaries than Full Installation, Server Core becomes immune to entire fronts of attack both today and in the future. Exploits discovered in services that aren't even installed on Server Core are futile against the smaller server, but they'll put Full Installation at risk until a patch is released.


Round 5: Available Functionality

Folks, after the vicious beating Full Installation took last round, I didn't think it was possible for him to come back, but he just won't give up!

Full Installation can run any role and any feature available in Windows Server 2008. Sever Core just can't keep up with his limited range of roles and features.

Sure, it can run a lot of the really important ones, but entire functions are left out.

Even worse, Server Core doesn't have a whole slew of APIs installed. Programs written in-house, or customized at great expense might come crashing down if they use any of these APIs, and there is no way to install the ones you need on top of the regular Server Core.

Full Installation has this round, no doubt about it.


Round 6: What Do You Need?

Folks, this fight is shaping up to be a long drawn out feature-fest with these two types of installation trading punches.

The truth is, that it really depends on what you need from your particular server. For most enterprises that means a combination of both Full Installation and Server Core.

Wait! Full Installation goes down! It didn't look like he got hit that hard.

Referee Brian Nelson is counting Full Installation out right now, but it looks fishy. Let's check the replay … oh, Server Core got him, but it wasn't any harder than earlier blows, it looks like the fix is in and Full Installation has taken a dive. Get ready for the investigation, folks.


The previous article is a fictitious fight. Any resemblance to any systems living or dead is purely coincidental. No legally verifiable claim that boxing is sometimes rigged has been made. No animals were harmed during the writing of this article, although a dearly beloved coffee cup was chipped in an unrelated gaming break during production. The author is very bummed out and looking for a replacement mug.

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Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson is a professional freelance writer and small business owner with the freelance writing business ArcticLlama, LLC. Brian’s experience includes network and systems administration, financial planning and advising, and he even has a degree in Biochemistry. Brian specializes in several areas of highly technical writing for ArcticLlama including technology, science and medical. He is also a freelance financial writer specialist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Brian contributes articles on Windows Server 2008 and other related topics. (MCSE, CNA)