Over this past weekend, a new version of Windows Server was leaked onto the web - apparently an early build of Server 2016. In addition to the actual build, a presentation deck appeared on the site WZor detailing a couple major features that are part of the new OS. One of the big changes is a new install configuration called Nano Server which has replaced Core Server as the foundation of the OS.
Back in the Windows NT / Server 2003 days, you only had one install option, install everything. This meant that your server was subject to security flaws, bugs, software updates, and reboots due to components you probably don't even use. Starting with Server 2008, Microsoft introduced a new Core installation. The Core was separate from a full install, had no GUI, and came with very few roles and features by default - you then installed what you needed. With the release of Server 2012, Server Core became the base install for every deployment. You could then choose to add various modules on top of the core, including a GUI. This helped to reduce the OS footprint as well as the attack/update surface down to just what you required.
With Server 2016 (at least according to the slide deck), the Core install is no longer the lowest footprint deployment in the hierarchy. A new install option called Nano Server claims to be a "zero footprint" OS meant for cloud infrastructure. According to the deck, no server roles or features are part of the native Nano installation. Instead, standalone roles and features are added outside of the server install similar to a package or application installation. Available roles have been whittled down to key components of cloud systems, namely:
- ASP.NET vNext
- Core CLR
- Containers (new!)
There is no GUI available to the Nano Server, in fact it appears to be a headless deployment which must be controlled 100% remotely (network don't fail me now). As such, new web based tools for common local configuration tasks are being released as well. Things like Disk Management, Task Manager, Events Viewer, Performance Monitor, File Explorer, Control Panel, Device Manager, User Manager and others will now have web based management tools. There even appears to be a web based powershell console available.
The goal here is to reduce the OS footprint and attack/update surface to the bare minimum in order to improve security, reduce patches and reboots, and improve up time. They're adopting the DevOps mantra you may have heard by now, "Treat servers like cattle not pets". Headless cows in this case it seems. And it makes sense. As cloud architecture continues its march towards the new normal, the need to manage individual boxes should decrease in favor of macro management of the entire cluster.
Most Microsoft shops are probably deploying Server Core or Hyper-V Core on the majority of their servers as it is, so this next step will be a welcome one for folks running web applications or virtualized servers today. I'm sure more details will follow as the OS is actually, you know, announced - but for now this is an interesting bit of news which boosts the excitement over the whole vNext version of everything and the new Microsoft attitude.