- Windows Server is a Microsoft operating system built and designed for business needs.
- While Windows Server resembles home editions of Windows graphically, it lacks many of the bundled consumer applications like Cortana or Edge. Instead, Windows Server features tools needed for administrators.
- Windows Server may be an ideal server operating system for businesses concerned about security, those that may need customer support or those exclusively relying on other Microsoft services.
- This article is for business owners and administrators who want to learn more about Windows Server and how it may benefit their business.
Small business owners can be overwhelmed with choices as they create or expand their business. Chief among these complexities are technical decisions, which could have significant knock-on effects when it comes to operations or network security. As a business expands, it will very likely end up needing a server to help manage devices, services and files.
For many businesses large and small, Windows Server may end up being the ideal server operating system. With native support for Windows applications and a similar user interface to the PC version of Windows, Windows Server offers a lot that may be attractive to a business leader or system administrator. We’ve put together the following primer to help you learn more about Windows Server and why your business may need a server operating system.
What is Windows Server?
Windows Server is a version of Windows built and designed to meet business needs. In appearance and naming, Windows Server resembles the versions of Windows designed for everyday use, such as Windows 10. This is by design, as each Windows Server release corresponds to a Windows version, and both operating systems share the same codebase; for example, Windows Server 2019 corresponds to Windows 10.
However, while the two operating systems strongly resemble each other, Windows Server is built and designed to meet business, and specifically server, needs. For example, Windows Server features tools needed to allow administrators to better control networks and data storage, as well as having administrative functions useful for access control management.
Somewhat confusingly, Windows Server editions come in three versions, each suited to a different business use case:
- Windows Server Datacenter, which is primarily focused on cloud or data centers that are highly virtualized
- Windows Server Essentials, which is intended for SMBs managing 25 users or fewer and 50 devices
- Windows Server Standard, which is for environments that are either physical or only somewhat virtualized
Key takeaway: >Windows Server is an operating system designed explicitly to meet business and administrator needs, such as access control and data management.
What versions of Windows Server are there?
There are Windows Server versions available that correspond to the Windows user releases; however, not all versions of Windows Server are still officially supported by Microsoft. Businesses using unsupported operating systems should upgrade whenever possible to ensure they are getting the latest security and IT updates. Windows Server 2019 is the oldest version of Windows Server that is still supported by Microsoft.
Windows Server 2022 is the newest version of Windows Server, corresponding to the recently released Windows 11.
While Windows Server 2022 and Windows Server 2019 both share the same core functionalities, Microsoft has made some noteworthy additions to the latest Server version. For example, Windows Server 2022 features improved security features, updates to the Windows Admin Center and an enhanced Kubernetes experience.
How is Windows Server different from home Windows editions?
While Windows Server and home Windows editions look similar by design, there are significant differences between the operating systems that allow each version to excel at their intended function. We’ve highlighted some of the key differences below.
From a hardware side, Windows Server is vastly more capable than the home Windows edition. Due to the necessity of having to support a larger network, as well as potentially running numerous virtual machines, Windows Server supports significantly more hardware than home editions. Windows Server can support up to 24 terabytes of RAM and 64 CPU sockets, compared to the home editions’ max support for 2 terabytes of RAM and two CPU sockets.
Windows home editions come bundled with a number of Microsoft products intended to make the computer experience more streamlined or functional, such as the Microsoft Store, Cortana and the Edge browser. Windows Server does not have any of these applications. Additionally, some applications – even if explicitly downloaded onto the server – will check the operating system and will not run if installed on a server version of Windows.
This lack of bundled applications is intended to secure Windows Server. And the software that is preinstalled on Windows Server is for clear administrator use, such as Windows PowerShell and Windows Command Prompt.
Enterprise management software
While Windows Server lacks many of the commercial software uses inherent in home editions of Windows, it instead comes with or supports a wide variety of business enterprise software. For example, Windows Server can support Active Directory, which is a key user management service that allows the server to provide user authentication and access control. Likewise, Windows Server supports DHCP, which allows the server to assign IP addresses to every device on the network.
Unlike Windows home editions, Windows Server also has the option of toggling on or off the graphical user interface (GUI), the visual system most users use to navigate through a computer. Some administrators prefer to use Windows Server directly from the command line. However, this is an optional, personal choice.
Windows home editions can function as small scale servers if needed. While they lack some of the capabilities inherent in Windows Server, Windows 10, for instance, can still allow connections of up to 20 devices. For home or very small business use, this may be enough. However, Windows Server allows for an essentially unlimited number of connections, which is essential to a business that needs to manage 21 devices or more.
As Windows Server is an enterprise product, it is significantly more expensive than Windows home editions. Pricing ranges from $501 for Windows Server 2019 Essentials to $6,155 for the comprehensive Windows Server Datacenter. Compare this to Windows 10 Pro, the most expensive version of the home edition OS, which is priced at $309. Small businesses can likely benefit from the Windows Server 2019 Essentials version rather than the more costly Datacenter product, though.
Benefits of Windows Server for businesses
The benefits Windows Server brings makes it worth the cost for many businesses. While not every small business will require a server, those that do will likely find that Windows Server offers the necessary capabilities along with a number of other benefits.
Some of the main benefits of Windows Server include:
- Full-fledged support: Microsoft is known for having full-fledged, dedicated support options. For a smaller business without a fully developed IT team, being able to lean on Microsoft can help with multiple IT headaches while not requiring a full IT budget or hiring a managed service provider for help.
- Microsoft integration: As a Microsoft product, Windows Server integrates easily with other Microsoft applications and services.
- Remote access: Administrators can remotely access Windows Server through Microsoft’s proprietary Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Businesses should be careful while using RDP, however, as accounts that are not fully secured do pose a major security risk.
- Familiarity: As Windows Server shares a codebase with Windows home editions, it shares many of the same visual GUI properties, like a desktop, taskbar and Start button. This can make it easier for new administrators to get a handle on the server.
- Enhanced security: Microsoft has consistently doubled down on security in response to the changing cyber threat environment. Microsoft pushed security even further with Windows Server 2022, which adds a number of additional security improvements to the operating system. These improvements should help guard against advanced threats, as well as scenarios like data breaches.
- Containers: Windows Server includes the ability to host containers, which are mini-virtualized environments for running and hosting specific applications. Microsoft has also expanded its integration with Linux to allow for hosting some Linux-based containers.
Key takeaway: Windows Server is a feature-rich operating system designed to help businesses securely and effectively manage their networks. There are a number of sub-editions within each Windows Server edition, each of which offer slightly different features. Microsoft offers a full comparison to help businesses decide which edition is right for them.
Who should use Windows Server?
Windows Server is a fully capable and supported operating system. However, depending on business needs and existing network architecture, Windows Server may or may not be ideal for every business. Factors like cost may also play a huge role in determining if Windows Server is the right fit for a business. With that said, most businesses will find Windows Server fills their needs effectively; however, some businesses will benefit from using Windows Server more than others.
Some of the business types that should use Windows Server include:
- Businesses concerned about security: Businesses handling large amounts of sensitive information may find that Windows Server is a good fit. Between Microsoft’s customer support and Windows Server’s new security features, Windows Server may be one of the most secure server choices. Even so, businesses should still take steps to improve cybersecurity and not fully rely on built-in security features.
- Businesses without much tech experience: Setting up servers safely and effectively is not easy without the necessary experience. For businesses without a dedicated IT team, Windows Server may be the best option, as the GUI is similar to those of home versions of Windows. Additionally, Microsoft’s customer support can aid in installation and setup.
- Businesses relying on other Microsoft applications and services: For businesses looking to stick within a single tech environment, Windows Server is the natural choice.
- Businesses handling large amounts of data: For businesses interested in hosting their own cloud environment or handling large amounts of data, Windows Server Datacenter is a natural choice. This is especially the case for businesses that use, or are interested in using, Microsoft’s Azure for their cloud environments.
Windows Server offers businesses advanced IT control
Windows Server is a powerful, resource-rich operating system designed specifically for business needs. While the operating system is expensive, especially for the Datacenter versions, Windows Server has a host of features administrators will find invaluable. For SMBs, Windows Server also offers Essentials versions, which, while less feature-rich, are significantly more affordable.