Introducing the Biggest, Well Smallest, New Feature in Windows Server 2016: Nano Server

The new release of Windows Server 2016 operating system offers a new feature called Nano Server. This is a remotely administered server operating system optimized for private clouds and datacenters. It is similar to Windows Server in Server Core mode, but significantly smaller, has no local logon capability, and only supports 64-bit applications, tools, and agents. It takes up far less disk space, sets up significantly faster, and requires far fewer updates and restarts than Windows Server. When it does restart, it restarts much faster.

Microsoft recognized that a weak point in Windows Server was the size of the minimum footprint required to run a Windows Server VM. The footprint of a Nano Server installation is reduced significantly by removing features such as the UI, 32-bit compatibility, and MSI support. The result is a stripped-down version of Windows Server that can run a subset of applications and services, but with huge efficiency gains. Nano Server has some serious potential when paired with Windows Server 2016’s support for container apps. It has the ability to deploy a new VM and install container apps within minutes. There is an added value of being able to run hundreds of these types of VMs on a single host due to the small footprint.

While taking advantage of rapid Cloud revolution, Microsoft targets the customers who wish to innovate more frequently. Nano Server installations will be updated two to three times in a year with the Current Branch for Business (CBB) releases, providing new features and functionalities to better support the Cloud movement.

New updates will not be pushed automatically to your Nano Server systems. Server Administrators will be provided with an option to manually trigger the update as per their wish. However, customers won’t be able to stretch behind more than 2 Nano Server CBB releases, because Nano Server will be updated more frequently than standard Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) installation options. With every CBB release, its second immediate predecessor will no longer be serviceable. For example, when 4th release comes out and you happen to be on 2nd release, you will have to update to the latest one.

Nano Server also gains security improvements by nature of a stripped down architecture. Based on the removal of the UI and other features, Microsoft states that Nano Server will require 93 percent fewer critical bulletins, and 80 percent fewer reboots.

All management of Nano Server is accomplished remotely, as it is a completely headless version of Windows Server. A variety of Microsoft management tools are available to use, including MMC (Microsoft Management Console) Snap-Ins like Hyper-V Manager or Services, Windows PowerShell, Desired State Configuration (DSC), Server Manager, and Microsoft System Center. Microsoft also states that third party management tools, such as Puppet and Chef, will be supported.

Microsoft has designed Nano Server to be fully manageable through automated means, but fully realizes that some organizations will prefer to perform some administration with GUI tools. Nano Server does offer support for management through GUI tools using remote management.

Some examples of how Nano Server is used are:

  • As a “compute” host for Hyper-V virtual machines, either in clusters or not
  • As a storage host for Scale-Out File Server.
  • As a DNS/DHCP server
  • As a web server running Internet Information Services (IIS)
  • As a host for applications that are developed using cloud application patterns and run in a container or virtual machine guest operating system

Online Sources

Windows Server 2016 Blog Series

Innovative Integration is creating a whole series about Windows Server 2016 leading up to the September launch. To read other articles from this series, click here.

About Jeff Hauser

Solutions-oriented IT Specialist with notable success directing a broad range of corporate IT initiatives while participating in planning and implementation of information security solutions in direct support of business objectives.

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