Review: Windows Server containers are new and strange

Microsoft’s Docker-driven container feature works as advertised, but comes with a steep learning curve

At a Glance

Containers have been all the rage in the open source world for a number of years, but noticeably absent from Windows until now. In Windows Server 2016, Microsoft released its own container capabilities. Furthermore, Microsoft has given its customers the flexibility of operating containers at the Windows Server level or at the Hyper-V level.

Before I go on, let me take just a moment to explain the basic concept of a container. Containers are a form of virtualization, but they are quite different from virtual machines. Virtual machines use hardware virtualization to allow multiple OS instances to run side by side, isolated from one another by the virtual machine structure.

In contrast, containers don't include their own operating system but share a common OS image. As such, a container contains only application and service binaries and the libraries and configuration files those binaries require. For example, a Windows Server container would contain things like registry entries and application binaries. 

As previously mentioned, Windows Server 2016 allows for the creation of Windows Server containers and Hyper-V containers. The two container types are nearly identical to one another, but there is one important difference between the two.

It isn’t always acceptable for two containers to share a common OS kernel. There may be security requirements that mandate total isolation between two workloads, or a workload’s functional requirements may mandate the use of two different OS kernels (such as a Nano Server kernel and a Server Core kernel).

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