Setting up a Windows Server environment can be challenging. From hardware to software and from security to services, there are an incredible number of factors to consider.
By breaking the decisions you need to make down into simple stages, this guide will leave you with a clear idea of all the steps needed to set up a Windows Server environment.
Windows Server Environment – What you need to consider
If you are a small business or start-up, then setting up your first server environment might seem daunting. However, the advantages of running a server are multifold. With the rise of remote working and cloud computing, utilizing the advantages of a server is even more critical for businesses that want to thrive in the modern workplace.
The list below details all the steps you typically need to follow to set up your Windows Server Environment:
Decide what server services you require
The first step involves asking yourself a very simple question – What tasks do you want your server to fulfil?
This could be as simple as just offering data and print services to users, or it could offer a far wider range of services. Typically, the main types of servers are as follows:
- File and Print Servers – These servers store and manage an organization’s data and files. A file server often acts as a print server too. Print servers manage printing jobs from networked devices.
- Database Servers – These manage and store data for websites and applications. They allow users to access and manipulate the data stored in the hosted databases
- Application Servers – These servers provide a platform for hosting and executing applications, allowing users to access them remotely over a network.
- Mail Servers – As the name suggests, mail servers handle internal and external email communications. In Windows Server environments, these are often referred to as Microsoft Exchange Servers.
The above are just a few of the main server types that can be deployed.
Choose which version of Windows Server you need
The next step is to choose the version of Windows Server you want to deploy. Windows Server comes in a range of versions, and which one you choose depends on considerations like – What services do you want the server to provide? And how many users will typically be using the server?
Here are the main versions of Windows Server:
- Windows Server Essentials – This is a perfect version for small businesses and start-ups. One of the main advantages of this version is that it negates the need to purchase separate Client Access Licenses (CALs). This version supports 25 users or 50 devices without having to buy CALs. (There is more information about CALs in the next section)
- Windows Server Standard – This is the next step up from the essential’s version. The Standard version is a better option for medium-sized enterprises, although, in most circumstances, it will require each user or device to have a CAL.
- Windows Server Datacenter – This is a fully featured version of Windows Server with support for more powerful servers and unlimited virtual machines. However, the reality is that this version is likely to be too advanced for readers of this article.
For most people setting up a Windows Server Environment, the choice is going to be between the Essentials and Standard editions. We touched briefly on CALs, and these are going to be one of the major factors in deciding which to opt for. This is what we will discuss next.
This is a more important step than many people realize. There are two main licenses to consider. The first is the licence for Windows Server itself. This grants you the right to use the software on your server. This is the simple part of the licensing requirements, the waters begin to muddy when we consider CALs:
Client Access Licenses
Put simply, a CAL is a licence that is required for each user or device that accesses the services provided by your server. There are two main types of CAL – user and device. What type of CAL you opt for depends on how the server is accessed. However, a simple rule of thumb is –
User CALs are better when users access the server from multiple devices – Device CALs are better when several users share a device to access the server.
There are other considerations too. For instance, if you are setting up a server that offers simple file access and print functions only, then there is no need to purchase CALs. Also, Windows Server Essentials has support for 25 users or 50 devices without requiring CALs.
Install and configure the server
This can be a complex process and may require some technical assistance. However, for the tech-savvy amongst us, there are plenty of wizards and help resources that can talk you through the process of installing and configuring Windows.
How the server is configured differs depending on the specific use case, but typically it will involve the following steps:
- Install the operating system onto the server and download any necessary updates
- Configure the network settings (IP addresses, DNS, etc.)
- Set up user accounts and security settings. This includes setting up password policies and firewalls.
- Install the required server roles and features. This can include features like Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, and Web Server.
- Configuring storage and file-sharing settings. This includes setting up permissions and creating and managing shared folders.
- Set up back routines and devices. This should cover all your crucial data but also back up your configuration options. This can save a large amount of time if you ever need to reinstall your server.
Once your server is up and running, it will require monitoring and managing to ensure it is running efficiently. This process starts at the final point this guide will cover – testing your Windows Server deployment.
5. Test the server
Your server is almost ready to go live, but there is one more crucial step before letting all your users loose on your new server install! Testing is one of the most critical steps, and a good testing regime will typically include:
- Functional Testing – This includes making sure client connections are successful, and the server roles & services are working properly.
- Performance Testing – Making sure your server resources can cope with various workloads and checking for potential performance bottlenecks.
- Security Testing – Review all the security configurations and assess the overall security by running vulnerability scans.
- Disaster Recovery Testing – Test that backup procedures are working and that critical data and configuration backups can be restored in the event of a disaster.
Congratulations, with a successful testing program complete, you are now ready to run your Windows Server Environment.
Setting up a simple Windows Server Environment isn’t simple, and a guide like this can’t possibly cover every pitfall. But with a modicum of tech-savvy, a little patience, and the built-in help resources within Windows Server, setting up a Windows Server Environment is possible. However, more complex server deployments will likely require some technical assistance.
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