Servicing Channels Explained

Hello all! As you might imagine, at a company like Microsoft we get a lot of questions. That's a crazy thought, right? You also might be able to imagine that we get a lot of internal emails. Even crazier, right?! In some of our internal emails, we get a Question of the Day. Sometimes these are for internal eyes only, but sometimes the information is for the world at large. I'm blogging today to share a case where the question posted resulted in information that could benefit everyone.

This question is regarding our new servicing channels, which – at first – can be kind of confusing. This Question of the Day with its answer comes from Jeff Woolsey, one of our Principal Program Managers. I found his answer really clears up the differences between the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) and the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC).

Read on and let me know what you think!

Question of the Day

Q: My customer has questions about the Windows Server 2016, Windows Server version, 1709 and Windows Server version 1803. Can I use Windows Update or WSUS to update from Windows Server 2016 to Windows Server version 1709 or 1803?

A: Here's how the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) and the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) work for Windows Server.

Windows Server 2016 is LTSC only

  • LTSC servicing is monthly cumulative bug fixes and security updates only, no features delivered via servicing. No features.
  • Reread #1.
  • LTSC is for:
    • Traditional apps: Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, SAP, Oracle, Line of Business apps
    • Infrastructure workloads like Hyper-V, Software Defined Storage, Software Defined Networking
    • General purpose workloads: File Servers, Domain Controllers, Print Servers
  • LTSC can be used for containers, but your developers will be unhappy because they will want the frequent updates being delivering in the SAC.
  • SUPPORT: LTSC is supported for 5 Years of Mainstream Support and 5 Years of Extended Support. This is the model Microsoft has used for Windows Server going back almost 20 years.
  • LTSC is available via all channels: FPP, OEM, VL, EDU

To summarize, the LTSC is the way we've been delivering Windows Server for almost 20 years. The LTSC is "business as usual."

Windows Server, version <xxxx> is SAC

  1. SAC contains new features and new innovation targeted for new cloud apps and containers along with monthly cumulative bug fixes and security updates.
    1. New features and innovation get rolled into the next LTSC. See picture below.
  2. SAC is for containers and new cloud apps.
  3. SUPPORT: SAC is supported for 18 MONTHS. Yes, MONTHS.
    1. Because SAC is supported for 18 MONTHS, it's ideal for containers where DevOps simply changes out the container base image and rebuilds the container. This process usually takes MINUTES if not less.
    2. Because SAC is supported for 18 MONTHS, customers have overwhelmingly told us they will not use this channel for infrastructure or for traditional workloads because no one upgrades their Exchange, SAP or Storage Infrastructure every 18 months.
  4. SAC is available to customers via Software Assurance or via Azure

Lastly, customers can and should use both channels. For Software Assurance and Azure customers, they have the advantage of being able to use both as appropriate and we encourage it.

  • Use LTSC for your traditional apps (Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, Oracle, SAP, etc.)
  • Use SAC for your new container and cloud apps or for your lift and shift scenarios modernizing legacy apps

Cheers, -Jeff


Other points:

  1. There is no such thing as Windows Server 2016 SAC. It does not exist. Windows Server 2016 is LTSC only.
  2. There is no such thing as Windows Server 2016 1709 or Windows Server 2016 1803. The SAC versions are Windows Server, version 1709 and Windows Server, version 1803 respectively.
  3. SAC is not an update of LTSC, it is a different channel. It is not pushed down via WU or available via WSUS. It requires a new installation. This is logical because SAC and LTSC target different scenarios with different support lifecycles. SAC targets containers and fast-moving application where an 18-month support lifecycle is easily manageable, while LTSC targets traditional application are deployed and a 10 year support lifecycle is desirable.

The LTSC and SAC Relationship

To better understand the relationship between the two channels see the diagram below. Notice that LTSC and SAC will simultaneously ship and then SAC will continue forward being release twice a year. That innovation is focused on containers and cloud applications. Within 2-3 years, the two release sync again and all of the application innovation from the SAC releases are rolled into the next LTSC release along with innovation for traditional apps and infrastructure roles.

In terms of upgrades, we will offer in-place upgrades from Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2016 to Windows Server 2019 as they are both part of the same channel. In terms of the SAC channel, containers are serviced differently than traditional deployments. With containers, upgrading the base involves replacing the base image and rebuilding the container which is part of a continuous integration, continuous development model.

Servicing Channels

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