The Complete Guide to Windows Server

Hello friends! This comprehensive guide aims to help you understand exactly what Windows Server is, why over 90% of Fortune 500 companies rely on it, and how to get started using or migrating to the latest version.

An Extensive History

Windows Server has been on an incredible 30-year journey transforming from Windows NT to the backbone of modern business IT infrastructure.

Back in 1993, Windows NT 3.1 first brought robust server capabilities anchored around stability, security and support for mission-critical computing. It powered leading organizations over the years with constant innovation across virtualization, storage, networking, identity access management and cloud integration.

Each release marked massive enterprise adoption and expanding capabilities:

VersionOverviewBusiness Impact
Windows NT 3.1Debut of premier server OSPowered early client/server and web workloads
Windows NT 4.0More networking, management featuresConnected enterprise with intranet apps
Windows 2000 ServerActive Directory arrivesTransformed authentication and access control
Windows Server 2003Group policy, automationCentrally managed at scale
Windows Server 2008Virtualization with Hyper-VServer consolidation with VMs
Windows Server 2012Scalable software-defined storageFlexible, efficient data solutions
Windows Server 2016Container supportAccelerated cloud-native development
Windows Server 2022Hybrid cloud optimizedSeamlessly extend to public cloud

This brief historical overview shows the continual expansion of Windows Server over 30 years meeting and exceeding the requirements of the world’s most demanding IT environments.

Now let’s explore exactly how organizations leverage Windows Server and how you can get started.

Meeting Critical Business Needs

While Windows provides powerful client operating systems for laptops and workstations, Windows Server scales to the unique demands of running infrastructure powering entire companies.

Common use cases include:

Active Directory Domain Services – Almost every large organization relies on Active Directory for identity and access management. Windows Server provides robust AD DS to authenticate employees, manage permissions and apply security policies.

Hosting Business Applications – Windows Server often hosts critical business apps like Microsoft Exchange email, SharePoint collaboration software, Skype communications and more.

Database Workloads – Database servers like SQL Server frequently run on Windows Server leveraging its reliability and performance for transactional or analytical data loads.

File Shares – Windows Server efficiently consolidates company files into highly available centralized shares accessible to all employees. Offline files enable mobile productivity.

Print Management – Centralized print servers on Windows Server simplify printer deployment through easy sharing across the organization.

Windows Server also facilitates other pivotal needs like web hosting, networking services and remote access. It brings enterprise-grade attributes like high availability, disaster recovery, security compliance and flexible deployment across on-prem datacenters as well as public cloud environments like Microsoft Azure.

Finding the Right Edition

Microsoft offers Windows Server editions tailored to organizations with different scales, resource requirements and budgets:

EditionMain Use CasesLicensingIdeal For
StandardGeneral infrastructure for small/midsize orgsPer-Core + CALsMost SMBs starting out
DatacenterMission-critical high scale workloadsPer-Core or Per-VM + CALsLarge enterprises
EssentialsStreamlined environment for very small businessesPer-ServerLess than 25 Users
Storage ServerHigh-performance network attached storagePer-Server + CALsPrimary NAS needs

Windows Server Standard delivers a robust general-purpose feature set meeting the needs of most small and mid-size businesses.

For rapidly growing startups or mammoth enterprises running hundreds of business-critical applications, Windows Server Datacenter provides elite scaling limits with advanced virtualization host protections uniquely suited extremely demanding workloads.

Windows Server Essentials offers a simplified management experience with integrated cloud services helpful for companies with less than 25 employees and 50 devices.

Windows Server Storage Server eliminates the need for dedicated NAS appliances by transforming Windows Server into performant network-attached storage with expanded protocol support.

These editions all share the same foundation yet activate additional features and expanded limits based on the license purchased. The per-core licensing model also allows paying only for the computing resources required.

Evolving Features

Across 3 decades of continual engineering, Microsoft has enriched Windows Server with groundbreaking capabilities that ushered in new eras like enterprise-grade virtualization, software-defined infrastructure, and seamless hybrid cloud integration.

Here we’ll highlight some milestone features now considered staples:

Windows Server 2003 — Group Policy

The introduction of Group Policy brought easy centralized management enabling enforcing security policies, pushing software updates, restricting access and configuring user desktop environments at scale.

Windows Server 2008 — Server Core

Server Core debuted the minimal-footprint Windows Server installation option including just the core OS without any GUI. This increased security by reducing the attack surface along with enabling lower resource usage.

Windows Server 2012 – Storage Spaces

Software-defined storage arrived enabling pooling the capacity across a cluster of disks into flexible storage pools with support for mirroring and parity. This reduced hardware costs with increased resiliency.

Windows Server 2016 – Shielded VMs

Shielded VMs protect critical virtual machines from inspection or tampering by malicious administrators through BitLocker encryption of VHDX files paired with restricted fabric access policies.

Windows Server 2022 – Secured-core

The Secured-core initiative specially hardens Windows Server with credential and virtualization protections reducing risks related to compromised firmware and insider threats.

That covers just a fraction of the industryleading innovation delivered across major versions. Staying current allows you to benefit from 30 years of immense engineering investments.

Getting Hands On

If you don’t currently use Windows Server but want to experience capabilities firsthand, quick starts options exist:

Microsoft Evaluation Center – 180-day Windows Server 2022 VMs available in Microsoft Azure to build POCs and run production workloads risk-free. You only pay regular Azure infrastructure usage fees.

On-Prem Trials – Microsoft provides 180-day trial ISO downloads if you prefer evaluating on your own hardware without the cloud.

These options facilitate kicking the tires before fully migrating production infrastructure. When ready to deploy business-critical Windows Server environments, Microsoft Premier Support services provide expert assistance tailored to your organization‘s needs.

I hope this guide conveyed the extensive history along with modern capabilities making Windows Server a vital force powering companies ranging from promising startups to nearly every enterprise giant. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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