Microsoft just announced a big change for Windows Server and System Center with a faster release cadence.
The Future of Nano Server
The future of Nano Server is all about containers. In the next release of Windows Server and beyond, Microsoft will optimize Nano Server image for containers. The uncompressed Nano container image in Windows Server 2016 is about 1Gb in size, this includes components not relevant for containers such as components needed for physical and virtual machines. Microsoft is significantly working on reducing the size of the image on disk by 50% and even more. This has two benefits, the first one it will speed up the start-up time of containers, and the second one it will minimize the bandwidth needed when you pull the image from Docker Hub (repository). All the components not relevant for containers and modern application development will be removed from the image. The optional components will be delivered as layers. Let’s say, you need to pull Nano optimized container image, and if you want .NET Core, you need to pull .NET as a layer on top of the image, and if you want PowerShell, you need to pull PowerShell as layer on top as well, so on and so forth.
Nano Server moving forward will be specifically used for container-optimized runtime. In the next release of Windows Server, Microsoft will remove the host and guest VM deployment for Nano Server, and focused exclusively on getting the container technology as small as possible by removing the host and virtual machine dependencies from the image. In other words, Nano Server will not be supported to run on bare metal machine. As an aside, the focus on containers was very well-received by many customers since the GA release of Windows Server 2016 in October 2016.
Please note that the infrastructure roles for Nano Server in Windows Server 2016 will remain fully supported as of today, because Nano Server was released under CBB servicing model (now is called Semi-annual channel), that means the first Nano Server release (1607) was released back in October 2016 it is still supported until spring 2018. You can still use Nano Server for physical host, virtual machine deployment as well as for containers.
Do you want to get to speed with Nano Server? you can pre-order my book Getting Started with Nano Server which will be released in couple of weeks.
Windows Server in the Semi-annual Channel
In the future release of Windows Server, Microsoft is also brining Windows insiders program to Windows Server like in Windows 10. If you are familiar with Windows 10 flights model (weekly update), Windows Server will follow the same method. This will help to provide access to frequent and regular builds of Windows Server to anyone in the world. This will also mean that you can download Windows Server ISOs from the insider portal and pull the container images from the Docker Hub as well.
Windows Server will also move to Windows Server as a Service model, this new model works as Semi-annual Channel (SAC). These changes attempt to realign Windows 10 and Windows Server with the new model of big feature delivered twice a year in March and September. Each release in the semi-annual channel will be supported for 18 months from the initial release.
The semi-annual channel (SAC) is not for every business, if your workloads require longer term stability and predictability, you can still use Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) for Windows Server which will remain identical to older versions of Windows. LTSC users will receive security updates and bug fixes every month but no new features and enhancements will be installed. Windows Server 2016 is the latest Long-Term Servicing Channel, and the next LTSC of Windows Server will be released on typical release schedule (2-3 years). The minimum length of servicing lifetime for LTSC is 10 years (5 years mainstream support + 5 years extended support) or up to 16 years if you purchased Premium assurance. As of this writing, if you require to receive all the new features of the next release of Windows Server, you should switch from LTSC to Semi-annual Channel by performing a fresh installation (No in-place upgrade), or if you are using Failover Clustering, you could move from LTSC to SAC by performing a cluster operating system rolling upgrade without any downtime.
Please note that the most of the features introduced in the Semi-annual Channel (SAC) will be rolled up into the next Long-term Servicing Channel (LTSC) release of Windows Server.
Server Core Moving Forward
Server Core will also follow Windows Server in the semi-annual channel with a faster release cadence.
Microsoft is also working on optimizing Windows Server Core for Cloud Host (physical machine) deployment which is the backbone for Azure (public cloud) and for Azure Stack (hybrid cloud). Windows Server Core will be also used as containers host to run Nano container images as well as for Software-defined Datacenter (SDDC) host.
System Center in the Semi-annual Channel
System Center will also follow the semi-annual channel with a faster release cadence. Thus, you will see two releases per year to align with Windows Server semi-annual channel. These releases will be available to System Center customers with active Software Assurance. System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) will continue to offer three releases a year to give you the latest updates for managing servers, PCs, and mobile devices.
As for the first release of System Center in the semi-annual channel, Microsoft will focus on System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), and System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM). The key areas of investment will include support for Windows Server and Linux, enhanced performance, usability and reliability, and extensibility with Azure-based security and management services. This release will make it easy for you to deploy and manage nested virtualization, and support software load balancing.
In addition, you will be able to provision Storage Quality of Service (QoS) via self-service. To support heterogeneous environments, System Center is investing in improved monitoring for Linux using a FluentD agent, and reducing storage costs for VMware backups. For VMware users, you will also have the ability to migrate a UEFI firmware based VMware VM to a Gen 2 Hyper-V virtual machine.
This changes will improve the release cadence of datacenter and cloud innovation dramatically. Microsoft will push faster updates across the board… Thus you have the choice to react quickly to new opportunities and help you deliver agile IT operations at the pace of the cloud across all your workloads.
You can read more details on this new more frequent release cadence at a new article published on: Windows Server Semi-annual Channel Overview.
It’s time to rolling up your sleeves and get ready for digital transformation!