Microsoft Nano Server and the future of devops

Lightweight operating systems like Nano Server and CoreOS provide an important piece of the platform for the fully programmable cloud infrastructure of tomorrow

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If you're a programmer, why worry about infrastructure? After all, we're accustomed to simply writing code, moving it to a staging environment, and letting the operations team push out the code as a user-facing application.

But now things are different. We’re writing applications that need to be delivered quickly, operate flexibly, and take advantage of the capabilities of tomorrow’s software-defined data centers.

Microsoft’s recently announced Nano Server is an interesting reflection of this trend. Designed to offer a lightweight, easy-to-deploy base OS for hypervisors and containers, Nano Server can be thought of as a point where programmable infrastructures and operating systems meet. It can also be thought of as the Windows equivalent of CoreOS, a lightweight, stripped-down version of Linux that has become the preferred OS on which to run Docker containers.

While Nano Server might look like a thin Windows Server with all the extraneous UI removed, it's actually a platform for programmatic delivery of features, where you can use PowerShell’s Desired State Configuration (DSC) tools to deploy those features as needed.

There’s a synergy here with configuration management tools like Chef, whose "recipes" include details of the services needed by an application. With Nano Server, you'll be able to not only deploy the OS, but also configure and deploy the services a given application needs simply by triggering a DSC operation.

A combination of Nano Server and Chef offers an interesting option for operations teams because it pushes much of the responsibility for managing an application’s infrastructure to devops. Instead of having to manage multiple server images, an operations team needs a single base OS image that can be managed and patched, while devops teams handle the services and features that their apps -- and only their apps -- need.

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