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How does Windows Nano Server differ from Windows Server Core?

After Windows Server Core failed to catch on, Microsoft may convince administrators with its next attempt for a more VM- and cloud-friendly Windows Server deployment.

As interest in Windows Nano Server increases, many systems administrators may wonder if this minimal operating...

system is much different from Microsoft's previous attempt in this area. Windows Server Core appeared as an installation option with Windows Server 2008 intended to provide a lightweight Windows Server OS with minimal user interface, better performance, lower installation demands and a smaller attack surface.

However, Server Core for Windows Server 2008 was not well received. It was difficult to utilize and didn't support PowerShell remoting, emerging languages such as ASP.NET and other important administrative features. Server Core under Windows Server 2012 R2 was more versatile and usable. For example, administrators could use PowerShell cmdlets to turn the GUI on or off without needing to reinstall the OS. But many of the patches, updates, role changes and other routine OS maintenance issues still required time-consuming -- and disruptive -- restarts which often restricted Windows Server Core to niche uses.

Windows Nano Server carries on the fundamental intent of the Server Core model: shrink the OS so it uses fewer resources for faster performance and more security. But Nano Server takes a serious minimalist tact by eliminating all traces of a local user interface and stripping legacy 32-bit application support -- only 64-bit applications are allowed -- and niceties such as Windows installers. The result is a remotely managed lightweight Windows Server OS intended for VM and cloud instance deployment.

But Windows Nano Server is mainly for services -- such as DNS server or web server -- that run in the background and don't use the services of a full server OS. This means developers and administrators will need to do their homework and determine whether a workload is appropriate for Nano Server before attempting to deploy the workload in a Nano Server VM or container. For example, an emerging crop of tools such as NanoServerApiScan.exe can help developers and administrators determine whether an application or workload will run on Nano Server.

Next Steps

Support for containers and Azure services coming to Windows Server 2016

Windows Server 2016 guide for systems administrators

Nano Server could pose challenge from management aspect

This was last published in June 2016

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What are the management challenges associated with this new lightweight Windows Server OS?
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