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SQL Server on Windows Server Core – part 1 Server Core installation

A while ago I got SQL Server (only the database engine) running on Server core and then found out that this wasn’t going to  be a supported scenario for SQL Server 2008 R2.  However with the launch of SQL Server Denali this will be supported scenario but now it’s a little more complicated to do.

Before I go into that what is Windows Server Core and why does this evangelist consider it important?

It is a lightweight version of windows with the bare minimum of components needed to run infrastructure services like domains, file and print, and IIS.  Originally only asp sites could be supported but with the launch of Windows Server 2008 R2 there was enough of the .Net 3.5 framework in there to support asp.Net websites and to run SQL Server.  In fact it is so lightweight there are only a few interfaces in there:

  • Registry Editor
  • Notepad
  • Task Manager
  • Command line
  • PowerShell (Note:you have to do some post setup installation to enable this)

While this cripples the server if you are trying to work on it directly it gives a number of advantages:

  • Maintenance. Less than half of the patches needed for Windows Server will be applicable to a server core installation
  • Availability. Windows Server 2008 R2 is the most secure Microsoft operating system anyway but, less operating system means less to go wrong and less to attack, for example there’s no browser in here.
  • Footprint.  Server Core will happily run in 256Mb and takes less disk space than it’s full fat sibling so you can pack more virtual machines like this onto a physical server.   

Server Core is also pretty fast to install just over 5 minutes from a clean virtual machine on my admittedly awesome Dell Precision M6500 and I hope this equally short video (under 4 mins) will help if you want to try it yourself:


  • You’ll need an evaluation copy of Windows Server 2008 R2 for this if you haven’t got a TechNet subscription.
  • The video is part 1 of  a series and I have put links on them so you can watch them in sequence to get SQL Server working core as quickly as possible.  However there will be accompanying posts and notes to help as well