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Windows Server version 1709 hits turbulence upon release

Microsoft designed Windows Server version 1709 for cloud-focused businesses that need up-to-date technologies. So what makes it different from Windows Server 2016?

Enterprises that use DevOps methodologies for advanced cloud-based applications will likely gain a new appreciation...

for Microsoft and Windows Server. That's because the release of Windows Server version 1709, which came out in October, improves container support and has added functions that fortify its software-defined networking capabilities.

Every six months, Microsoft plans to introduce a new edition of Windows Server for the needs of these businesses that want the newest features and updates. Admins need to know what's in Windows Server version 1709 and how it differs from the original Windows Server 2016 release that was introduced in October 2016. Here is a roundup of those changes and several others that are worthy of further scrutiny.

Microsoft makes containers the focus

Microsoft changed the mission of Nano Server in Windows Server version 1709. No longer considered a lighter version of Server Core to host various infrastructure workloads, Nano Server is now only available as a base image for containers. This role change allowed Microsoft to shrink Nano Server to about 80 MB, a drop from about 400 MB. This reduction means Nano Server no longer includes Windows PowerShell, .NET Core and Windows Management Instrumentation by default. Microsoft also removed the servicing stack from Nano Server, so admins have to redeploy the image for every update or patch. And all troubleshooting? That's done in Docker, too.

There are other container improvements in Windows Server version 1709:

  • The Server Core container image is much smaller. According to Microsoft, it is just under 3 GB when it had been nearly 6 GB in the Windows Server 2016 release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version.
  • Windows Server version 1709 supports Linux containers on Hyper-V. These containers act like Docker containers but have kernel isolation provided by Hyper-V to so that they are completely independent. By comparison, traditional containers share a kernel but virtualize the rest of the OS.

For admins with significant investments in containers, these are great changes. For a business without a need for application virtualization, Microsoft says the updated Server Core in the Semi-Annual Channel release is where admins in those enterprises should put their infrastructure workloads.

Say aloha to Project Honolulu

Around the time Microsoft released Windows Server version 1709, the company also provided a technical preview of Project Honolulu -- a free, GUI-based remote server management tool. Project Honolulu makes it easier to manage Server Core for admins who aren't fluent in PowerShell.

Project Honolulu is a responsive web interface that enables admins to manage multiple remote servers, both on premises and in the cloud. It runs on a client machine or on a Windows Server instance and has similar functionality to local Microsoft Management Console-based GUI tools and Server Manager. Admins can use Project Honolulu to manage machines that run Windows Server 2012, including Server Core and the free Hyper-V Server.

Project Honolulu wraps up a number of administrative tools into a unified interface. It makes Server Core management less onerous and improves things to the point where I can recommend Server Core as the preferred installation option for any infrastructure servers you plan to deploy.

Microsoft improves SDN features

Windows Server version 1709 also added enhancements to its networking features, such as these two that were designed specifically for software-defined networking (SDN).

  • This Semi-Annual Channel release extends support for shielded VMs to Linux workloads. Microsoft introduced shielded VMs in Windows Server 2016 RTM. The feature enables these VMs to only run on authentic, verified hypervisor hosts. They remain encrypted and unbootable if an admin tries to access them from another host.
  • Microsoft added Virtual Network Encryption, which enables admins to mark subnets that connect different VMs as "Encryption Enabled" to require nonclear text transmissions over those links.

There were also several improvements in IPv6 support as that technology moves closer to widespread use in production. Those changes include support for domain name system configuration using router advertisements, flow labels for more efficient load balancing and the deprecation of Intra-Site Automatic Tunnel Addressing Protocol and 6to4 support.

Storage Spaces Direct drops from version 1709

In a curious move, Microsoft pulled support for Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) clusters, one of the better aspects of the original Windows Server 2016 release, in Windows Server version 1709.

S2D creates clusters of file servers with directly attached storage. This provides an easier and more cost-effective storage option for companies that would normally take a cluster of servers and attach them to a storage area network or a just a bunch of disks enclosure. S2D displays all of the directly attached disks as one big storage space, which the admin divvies into volumes.

Admins cannot create new S2D clusters on version 1709, and a machine cannot participate in any existing S2D cluster. If you use S2D clusters -- or plan to -- version 1709 is not for you. Microsoft says S2D is alive and well as a technology, but the company just couldn't get it right in time for the 1709 release.

Growing pains for Windows Server

As Microsoft will offer a new version of Windows Server every six months, the removal of S2D should make admins wonder if the company will continue to play feature roulette in the Semi-Annual Channel. If an organization adopts a new feature, what happens if it's pulled in the next release? More conservative businesses might want to wait for Windows Server version 1803 to make sure further features don't fall by the wayside.

This raises another question: If Microsoft can't hit the six-month targets, then why promise them at all? It's too early to make a final judgment, but businesses that aren't all-in on containers might want to wait until version 1803 to make sure other features aren't removed before they commit to the Semi-Annual Channel.

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