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Why don't some Server Admins like Server Core?

Why don't some Server Admins like Server Core?

You’ve probably heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Well that saying sort of applies to the Server Core installation option of Windows Server 2012 R2. Microsoft can provide a more secure version of an operating system that hosts the majority of everyday workloads and requires less rebooting, but it doesn’t mean that the majority of Windows Server Admins will actually deploy it.

When I’ve talked to other admins about Server Core, be it at conferences, when teaching, or at user groups, two things come across rather clearly:

  • They really like the idea of Server Core. Especially the bit where they don’t have to reboot it as often, it does most of what they need it to do, and that it involves a smaller hardware footprint.
  • They haven’t really deployed Server Core in their own environment and have no plans to deploy it in the immediate future.

Seems a bit contradictory doesn’t it?

The “why don’t people deploy this” story starts to make a little more sense if you’ve watched server admins new to Server Core grapple with it for the first time. I’ve done this when training experienced admins, and the process is sobering.

If you watch films like The Matrix, you see hackers like Trinity or Neo type hundreds of lines of code flawlessly. Reality isn't like the movies. It doesn’t matter if someone is new to IT or has been doing it for decades – typos happen. Those typos cause frustration. One of the great dark secrets of the IT industry is that almost everyone fat fingers typed commands in a frequent basis. The impression that most people that work in IT seem to have is that it’s just them that is fat fingered and that everyone else in the industry types as accurately at the command line as Trinity and Neo. If The Matrix was a little more like reality, Trinity and Neo would get through only a few lines of command line hacking before something didn’t work, they sighed deeply to themselves, and they had to go back and fix a typo.

Over the years, I’ve watched quite a few really experienced Server Administrators fat finger their way through labs designed to introduce them to Server Core. I’ve seem them go from being enthusiastic about the Server Core at the start of the lab to being ambivalent about it at the end. The more mistakes they make in typing during the lab, the more their enthusiasm for Server Core wanes.

As one put it:

“This would work for me if I was as good a typist as everyone else is. But I’m making too many mistakes when I’m typing here to seriously consider using this in production”.

The unspoken fear is that an incorrectly entered command will cause what one person once described to me as a “career limiting event”.

The blessing and the curse of GUI based tools is that they keep you on rails and only allow you to do what the designer of the GUI tool allows you to do. The blessing and the curse of command line tools offer you an almost unlimited amount of freedom to do what you want.  

Unlimited freedom is fine when you have Lego blocks. It can lead to bouts of self reflection when it might lead to a “career limiting event”.

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