Windows Server-as-a-service: Microsoft lays out Server 2016’s future

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Microsoft has released details of how Windows Server 2016 will be released and maintained, and as with Windows 10 it includes a “Windows as a service” model of frequent operating system updates.

Windows Server 2016 will be launched at the company’s Ignite conference, which runs from September 26 to 30 in Atlanta, Georgia. As with the current release, there will be three editions: Datacenter, Standard and Essentials.

Several things are new, though. One is that Windows Server 2016 will be priced and licensed per core, rather than per physical processor.

Another is that the Datacenter and Standard editions have a new installation option called Nano Server, which is a stripped-down version designed for lightweight virtual machines, or a low-overhead host for virtual machines. Nano Server has no GUI and can only be managed remotely.

There are also changes to the way Windows Server is serviced. Datacenter and Standard can be installed either as Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) – with five years of mainstream support and five years of extended support – or as Current Branch for Business (CBB), in which case you can expect feature updates two or three times a year. These terms are familiar from Microsoft’s Windows 10 release, which follows a similar pattern.

When it comes to a Nano Server installation though, Microsoft is only offering CBB. You will have to upgrade regularly to a release with new features, or it will not be supported.

“Only two CBB releases will be serviced at any given time, therefore when the third Nano Server release comes out, you will need to move off of #1 as it will no longer be serviced. When #4 comes out, you will need to move off of #2, and so on,” explains the team in a blog post.

A further twist is that because Nano Server is CBB only, Microsoft is disallowing its use in production unless you have Software Assurance, an enhanced (and more expensive) license which permits version upgrades.

Microsoft’s licensing guide also shows that use of Windows Server Containers, a key new feature, is limited to two instances with the Standard Edition if you use the better-isolated Hyper-V containers. Non Hyper-V containers are unlimited with either edition.

Features reserved for the Datacenter edition include Storage Spaces Direct, Storage Replica, software defined networking stack, and shielded virtual machines.

The per-core pricing for Windows Server 2016 requires a minimum of eight 2‑core licenses for each physical server. In its licensing guide, Microsoft states that “the price of 16‑core licenses of Windows Server 2016 Datacenter and Standard Editions will be the same price as the 2‑processor license of the corresponding editions of the Windows Server 2012‑R2 version.”

One piece of good news though: there will still be a free Hyper-V Server Edition if all you need is the hypervisor. ®

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