Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Preparing to install Windows Server 2008 R2

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Prior to installing Windows Server 2008 R2, you need to properly plan your installation and ensure that the prerequisites are met. This planning includes being sure that the server hardware meets the system requirements, determining whether to upgrade an existing OS, and selecting the appropriate Windows Server edition. If performing a custom installation (also known as a clean installation), you will also need to properly size the disk partitions. Spend some time preparing your installation before jumping into it. You will be glad that you did it.

Hardware requirements

Microsoft publishes hardware requirements, also known as system requirements, for every OS it releases. These requirements include the minimum processor speed, memory, and disk space required to install Windows. In almost all cases, you will want to make sure that your hardware exceeds these requirements to provide adequate performance for the services and applications running on the server. The chart in Table 1 outlines the minimum hardware requirements to install Windows Server 2008 R2.

Notes from the field

The need for more disk space

You will probably notice that Windows Server 2008 requires significantly more disk space than Windows Server 2003. This is due to the new Windows component store (WinSXS Directory). The component store is where every component of the OS is housed. Even components such as roles and features that are not currently added are in the component store. You will notice that as you add new features and components in Windows Server 2008, you are never prompted for the original installation media. You should also understand that as components are updated via patches and service packs, previous versions are maintained in the component store. This is to ensure reliability of the OS in the event that a service pack or update is uninstalled.

Notes from the field

Windows Server 2008 R2—64 bit only

Windows Server 2008 R2 is the first Microsoft server OS to support only 64-bit (×64) hardware. This may seem like bad news on the surface; however, it is highly unlikely that you have purchased a new server hardware in the past few years that does not contain 64-bit processors. Newer applications can see markedly increased performance benefits by using more than 3 GB of RAM. By adding more memory, server applications can store more data within fast RAM memory as opposed to having to access information from slow disk drive locations. Today most production grade servers already come preloaded with 4 GB or more of memory. The decision to provide only 64-bit code follows suite with Microsoft's general direction of moving all servers and applications to 64-bit architecture. Other products that support deployment on a 64-bit platform include Exchange Server 2007 and 2010, Office Communications Server 2007 R2, and SharePoint Server 2010.

Table 1 Windows Server 2008 R2 Minimum Hardware Requirements

Hardware Minimum Requirement
Disk Space 32 GB or more,10 GB or more for Foundation Edition
Processor 1.4 GHz 64 bit
Memory 512 MB
Display (800 × 600) Capable video adapter and monitor

Preparing the hardware

Prior to installing any OS, you should ensure that your server hardware is optimized. Taking this extra step can ensure a smooth installation process and lessen the likelihood of having to troubleshoot installation errors. Before installing Windows, be sure to complete the following hardware upgrades:

  • Install the latest BIOS update

  • Update any storage controllers, including storage area network (SAN) host bus adapters (HBA), to the latest firmware release.

  • If you plan on using hardware RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), configure it at this time.

Optionally, you may want to power-on the server hardware and let it run for 24 h to perform a “burn in” process. This could reveal issues related to bad hardware components prior to deploying a server to production. This process can also be completed after OS installation.

Best practices

Use certified hardware for maximum reliability

For optimal performance and reliability, you should use hardware certified for Windows Server 2008 R2. Certified hardware has been tested to ensure that systems using this hardware remain stable and highly available. Microsoft reports that the main cause of Windows crashes is due to hardware drivers. Using certified hardware will greatly reduce your risk of Blue Screens of Death (BSOD). Microsoft keeps an online list of certified hardware on the Windows Server Catalog Web site at

Choosing to upgrade or perform a custom installation

Prior to installing Windows Server 2008 R2, you will need to determine whether to perform a custom installation or upgrade an existing OS. If you are building a new network, or do not currently have servers with a supported upgrade path, then this decision is made for you. You must perform a custom installation. The following provides more details on Upgrades and Custom Installs:

  • Upgrade—Choosing to upgrade will take you through a process of installing Windows Server 2008 R2, replacing the existing OS, but maintaining data, and user and application settings. As mentioned, the upgrade option is available to you when you have existing Windows Servers on your network that have a supported upgrade path. Upgrades can be helpful if you have complex applications installed that may require hours to reinstall and configure.

  • Custom (advanced)—Choosing to perform a custom installation achieves the same result as performing an upgrade except that no data, user settings, or application settings are retained. This is also known as a clean installation. Using this option, along with formatting the OS partition, ensures an optimized fresh installation. This option is required when no existing, upgradable Windows Server OSs are currently installed on the server hardware. This is the most commonly used installation option.

Notes from the field

Verify hardware requirements before upgrading

Choosing to upgrade does not exclude the necessity for the system to meet minimum hardware requirements. If you choose to upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2, you will still need to evaluate your server hardware to ensure that it will properly support the new OS and the applications it will host.

Selecting the edition and installation option

Before you can install Windows Server 2008 R2, you will need to know which edition to install and the appropriate installation option to use. After selecting your edition, you will need to choose the appropriate installation option. Windows Server 2008 R2 provides you with two options for installation. You can explore these options in more detail in the next section.

Full server installation

This installation option performs a fully featured installation of Windows Server 2008 R2. A full server installation is the same as a traditional Windows Server installation. You may be familiar with this installation option if you have installed previous versions of Windows, such as Windows Server 2003. All of the usual windows components are installed, including the full graphical user interface (GUI) and admin tools. A full server installation can perform any of the functions available in the given edition. This is the best installation option to use when flexibility and full Windows features are needed.

Server core

The server core option provides a very secure, barebones installation of Windows Server 2008 R2. Server core does not include a GUI interface and must be managed via command line or PowerShell locally, or by remote administration tools. This installation option provides a much smaller attack service by installing only the core OS and the components necessary to support the following roles:

  • Active Directory Domain Services

  • Active Directory Certificate Services

  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services

  • DHCP Server

  • DNS Server

  • File Server

  • Hyper-V

  • Print Server

  • Media Services

  • Web Server

The server core option is a good choice when deploying servers to provide core network services in branch offices. Server core is also a good option where the highest security levels are required.

Notes from the field

Changing editions postinstallation

Windows Server 2008 R2 introduces a new utility named the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool. This command line utility can be used to upgrade your edition of Windows Server 2008 R2. For example, suppose you install Windows Server 2008 R2 standard edition. After deployment, you decide that you want to configure this server as part of a cluster. Prior to Windows Server 2008 R2, you would have had to completely reinstall the OS and choose the enterprise edition. The DISM tool allows you to upgrade from Foundation to Standard, from Standard to Enterprise, and from Enterprise to Datacenter, using a simple upgrade process and without the need for the original installation media.

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