With its recent release of the fourth technical preview of Windows Server 2016, Microsoft has proven its commitment to improving its server for both on-premises and cloud-based deployments.
Microsoft's recent on-premises tools have been getting half-hearted (if that) feature upgrades. (Case in point: Exchange 2016.) So it's especially great to see the strong commitment to Windows Server.
Key improvements in Windows Server 2016 include the following:
- Nano Server enhancements like support for DNS and IIS server roles, plus a new PowerShell module for building Nano Server images. (Nano Server is a new deployment option that allows for a headless, cloud-optimized version of Windows Server.)
- Window Containers allow isolated applications to run on one system. There are two types of containers available: server containers (these use namespace and process isolation to contain applications) and Hyper-V containers (these use VMs to contain applications). Each can be managed with either PowerShell or Docker (which is based on open standards).
- The Hyper-V improvements are too numerous to list, but the standouts include shielded virtual machines, which encrypt both data and state to ensure a much more secure deployment of VMs using a Host Guardian server. Nested virtualization is another interesting feature that lets you create a Hyper-V host and create VMs within that host, which can be helpful for dev/test scenarios.
- More JEA (Just Enough Administration) improvements cover domain controllers and server maintenance roles. JEA is a form of role-based access control through PowerShell that lets you give users the ability to perform some administrative tasks on the server without giving them full admin rights.
- Storage Spaces Direct improvements include support for all-flash configurations with NVMe SSD and SATA SSD devices. There's new support for cluster rolling upgrades to allow for a mixed-mode cluster configuration when running deduplication. In plain English, you can now run Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2016 together to allow for a gradual rollout of the new deduplication version.
Even better, every aspect of Windows Server seems to be getting improved: networking, monitoring, the new PowerShell 5.0, and a heavy focus on security enhancements. All these new options and features will benefit cloud-based deployments as well.
These changes in Windows Server 2016 excite me because it shows that Microsoft didn't phone this one in. Despite its new focus on the cloud, Microsoft knows that on-premises deployment of Windows Server is going to continue for quite some time. Thus, it needs to keep on-premises IT pros happy with new features they need to rival Linux, as well as make it easier to deploy hybrid cloud-based infrastructure (also running Windows Server).
Rather than competing with itself in terms of the infrastructure location (on-prem vs. cloud), Microsoft is working on a solid new server release that benefits both worlds. We will probably see one more technical preview before the production version of Windows Server 2016 ships later this year -- and I'm looking forward to it.