Installing Windows Server 2008

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There are a couple of ways to install Windows Server 2008. When you're lucky enough to get your hands on a physical copy of a Windows Server 2008 DVD you can use that, but what if your target system doesn't have a DVD player? What if you want to install it in a different way?  What if you wanted to save some time? Read on!


Installation methods

You can install Windows Server 2008 using the following media:

  • A physical DVD
  • A DVD image (an *.iso file)
  • A Bootable USB stick
  • Your TCP-IP enabled network



Using the physical DVD

Installing Windows Server 2008 using the Physical DVD is the most reliable, but also the hardest and slowest way to get the Operating System on your box.

It's the most reliable way when you have a pressed (instead of burned) DVD copy of Windows Server 2008 and you received the copy from a legitimate source, for instance your reseller or a MSDN, TechNet, Select or other subscription box. There's only a negligible chance a malicious person would have been able to modify the bits and bytes on the disc.

It's also the hardest way to get the Operating System on your boxes, since you won't have the ability to change the bits and bytes on the media (without getting it off the disc first) which is what you would want to be doing when you know your way around the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK)

I don't recommend using this method when you need to install a lot of Windows Server 2008 machines. I think it's the slowest way to install dozens of servers. If you need to install these amounts of server I suggest you read along.


Using an image

There are multiple ways to get your hands on a Windows Server 2008 image. Microsoft offers a download of Windows Server 2008 in *.iso format with certain subscriptions, such as MSDN, TechNet and Volume License subscriptions. On the other hand you could also rip your Windows Server 2008 DVD to an image with Alex Feinman's ISOBurner. (I use and recommend this tool. Some people seem to prefer WinImage)

Microsoft also offers the bits for evaluation.
While this doesn't sound very appealing to IT Pros who have been around long, let me clarify: Microsoft no longer works with specific media types, bound to specific product key families. In the past you'd need OEM media to work with your OEM product key, VLK media with your VLK product key and trial media were only usable with trial keys. Now you can simply download the media and use any product key to activate it for the scenario the product key allows. (Some minor differences still exist)

An image file can be mounted (for instance with Daemon Tools lite) and burned to physical media.

Virtual deployments

Images are perfect for virtual deployments. You can use the free Virtual PC or Virtual Server products from Microsoft, Microsoft Hyper-V products, Citrix' XenServer products, VMWare Server and VMWare ESX products (among others) to make a virtual box on which you can mount the image file as a virtual DVD and install from there. Since the host machine can read the image from the hard disk this will significantly bring down install times in virtual deployments.

Physical deployments

Having an ISO file of Windows Server 2008 instead of having a physical copy could actually save you a lot of work if you need to deploy dozens of boxes. Using the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) you can edit the unattend.xml file on the DVD to reflect the input you either need to input manually at every installation. Information you could set in the unattend.xml file include (but are not limited to):

  • Administrator password
  • Domain Name or Workgroup Name to join
  • Computer name
  • Drivers
  • Installed server roles and features

A complete list is available. After making your own unattend.xml you can easily copy your version over the version in the image. You can then choose to either burn the image or use it for other purposes, like virtual installations.

Hardware redirection

Another way to utilize an image file is to use it with hardware redirection. Dell Remote Access Controller (DRAC), HP Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) and IBM's family of Remote Supervisor Adapters (RSA) are perfect examples. They allow you to connect an image file to the server to function as a virtual CD or DVD drive. The server can then boot from the image file stored locally on your workstation or available remotely on a central resource. You can also insert the DVD disc into your workstation’s optical drive and tell it to use your drive by drive letter. This is one of the preferred ways to install Windows Server 2008 on blade systems without DVD drives.


Using a bootable USB device

If you really need speed to install a couple of Windows Server 2008 boxes I recommend placing the installation files on a high-speed USB Stick.

Hard drives are usually connected to one Host device and USB channels are connected to another host device chip on your motherboard. Installing from an USB device therefor won't hog the host devices for your hard drives (like when using an image) and won't lag like a normal DVD player would do while spinning up and spinning down. When you choose to use an USB flash drive (called an USB stick around here) instead of an USB hard disk (slower)  you can achieve lightning speeds. To make your bootable USB device, simply type the following commands on a system with the image mounted or physical DVD copy in the drive and the USB device plugged in:


DISKPART> list disk

Select the USB device from the list and substitute the disk number below
when necessary

DISKPART> select disk 1
DISKPART> create partition primary
DISKPART> select partition 1
DISKPART> active
DISKPART> format fs=fat32
DISKPART> assign

xcopy X:\*.* /s/e/f Y:\

where X:\ is your mounted image or physical DVD and Y:\ is your USB

Now all you need to do is plug the device into your target box' USB slot and boot it.
(The target system will need to have USB slots and be able to boot from USB devices)


Using the network

There are a couple of ways to install Windows Server 2008 using the plumbing of your internal TCP-IP infrastructure.

Using Windows Deployment Services

Windows Deployment Services is the successor to Remote Installation Services. (RIS)
It was introduced with Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2. Windows Deployment Services in Windows Server 2008 in contrast to Windows Deployment Services in Windows Server 2003 knows how to multicast, which is a pretty neat feature, which in my opinion makes using Ghost, TrueImage and other imaging solutions obsolete.

The only drawback to using Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is you need an Active Directory environment. While this sounds unlikely even in 2008 you might find networks without Active Directory.

Using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit

On top of using the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and Windows Deployment Services you can use a Solution Accelerator for further guidance. Microsoft offered the Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator (BDD) for clients and is now offering the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2008 as a sort of umbrella over the existing deployment tools for Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008. (More information on centrally deploying Windows Vista can be found here)

When used in conjunction with Systems Management Server (SMS Server) or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) you can achieve deployments without touching client machines, (zero touch) while preserving client settings and user experience.

Using 3rd party solutions

You can use 3rd party imaging solutions to install Windows Server 2008 over the network. Symantec Ghost for instance offers the ability to image Windows installations, but it doesn't need a Directory solution. It helps when you have a DHCP server though. Using a 3rd party solution might require you to purchase licenses, which might prove costly.



This page shows how to install Windows Server 2008 on almost every imaginary box. Not having a DVD player and not having USB ports is no longer an excuse not to install it on a box that meets the minimum requirements.

I've showed you how to do it. I'll finish up with a nice table when to use a specific method:

Installation method Use when:
Physical DVD Installing one or two boxes, nothing too fancy…
Image file Installing virtual servers
Installing blade servers
Transition and Alteration of media
USB device Installing virtual servers or installing multiple servers fast
Installing on servers without DVD drives
TCP-IP network (WDS) Installing loads of servers ( > 10) in an Active Directory
TCP-IP network (Ghost) Installing loads of servers ( > 10) in any environment


Further reading

Installing Windows 2008 via USB thumbdrive
Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2008
Business Desktop Deployment 2007
Upgrading to Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2008 – Zero Touch with ConfigMgr 2007
So why doesn't MDT 2008 use PowerShell scripts during an OS deployment?
Installing Windows Server 2008
Pre-Installation Steps for Installing Windows Server 2008
Install Windows over network with PXE
Two ways to circumvent the DVD drive requirement for installing Windows Server 2008

Related reading

Deploying Windows Vista Centrally
Get Windows Server 2008 now
Activating Server Core

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