Microsoft prepares Windows Server 2016 for the container age

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With the next release of Windows Server, Microsoft will equip its enterprise customers to take advantage of the container revolution.

The next preview release of Windows Server 2016, due by the middle of the year, will offer the first glimpse into how its container system will operate. Microsoft is demonstrating these new container technologies at its Ignite conference for IT professionals, held this week in Chicago.

“One of the big trends we’re seeing is the notion of microservices and containers,” explained Mike Schutz, Microsoft general manager of product marketing for servers and tools. “It provides a lot of flexibility for how you deploy” your applications, he said.

Although container technologies have been around for decades, they gained immensely in popularity over the past year or so with the release of the Docker open source container software.

Developers and administrators can package applications and components within containers so they can be easily moved around across different servers. Unlike a full virtual machine, which comes with its own OS, containers rely on the OS of its host server, which both makes them both lighter and faster to deploy than full virtual machines.

In particular, the growth of large-scale Internet services, which need to be scaled up or down to meet variable usage demands, has been a big driver in container use, Schutz said. Both Microsoft and Google have used containers in their cloud operations for years. Containers also speed the development cycle, Schutz explained. A developer can build an application on a laptop, then quickly move it to testing and then to production servers or the cloud for deployment.

With Windows Server 2016, Microsoft is preparing the groundwork for easy use of containers by businesses.

The OS will support Docker-based containers, which will run on a Linux kernel running on a Hyper-V virtual machine. It will also support Microsoft’s recently announced Windows Hyper-V Containers, which can run directly on the server’s own Windows OS.

In addition to running directly on Windows, which Docker can not do, Hyper-V Containers are more isolated from one another, thanks to the Hyper-V virtualization technology. The Docker software has been criticized for inadequate security.

Users can deploy the Docker software to manage both Linux and Windows containers from the same set of command line tools.

The container-based approach to managing applications has led to the rise of the concept of microservices, Schutz said. Complex applications can be divided into different components, with each component, such as the database or the Web server, installed in a separate container.

“You can update any one of those of the components, without worrying about the availability of the other components,” Schutz said. “Additionally, each of those components can be scaled independently of one another. You can create a bunch of instances of a Web server, without having to scale out the data tier unless you needed to.”

To help establish a microservices-based architecture, the company is also preparing a stripped down version of Windows Server, about a 20th of the size of the full OS, dedicated to running only containers. The Nano Server “strips out the GUI and the things people don’t need when trying to run a cloud-based infrastructure,” Schutz said. The Nano Server can be quicker to deploy, take up less disk space, and will be simpler to update.

Microsoft released a preview of the Nano Server this week, with the second preview release of Windows Server 2016.

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