What image should I install on VirtualBox for practising dev ops

Very novice question I’m afraid. I would like to practice setting up a PHP / Apache web server from (almost) scratch, i.e.:

  1. Start with an Ubuntu OS.
  2. Install Apache
  3. Install any PHP packages I need

Along with any hurdles I cross on the way. I could do this by setting up a Digital Ocean Ubuntu droplet, but I thought I could also do it using VirtualBox (on Windows 8.1). But the instructions I’ve seen so far involve downloading the Ubuntu Desktop iso image and using that as a base in VirtualBox. Do I really need that? I have no need to use Ubuntu as a desktop operating system. Probably a stupid question, but is there a more stripped down image I should use, or am I thinking about it all wrong?