Introduction and strains on IT
Whether you want the servers we're all familiar with or a computing platform that looks more like the cloud, Windows Server 2016 can do that, Jeffrey Snover, the architect behind both Windows Server and the new hybrid cloud Azure Stack, told Techradar Pro.
When CEO Satya Nadella sent the Windows Server team out to talk to customers, they asked what users were worried about and the answers were very consistent, says Snover. "There were too many stories about getting hacked and not knowing about it for months. Security has become a CEO concern."
Hybrid cloud also came up frequently, as something businesses see as a strategic direction for the next one to three years. "Customers told us they want the benefits of public cloud in their own data centres; they want the speed and the agility of PaaS services," he told us.
A lot of that interest is driven by the tensions around technology that leads to shadow IT. "They want us to help them solve the problem of shadow IT. Developers and business leaders need to get things done – if IT can't help, they move around them and they set up problematic shadow IT."
Pulled in different directions
The problem isn't unhelpful IT departments so much as the way that IT is being pulled in two directions, Snover explains. "They have to provide secure IT resources so people can get their jobs done, and they've also got to support business agility and innovation; they want to figure out how to use IT to drive their business forward." He cites studies that say in 2017 more than half of the budget that used to go to IT will be spent outside of formal IT departments, going on public cloud and shadow IT.
Hybrid cloud like Azure Stack – based on Windows Server 2016 – lets them dip their toe in the water, building apps that can run there, or on Azure. "They want to be able to decide whether they're going to run a workload on-premise or in the cloud; they want the deployment flexibility to go where is right for them."
Snover also claims many customers who are asking for hybrid cloud using Windows Server have been trying alternatives and have been disappointed. "They want the right to get it wrong. People are feeling they're building the wrong things. When you find out you're on the wrong road, you need to turn around, no matter how much progress you've made – people have the sense that they're on the wrong road.
"We hear this a lot with OpenStack. Customers say to us, 'now we've got a bunch of people who are experts in GitHub and open source but how does this help us sell more cars? Is this really moving our business forward?'"
Servers, data centres and clouds
Hybrid cloud isn't the only thing you can use Windows Server 2016 for, Snover points out. "If you still need to have a server you can walk up to and manage directly, with Windows Server 2016 there will be a bunch of people that will still do that."
Over the years, Windows Server has evolved from a single server for the office to enterprise networks and data centres, and Snover says the new version is still a good solution for all of that. "If you want a server with the full desktop client experience on a single box [you can do that]. The server you walk up to has the full Windows client experience and we see this being used for very small customers and RDP scenarios.
"We've still invested in the enterprise era servers with improvements for Active Directory and data centres. Server Core is where you'll run your existing headless workloads. You can take your existing apps and they'll just get better because they're running on an operating system that's more secure than it used to be.
"Then you can take those apps and with a little bit of work you can adapt them to use new technologies like containers. But we've also spent a lot of time supporting cloud native applications. The new scenario we've lit up is cloud."
He continues: "Is everybody ready to move to cloud? The answer of course is no, only some are ready to move. But what we've seen is that each of these new eras of server didn't replace the previous eras – each time they started out a new market and that grew."
Containers are a way to move to the increasingly popular DevOps approach. "There are two DevOps models," Snover points out, "and the traditional model has nothing to do with containers. What containers do is enable a refinement of the DevOps model where a bunch of things that used to be done on the live system by the ops team after deployment is now being done by developers in the lab, so change happens further upstream and gets pushed out."
Snover also notes that you shouldn't judge containers by the performance in technical previews of Windows Server. "When we first did containers, the performance was terrible. But then the Windows engineering DNA kicked in and week after week we could see the numbers come down." A container will start in less than a second, he says, and Nano Server itself boots in about two and a half seconds (for comparison, a Windows Server 2012 R2 system can take around ten minutes).
Windows Server 2016 customers are getting the advantage of what Microsoft learned running Azure. Take the changes in Hyper-V: "It used to be that in each release we would match VMware," says Snover. "Now we're not so up on that because we're driven by Azure."
Microsoft also learned a lot by building the Cloud Platform System, pre-built hardware running Azure Pack for private cloud. "We learned how to make sure this runs with low maintenance and low friction. A rolling cluster upgrade was a very hard thing to do; now you can easily patch and upgrade the system and maintain service availability," Snover noted.
The server that cloud built
"Windows Server 2016 takes a lot of the innovation we got from running Azure and makes that cloud innovation mainstream," Snover says. "Today we see a lot of failure in cloud and the people who are successful are the high priests of technology. We're going to take that and mainstream that and do 'cloud for the masses'.
"If you want complete control over your environment, if you want to pick your hardware and run it however you want, if you need unique 'snowflake' servers, Windows Server 2016 is awesome for that too."
- We round up everything you need to know about Windows Server 2016