Microsoft Unveils New 'Nano Server' in Its Next Windows Server Product

Microsoft today described more about a new Nano Server component that will be part of its next Windows Server release.

Nano Server, which goes by the Microsoft code name of "Tuva," will have an even smaller "footprint" than the current Server Core of Microsoft's flagship Windows Server 2012 R2 product. Running the new server with this smaller configuration means having fewer operating system components to maintain and fewer security exposures to protect.

Compared with "current builds" of Windows Server, the new Nano Server will have a virtual hard disk size that will be 93 percent smaller. System reboots will be cut by 80 percent. Maintaining the Nano Server will require "92 percent fewer critical bulletins" to apply, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Preboot execution environment (PXE) boot times will be improved with Nano Server. It took about three minutes with Nano Server vs. 19 minutes for a traditional Windows Server bare metal install, according to this Microsoft-produced Channel 9 video.

Organizations will be able to install only the Windows Server components they need with the new Nano Server. That capability was also true for Server Core users, but Nano Server will just be more compact, it seems. For instance, it's possible to have a 1TB machine running 1,000 Nano Server virtual machines, according to this Microsoft Channel 9 video.

Microsoft achieved Nano Server's smaller footprint by jettisoning some Windows Server components. It got rid of 32-bit support. It eliminated "MSI," presumably referring to Microsoft's installer-file technology. It also axed the "GUI stack," or the user-friendly graphical user interface that's commonly used by IT pros to manage Windows Server.

Instead, management of Nano Server will be performed remotely using PowerShell scripts and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), a Windows scripting capability. That said, Microsoft's announcement also hinted that "we are working on a set of new Web-based management tools to replace local inbox management tools." It's not clear exactly what that means, though.

Microsoft of late has heavily promoted the use of PowerShell for management of its server products rather than using a GUI. PowerShell scripting is recommended because it solves automation and scale issues often faced by organizations with large-scale Windows Server deployments to maintain, Microsoft has argued.

In response to a question about getting rid of the GUI in Nano Server, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover explained via a Twitter post that "I don't think people really understood the true costs of local GUIs on servers. Nano Server really highlights that." Snover is best known as the creator of PowerShell and has led Microsoft's recent efforts to improve Windows Server management.

IT pros apparently will get some customization options with Nano Server. It will support Windows Server roles, as well as something that Microsoft calls "Features on Demand," which wasn't explained. Image servicing using DISM, or "Deployment Image Servicing and Management," is being added to Nano Server. Microsoft also plans to add management support using Desired State Configuration, which is a PowerShell push/pull technology for keeping software deployments in an optimal state. Desired State Configuration has been compared with building .INI configuration files, except that you build them using PowerShell scripts.

Nano Server will be "optimized for the cloud and a DevOps workflow," according to the announcement. It will support various runtimes, such as "C#, Java, Node.js, Python, etc.," Microsoft indicated. There also will be "support for compute clusters running Hyper-V and storage clusters running Scale-out File Server." It will be possible to use Visual Studio with Nano Server's APIs. Microsoft's System Center management products and Chef's products will work to manage Nano Server.

Nano Server details were leaked last month. Snover had briefly described in February that Microsoft was working on a new, more cloud-optimized architecture for the next Windows Server product, based in part on container technologies, which will enable Windows Server APIs and cloud-computing APIs. However, Microsoft so far has just teased about the changes to come. It plans to describe its next Windows Server product in greater detail next month at its Ignite event. Snover will provide an overview in this keynote session.

Microsoft also indicated today that its next Windows Server product will have new Hyper-V container support, in addition to Docker container support. The new Hyper-V containers will provide another way to run applications on the new server.

Microsoft is targeting the release of its next Windows Server product for 2016. A second preview of the new server is expected to arrive next month.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.


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