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Windows Server 2016 Preview 2 Released with Nano Server

Microsoft released Technical Preview 2 today of its leading-edge Windows Server 2016 product.

The bits can be downloaded at the Microsoft Evaluation Center page here. The first preview was released back in October and was expected to expire on April 15, but Microsoft released an extension to keep it open till this preview arrived.

Preview 2 contains quite a lot of compute, networking and storage enhancements, as announced here. It also gives testers their first look at Nano Server, an option similar to the Server Core minimal configuration that's been available since Windows Server 2008 was released. The big difference is that Nano Server is 20 times smaller than Server Core.

Nano Server is a key part of Microsoft's cloud computing and dev-ops focus for the future. Right now, though, Microsoft has its scope limited to just three server roles, according to an announcement:

  • Host operating system for cloud computing operations using Hyper-V
  • Platform for deploying cloud-based applications
  • Host for scale-out file server operations

The smaller footprint of Nano Server adds security because there's less software surface area to get attacked. There's also less software to patch and consequently fewer time delays because of reboots. All of those benefits can be leveraged to aid automation, with management handled via remote PowerShell or a browser-based graphical user interface.  

Organizations will have the choice of using Nano Server or Server Core, which still remains an option with Windows Server 2016, or they can install the full server. The architectural choice will depend on the kind of cloud-based applications used, according to Microsoft's announcement:

Applications and services will need to be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine the best operating system footprint based on whether CoreCLR, the .NET implementation on Nano Server, will meet your requirements or if the application should be deployed on Server Core. In other cases a full installation will be required, typically for reasons related to supportability such as software that requires point and click interaction or Remote Desktop Session Host experiences that take advantage of GPU capabilities for graphics acceleration.

It's not clear how organizations can know at this point which course to take for their cloud-based apps, but Nano Server is rather new.

Microsoft is promising "simplified upgrades" with Windows Server 2016 Tech Preview 2. In particular, the server will support "rolling upgrades for Hyper-V and scale-out file server clusters." Memory and Network Interface Cards will be hot swappable. Virtual machines will have "compute resiliency" that lets them run even when the cluster service fails.

On the networking side, Microsoft is promising fault tolerance using just two network interface cards instead of four. Storage will get enhanced via "virtual machine storage path resiliency." Microsoft is also adding "storage quality of service" and the ability to use its Storage Spaces pools of storage across multiple services to reduce costs.

For security, Microsoft is adding its Just Enough Administration server protection scheme, based on PowerShell, that limits IT administrative rights. There's also something totally new called "Host Guardian Service" that provides isolation "between cloud infrastructure and guest OS." Microsoft didn't describe the Host Guardian Service in any detail, though.

More Windows Server 2016 nuances can be found in Microsoft's announcement of Preview 2, which cautioned that the features "may differ in the final release." Microsoft is planning a final product release of Windows Server 2016 sometime next year.

About the Author

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

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