Oct 13, 2016 3:00 AM

4 no-bull reasons Windows Server 2016 is a big deal

What's so important about Windows Server 2016? Here are four big reasons why it matters -- and not only for people with their heads in the (hybrid) cloud

Valerie Everett (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

After what felt like an eternity and a half, Windows Server 2016 is finally out. But with all the new features, it can be hard to tell which ones matter the most.

Here are four key details about Windows Server 2016 that make it a big deal not only for Microsoft's reinvention or the move to a cloud-powered, hybrid-built world, but for those who still run Windows Server in-house.

1. It's all about hybrid -- in theory

Windows Server wasn't merely supposed to be run in a local datacenter or up in a cloud. It's been positioned as a key component for Microsoft's vision of a hybrid cloud that seamlessly spans locales and provides a substrate for applications that also bridge the divide (for example, SQL Server and its Stretch Database Service).

Now the bad news: The real meat in this sandwich, Azure Stack, won't be delivered until the middle of next year, and it'll only be available through certified hardware offerings from Microsoft partners like Dell, HPE, and Lenovo. In other words, you can't take an existing in-house Microsoft deployment, wave a Windows Server wand over it, and transform it into a hybrid-cloud experience. To that end, Windows Server has a lot more that's not about hybrid alone.

2. It's also all about containers -- in theory and in practice

It's hard to overestimate the importance of container support in Windows Server. Microsoft has reengineered its flagship enterprise product to accommodate an open source technology that's fast becoming a staple for assembling and deploying applications. Two varieties of containers appear in Windows Server: the conventional Docker unit, and a Hyper-V variety for extra protection, depending on the workload.

This is about more than Microsoft catching a popular wave. Containers make apps easier to run either locally or remotely -- a big part of how hybrid cloud is supposed to be a boon to enterprises of all sizes. Microsoft won't miss a chance to put Windows Server in the mix.

3. Nano Server is kind of a small -- er, big deal

How lean and mean can Windows Server get? Pretty darn lean, if Nano Server is any indication. The latest iteration in Microsoft's ongoing mission to provide a tiny-footprint version of Windows Server uses less than 512MB of disk space and barely 300MB of RAM.

But there's more to Nano Server than trying to break personal records for size and boot time. Nano Server is an attempt by Microsoft to create a Windows Server complement to cloud-native, container-based application systems like CoreOS, or to support single-use applications like IIS or DNS (roles recently made available to Nano). Again, the implications for hybrid cloud are there, but it also means even less reason to think of Windows Server as something only suited to heavy-duty deployments.

4. There's still a lot for the on-prem users

With all this talk of cloud and hybrid, Microsoft hasn't forgotten about its bread, butter, and peach jam: the enterprise datacenter that runs Windows Server. Consider the JEA (Just Enough Access) role-based access controls, which allow granting users enough privileges to get certain tasks done without potentially compromising security. 

Hyper-V gets the most improvements, aimed at enterprises that still have VMs as a big part of their workflow. Shielded virtual machines let VMs encrypt both their on-disk data and system state for secure deployment no matter the target. VMs can have memory and network setups changed on the fly more readily, and PowerShell Direct lets you plug straight into a Hyper-V VM withPowerShell without having to configure a thing.