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This blog post was authored by Erin Chapple, General Manager, Windows Server.

Over the years, our conversations with customers about their application and datacenter needs have really evolved, but the one constant is the accelerating pace of change. Digital transformation is changing the way business is done and the most competitive organizations react quickly to new opportunities, which usually involves agile applications. IT leaders frequently ask me how Windows Server is evolving to meet this new reality and how they can take advantage of new innovations at the pace their business demands.

Today, I’d like to share more details about our new model of delivering more frequent releases of Windows Server. Starting this fall, we plan to deliver two feature updates per year, each spring and fall, aligning to the Windows and Office Semi-annual Channel release cycle. This option provides opportunity for customers who are innovating quickly to take advantage of new operating system capabilities at a faster pace, both in applications – particularly those built on containers and microservices, as well as in the software-defined hybrid datacenter. System Center will also be participating in the Semi-annual Channel and have shared more information in their blog today.

Nano Server and containers – No such thing as “too small”

Last month at Microsoft Build we announced a number of great developer and container related innovations that will be coming as part of this upcoming feature update, including a new version of Nano Server. Since our first release of Nano Server last year, we’ve spent a lot of time with customers to understand how they’re using Nano Server and where they want to see future investments. Two things were very clear:

  1. Using Nano Server for containers is their highest priority.
  2. When it comes to containers, smaller is better.

Based on that feedback, we are making an important change to Nano Server. This next release will focus on making Nano Server the very best container image possible. From these changes, customers will now see the Nano Server images shrink in size by more than 50 percent, further decreasing startup times and improving container density. As part of this effort to focus on containers, we will be removing the functionality for infrastructure-related roles. Instead of using Nano Server for these scenarios, we recommend deploying the Server Core installation option, which includes all the roles and features you would need. These changes to Nano Server, combined with the new application innovations in .NET Core 2.0 which enables customers to use more of their code in more places, make Nano Server the best option for new container-based development.

In addition to these Nano Server investments, we’re also delivering application innovations to support Linux containers and workloads natively on Windows Server. We’re extending the Hyper-V isolation capability, introduced with the 2016 release, to Linux containers as well, so now you can run Linux containers on Windows Server. This means customers will no longer have to deploy two separate container infrastructures to support both their Windows and Linux-based applications. We’re also bringing the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), commonly known as Bash on Windows, to Windows Server. This unique combination allows developer and application administrators to use the same scripts, tools, procedures and container images they have been using for Linux containers on their Windows Server container host.

Server Core – Also coming to the Semi-annual Channel

I am also pleased to announce that Server Core will now be included in the Semi-annual Channel. Server Core is a “headless” installation option of the operating system which includes all the roles and features needed to run datacenter servers and containerized traditional applications.

Moving forward, Server Core will be the recommended choice for hosting your virtual machines as well as your containers – which can be running a Nano Server container image, a Server Core container image, or even Linux container images. This makes Server Core the ideal platform to support the very popular “lift-and-shift” scenario of moving legacy applications to containerized deployments, often running in Azure, for increased performance and manageability with reduced costs.

Server Core is also our recommended option for infrastructure workloads. Many customers don’t realize that Server Core is the base image that runs Azure and Azure Stack. This means the investments we make in Windows Server for Azure can be made available to customers to use in their own datacenters. This makes Server Core a great choice for Azure customers who like the idea of consistent technologies between their datacenter and the cloud. One example of this in the upcoming feature update is the cluster sets functionality for increased scale of hyper-converged deployments. We’re also continuing to add security investments such as the ability to quickly encrypt network segments on their software-defined networking infrastructure per their security and compliance needs. You can expect new features to continue to optimize efficiency, performance and security for software-defined datacenters.

Accessing Windows Server in the Semi-annual Channel

There are two ways to get access to Windows Server in the Semi-annual Channel:

  • Windows Server Standard or Datacenter customers who are covered by Software Assurance will automatically have access to Semi-annual Channel releases as they are made available. Servers without Software Assurance do not have rights to the Semi-annual Channel releases.
  • Customers can also access these new Windows Server images in Azure or other cloud and hosting environments. Plus, if you have existing Windows Server licenses with Software Assurance, you should take advantage of the savings (up to 40%!) when you use the Azure Hybrid Use Benefit.

With the release of Windows Server 2016, we started the process of making our monthly updates cumulative. This means when you update the server, you know all prior updates have been applied. So the more active cadence of software release and deployment has already begun and will continue for Semi-annual Channel releases as well. As part of this process we also want to enable flexibility for organizations adopting this model, so we’ve enabled them to skip one of the semi-annual releases and wait to upgrade until the next release.

You can read more details on this new more frequent release cadence at a new article published on our website: Windows Server Semi-annual Channel Overview.

Semi-annual Channel

(Windows Server)

Long-term Servicing Channel

(Windows Server 2016)

Nano Server

Yes

No

Server Core

Yes

Yes

Server with Desktop Experience

No

Yes

 

For workloads that require longer term stability and predictability, Windows Server 2016 is a great option. This is the latest release from our long-term servicing channel (LTSC) and it is supported for 10 years, or up to 16 years if you purchase Premium Assurance. In the Semi-annual Channel, feature updates are cumulative, so each release builds on the prior one and adds new capabilities, which ultimately culminates in the next LTSC release.

Windows Server previews coming soon to the Windows Insiders Program. Sign up today!

While Windows Server has always evolved to meet the changing needs of our customers, the next phase truly depends on you. This new model provides more opportunity than ever before for you to influence the direction of Windows Server. I am looking forward to your feedback and partnership as we deliver the next generation of OS technology to support the applications and infrastructure innovation you need!

Becoming a part of the Windows Insider program will give you the opportunity to test pre-release code, provide feedback, and really influence how we develop our products. You can also join the discussion on the new Windows Server Tech Community, where you can ask questions and share ideas with other customers and experts, including Microsoft engineers and MVPs.

You can read more on this new more frequent release cadence as well as details on how to sign up for the Windows Insiders program at a new article published on our website: Windows Server Semi-annual Channel Overview.

We look forward to hearing from you!