Microsoft Windows Server Version Comparison

Stranded on which Version of Windows Server to choose? This guide compares the different versions of Windows Server. Read on to find more.
Windows Server comparison

What is Windows Server? Windows Server is a server operating system from Microsoft, different from a UNIX-based operating system in that it offers easier management through a better interface. The Windows Server web hosting environment supports major web programming languages and databases like PHP, MySQL, ASP.NET and MS SQL. There are a lot of advantages to the Windows Server.

If you are familiar with Windows, it’s easy to get familiar with Windows Server. Most folks using Windows Server hosting use ASP.NET, which is a free web framework for building web sites and web applications using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Those who use it are able to develop websites using the familiar interface of Microsoft tools such as Web Deploy and Visual Studio. With ASP.NET, users can develop a database-driven website with the Microsoft SQL database. Another advantage is that Windows Server can run PHP and MySQL, which are common and popular programming and database options. It’s the versatility of the Windows Server that makes it such a great option.

It’s important to compare Windows Server software because choosing the right one is crucial to a business environment. There are older versions of Windows Server that are still in use using older hardware and operating systems, but overall, keeping your Windows Server up to date is important.

The main reason to keep older Windows Server software is that you are using older hardware and software that won’t run anything else. There are companies still operating this way. This is why older versions of Windows Server still sell.

Windows Server 2012

Versions of Windows Server prior to Windows Server 2012 are fairly similar in the way they operate. By the release of Server 2012, Microsoft was working on cloud integration full steam ahead. They added features to Windows Server to enable better interaction with off-site services and began marketing Windows Server 2012 as a “Cloud OS.”

This was undoubtedly the goal of the inclusion of Hyper-V in the Windows Server 2008 version. All of the improvements to the Windows Server system in the 2012 version focused on getting the integrated Hyper-V into shape to make Cloud resources as easy to integrate into onsite delivery as local hosts.

The storage system, handled by Hyper-V, was also updated in this version. The Hyper-V virtual switch and Hyper-V Replica were included in this release to enhance the uptake of hybrid network strategies.

Both PowerShell and Server Core grew in importance with this release. There were four editions of Windows Server 2012: Essentials, Foundation, Standard, and Datacenter. The Essentials edition was aimed primarily at small businesses.

Update for Windows Server 2012 was released in 2013. The composition of the operating system made extended use of the PowerShell, with a concentrated and continued effort to provide better server functions onsite and better capability to integrate cloud services. Security systems and network services were completely rewritten. There were also major overhauls to virtualization and storage systems and Web services were enhanced.

The storage feature enhancements included replication for distributed files and improved access for file sharing. The ability to serve mobile devices with software from the server was greatly improved as well. This release also saw the introduction of the PowerShell-basedDesired State Configuration system for improving network configuration management.

Windows Server 2016

Windows Server 2016 came with a very important server system that appeared bundled with it. It was called the Nano Server. It’s a lightweight minimal server implementation that has fewer interfaces, making it harder to attack. The 2016 version of Windows Server also includes Server Core.

Additionally, VM systems were added with an encryption system for Hyper-V and the ability to interact with Docker. This tool was useful for “containerization,” allowing systems administrators to deliver corporate-owned software to user-owned devices. Microsoft also introduced the Network Controller in Windows Server 2016. This enabled administrators to manage both physical and virtual network devices from one console. Windows Server 2016 comes in Standard and Datacenter editions, with no R2 version available.

Windows Server 2016 Editions

windows server 2016

Windows Server 2016 is available in 3 editions. The Foundation edition, like it was offered in Windows Server 2012, is no longer available for Windows Server 2016.

  1. Essentials
  2. Standard
  3. Datacenter
  • The Essentials edition is ideal for small businesses with basic IT requirements. This means a company that is very small and has no IT department or even a dedicated IT specialist can benefit from the features and capabilities of this edition. CALs are not required for Essentials, but it is limited to 25 users/50 devices.
  • The Standard edition of Windows Server 2016 is for mid to large size companies that need advanced features and virtualize to a lesser extent. This is really one of the most popular editions for a range of businesses. Standard allows for two virtual machines and requires CALs.
  • The datacenter is the workhorse for companies of any size that have high IT requirements and huge IT workloads utilizing many virtual systems. Datacenter allows for unlimited virtual machines and requires CALs.

Windows Server 2019 is brand new and brings much more functionality to the table. Since the range of potential deployments makes it impossible to pinpoint any realistic recommended system requirements, you need to always consult the specific product documentation for each of the server roles to determine what you need to deploy the way you want to deploy. If you have the budget, Windows Server 2019 is a powerful choice, with all of the expected editions to offer you the widest range of productivity.

Editions of Windows Server

Foundation is the edition you don’t have access to in Windows Server 2008, so that’s a plus for you. Foundation is designed to give you extreme cost-effectiveness and is ideal for the small budgeted business. It’s a basic starter edition of Windows Server 2012, making it ideal for a small business without an IT department or dedicated IT employees. You get all the essential server functionality without virtualization rights. Server licensed and limited to 15 users.

Essentials are nearly the same as Foundation, with a bit more functionality and the ability to have up to 25 users. There is still no virtualization rights. Essentials is ideal for small companies with a bit more budget and maybe an IT employee or two. 

Standard is great for non-virtualized or lightly virtualized environments. Small to mid companies can benefit here, especially with an IT department, no matter how big or small. Includes all features with two virtual instances. Licensing is processor plus CALs.

These editions are also available for Windows Server 2019.

Windows Server 2019

Windows Server 2019 is the latest and greatest version of Windows Server. It includes new features and functions too numerous to list, beginning with the Windows Admin Center, a server management utility that is designed for Windows Server 2019 but it can still manage servers operating Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2016.

The console covers multiple servers; it doesn’t matter whether the operating system of a monitored server is the full GUI version, Server Core, or Nano Server. The utility includes performance monitoring, configuration management, and control of the services that run on each monitored server.

While you can already run Linux on a Windows server through a VM, Windows Server 2019 provides a Linux-compatible subsystem. These are called “native shielded VMs for Linux.” This elevates the process of running Linux on the server.

There’s also advanced security. The latest security threat to IT systems is the “advanced persistent threat.” These APT attacks bypass traditional antivirus systems because their entry point is done by whaling, spear phishing, and social media profiling.

Since traditional defense tactics are no longer capable of protecting systems and data, advanced threat protection systems are crucial. The inclusion of the Windows Defender ATP in Windows Server 2019 is incorporated.

The ATP monitors account activities, protects log files from unauthorized changes, and keeps track of activities of users around data storage to identify APT intrusion, making this the most secure Windows Server available.

You also get leaner Server Core and servicesimproved GUI controlsWindows Server Cloud, and more. If you are running new hardware and software, transitioning to Windows Server 2019 is a good idea. 

How to Choose the Best Version of Windows Server

As we stated above, there are a lot of versions of Windows Server, including Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016, and Windows Server 2019. Many of the earlier versions are only useful in specific situations and are not capable of powering more modern set-ups.

In addition to these versions, there are specific editions of Windows Server that address different needs. With so many versions and editions floating around, how do you know which version of Windows Server is right for you?

One thing to consider when is the budget. Does your company have a large budget or no budget? Older versions of Windows Server are more affordable and more accessible to companies with limited budgets, but Microsoft may no longer offer mainstream support for older versions. This means you are on your own. Depending on your company's needs, this might be a viable solution, or at least a temporary solution until you can expand your budget.

You may have the budget, but your hardware might be out of date. Again, unless you have the money to invest in hardware upgrades, you might need to use an older version of Windows Server. When possible, Windows Server 2019 is the best option available and the recommended version to use.

If you are looking for older versions, here are some overviews of the most popular of the older versions of Windows Server:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2: Developed from the foundation of Windows Server 2008, the Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard edition offers more reliability flexibility than the previous version. Small businesses are able to rely on this server to provide services like DNS, print, remote access, domain, web, and application. There are some great new functions here as well that can assist in ensuring power savings, virtualization, and manageability. Topline remote desktop services make telecommuting and fieldwork easier to manage and more consistent. For now, Windows Server 2008 is available from trusted resellers like
  • Windows Server 2012 Foundation: This version is built to support x64 socket, making it ideal for small businesses. With the 2012 Foundation, you can integrate and operate the most ideal and fitting business applications with the most important features. These include sharing files, strong security, and remote access. This is limited to 15 users only, so it’s ideal for companies with fewer employees than that. It’s an affordable and functional way to get the power of Windows Server in your small business.
  • Windows Server 2008 Enterprise: This is a step up and still great for small businesses. This is particularly great for small businesses that depend on technology and digital processes. Windows Server 2008 Enterprise brings you the range and scalability needed to use it for your small business and to keep up with you as your business grows. Much has been said about the superb integration of up to date security settings and its outstanding uptime level. Includes cost-effective methods for maximizing virtualization. Top-tier applications like messaging systems, print and file, services, and databases are given higher accessibility. This version allows unrestricted numbers of Virtual Private Network connections, making it flexible, cost-friendly, and ready to grow right along with your business.
  • Windows Server 2016 Essentials: This one is for a small business with minimal IT requirements. It has all the basic features for running a small business effectively, efficiently, and on a budget. Windows Server 2016 Essentials can be accessed and used by up to 25 users and 50 devices.

These versions are cost-effective and useful for anyone running older hardware or those who don’t meet the criteria for running Windows Server 2019.

If you’re looking for a software company you can trust for its integrity and honest business practices, look no further than SoftwareKeep. We are a Microsoft Certified Partner and a BBB Accredited Business that cares about bringing our customers a reliable, satisfying experience on the software products they need. We will be with you before, during, and after all the sales.