This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2016 conference coverage

Microsoft slates Windows Server 2016 availability for mid-October

Microsoft dedicated its opening keynote to the benefits of Azure, but IT pros say the company's on-ramp to the cloud still needs some work.

Amid the fanfare around Microsoft's Azure cloud platform this week is the imminent release of Windows Server 2016, but many IT pros may not be ready to adopt some of the new features in the server operating system.

Almost lost in a cloud-heavy opening keynote at Microsoft's 2016 Ignite conference was news that Windows Server 2016 is now available for evaluation and will be generally available in mid-October.

The new server operating system is "a major enhancement of Windows Server. It's cloud ready and incorporates a lot of the deep learning we've had running our own cloud with Azure, including the core capabilities you need when running a software defined data center," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group.

The Nano Server deployment option and support for Docker containers would make it "incredibly easy for developers and IT administrators to leverage container based deployments using Windows Server 2016," said Guthrie.

But not everyone tasked with managing a Windows environment shares Guthrie's optimism. Nano Server is a refactored version of Windows Server that has the advantage of a very small size, which makes it quick to deploy and less prone to vulnerabilities. However, removing features such as a graphical user interface means managing Nano Server will require some proficiency with PowerShell scripting.

"You won't get anywhere with Nano Server if you're not comfortable with PowerShell," said Wes Miller, research analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "We will see a fracturing of the IT pro realm where some people are going to realize there's a benefit to starting something new and learning PowerShell."

Administrators tasked with managing both Nano Server and containers may resist this new way of deployment where there are no familiar confines of a desktop environment and click-through menus.

In addition to these technical hurdles, Nano Server will require Software Assurance and will follow the Current Branch for Business (CBB) servicing model. With CBB servicing for Nano Server, Microsoft plans to deliver two to three feature updates per year. While these updates are not installed automatically, Microsoft said Nano Server cannot be more than two CBB releases behind, or else it will not be supported.

"What I can build with Nano Server is different. How it's serviced is different. How I license it is different," Miller said. "There are a lot of things admins will have to think about if they're in love with the idea of Nano. If they haven't looked deeply, they may get surprised."

Microsoft's cloud pitch needs work

While Microsoft pushed cloud adoption at every opportunity in the opening keynote at Ignite, many administrators continue to have their feet firmly on the ground.

"We haven't really got into [the cloud]," said Harjit Dhaliwal, senior systems administrator at the University of Vermont who said his infrastructure resides at the university's data center and isn't likely to change soon.

Being in higher education, as well as a public entity, "we're a little hesitant with cloud infrastructure because of a lot of legalities and confidentiality things," Dhaliwal said. "We have Office 365 for faculty and students, but we don't do much more than that. ... We may get there eventually, but at the moment, no."

Guthrie touted the new enhanced security features of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2016, such as BitLocker encryption and Host Guardian Service, to ease the concerns organizations may have when moving data to the cloud. But another possible reason for this opposition is the lack of uniformity between Microsoft's Azure platform and Hyper-V, said Miller.

"There's a little confusion because virtualization technology in Azure VMs and the virtualization technology in Hyper-V on premises are not one-for-one. They're still disparate," he said "Microsoft is making strides to make the moving back and forth seamless, but they're still different technologies. They operate differently. You pay for them in different ways."

Many organizations may be uneasy putting data in the public cloud for a number of reasons, but a hybrid cloud on Azure Stack may be the way Microsoft chips away at this resistance.

John Joyner, senior director of technology at managed services provider ClearPointe, said he saw a large number of companies at Ignite that had strong interest in Azure Stack, which had its second technical preview released at the start of the show.

"There are many large customers that can go to 100% to PaaS and can envision a future of no data center that they own," Joyner said. "That's the correct goal for many industries."

For other industries -- particularly government, finance, pharmaceutical, health care -- there are valid arguments against going 100% public cloud. "They are very, very interested in Azure Stack ... because they see the writing on the wall and they don't want to be left behind," he said.

 Tom Walat is the site editor for Write to him at [email protected] or follow @TomWalatTT on Twitter.

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