Posey's Tips & Tricks

What Does the Future Hold for Windows Server?

Microsoft may be moving towards a micro service architecture to provide a lightweight solution for both on-premises and in the cloud.

If you attended Microsoft Ignite earlier in the year, then you probably remember sitting through a painfully long three-hour keynote. Under ordinary circumstances, a three-hour keynote would seem excessive. However, these are not ordinary times. There are an almost overwhelming number of things going on in Redmond right now. In fact, three hours wasn't even close to enough time for Microsoft to talk about all of the things that they have in the works.

So why all of the frantic development? Well, in some ways the overwhelming volume of information coming out of Redmond is to be expected. After all, Satya Nadella is still relatively new and is working hard to implement his vison for Microsoft. Never mind that Microsoft is working hard to remain relevant in an industry that has changed so much over the last several years. Even so, I think that you have to look deeper if you really want to know what's going on.

I will be the first to admit that I don't have a crystal ball that lets me peer into the future, nor do I have any heavy connections at Microsoft who would be willing to leak confidential information. As such, anything that I write in this post is based purely on my own observations and on personal speculation.

With that said, I want to turn my attention to Windows Server. I have been spending a lot of time working with the latest preview release lately. Some parts of the Windows Server 2016 preview really aren't all that different from what we have today in Windows Server 2012 R2. Other parts (such as Nano server) are radically new concepts for Microsoft. So what is Microsoft's end game for Windows server?

I don't think that this question is really all that difficult to answer. You need only to look at the clues.

First off, Microsoft has said for a while now that it wants Windows Server 2016 to be a cloud-first operating system. The goal is to eventually get Windows Server VM deployments completely portable so that they can easily be moved back and forth between the datacenter and the public cloud.

If Windows Server 2016 really is going to be a cloud-first OS, then it needs to be secure and it needs to be relatively lightweight. Lightweight servers have a smaller attack surface than larger servers, it is faster to move a small server from one location to another than it would be to move a larger server and the smaller the server footprint, the more instances of the server that can be crammed onto a Hyper-V host.

My guess is that Microsoft is trying to move to a micro services architecture. In other words, I think that the company is moving away from large, monolithic application servers to small, single-purpose servers.

The most obvious evidence of this is Nano Server. Nano Server has a tiny footprint. In fact, the administrator must install packages into Nano Server in order for the server to be able to do anything at all.

Another bit of evidence that Microsoft is moving toward a micro services architecture is Hyper-V containers. We don't have a preview release of Hyper-V containers yet, but containers are going to be a mechanism for virtualizing applications. A container will contain application code, but no OS code. Groups of containers can share a common operating system, which will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will help to minimize the size of multitier applications. Second, it will help to maintain consistency since multiple containers may share a common OS.

So with that said, imagine what any application like Exchange Server could potentially look like in the future. Exchange Server is a complex, multitier application made up of multiple roles and services. What if each of the services were defined as a container rather than as a system service? An administrator could deploy the containers they need in order to achieve their desired configuration, but nothing more. All of those containers could theoretically share a single OS rather than Exchange being made up of multiple virtual machines, each with its own OS. This approach would make Exchange Server lightweight, but also completely modular (and therefore more versatile).

Again, I am only guessing as to where Microsoft is headed with Windows Server and server applications, but if I were a betting man then I would put my money on micro services being a big topic of discussion in a year or two.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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