Going In-Depth with and Getting Ready for Windows Server 2016


Since the reveal of Tech Preview 4, the anticipation and excitement surrounding Windows Server 2016 is growing throughout the IT world. Discover what the new server operating system has to offer and how to prepare for its arrival.

Ed Jones works for Firebrand Training, a Microsoft Gold Learning Partner. He has worked in the IT training and certification industry for the past 5 years. He is a tech enthusiast with experience working with Windows Server, Windows desktop and SharePoint.

Since the reveal of Technical Preview 4 in November 2015, the anticipation and excitement surrounding the official release of Windows Server 2016 is growing throughout the IT world. While no firm date has been officially announced at this time, Windows Server 2016rumors abound of a General Release date at some point in Q3 2016.

Spiceworks has already identified the features IT pros are most looking forward to in Windows Server 2016 as the server operating system's new Hyper-V functionality, PowerShell 5.0, and the prospect of enhanced security features such as Host Guardian Service and shielded VMs.

Microsoft itself states the new server OS offers the ability to "make your vision a reality," so today we'll be taking a closer look at the key features of Windows Server 2016 that have come out in successive Technical Previews to see if the new server operating system is likely to live up to Microsoft’s ambitious vision.

Windows Server 2016 promises to be simple, flexible and open, with a focus on improved core functionality and infrastructure to enable virtualized workloads and an optimized Hyper-V environment and windows containers to run efficiently. There is also an increased focus on security enhancements embedded in the Azure platform, providing identity and access management, encryption, secure networks and threat management.

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 1

The idea of a Technical Preview is to give potential customers and server admins the chance to test out the latest sever software and deploy it to test systems before it becomes officially available — a sort of "try before you buy" concept, if you will.

The first public beta version of Windows Server 2016 (Technical Preview) was released on 1st October 2014, enabling enterprise users to become familiar with the new operating system and features.

Technical Preview 2: Nano Server, Hyper-V and PowerShell 5.0

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 was released in May 2015, giving users their first look at the Nano Server — “a headless, 64-bit only deployment option for Windows Server” — which is essentially the same as the old Server Core, but twenty times smaller and managed using a remote GUI through a browser-based application. This was also good news from a security perspective, as the smaller footprint of the Nano Server means there is less software surface exposed to potential attack.

Other highlights of the TP2 release included noticeable continued investment in making networking as flexible and cost-effective as possible by converging NIC across tenant and RDMA traffic to optimize costs.

PowerShell 5.0 was installed by default on Windows Server 2016 Technical Previews as well as on Windows 10. PowerShell 5.0 includes significant features that extend PowerShell's use, improve its usability and allow you to control and manage Windows-based environments more comprehensively.

Most conveniently, PowerShell 5 is backward-compatible, meaning that scripts and functions designed for earlier PowerShell versions will generally work on 5.0 without the need for changes. It also brings with it the ability to develop by using classes such as syntax and semantics that are similar to other programming languages and a new, structured information stream that can be used to transmit structured data between a script and a hosting environment. There are improvements to the PowerShell integrated scripting environment in TP2 as well.

Both PowerShell 5 and Hyper-V, which is Microsoft’s next-generation data center hypervisor platform for enabling hybrid cloud architectures, came enabled by default on TP2. The upgraded Hyper-V was on preview with a number of beneficial new features such as Linux Secure Boot, rolling Hyper-V cluster upgrade and Virtual Machine Configurations.

Technical Preview 3: Windows Server Containers, AD DS/AD FS Improvements

Window Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 arrived in August 2015 and provided a wide array of new and enhanced features and capabilities spanning server virtualization, storage amenities, server management and automation, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and more, but according to Fahad Al-Riyami of [Microsoft] Inside, the majority of the emphasis was on software-defined networking (SDN) and enhancing gateways for hybrid connectivity.

TP3 also delivered the long-awaited Windows Server Containers, allowing multiple isolated applications to be run on a single system (although we would have to wait a little longer for the arrival of the hotly-anticipated Hyper-V containers in TP4). The Server Containers can be managed from the Docker CLI using the same commands currently used to create and run Docker containers on Linux.

Windows Containers provide application isolation through process and namespace isolation technology by sharing a kernel with the container host and all other containers running on the host.

Active Directory Domain Servers (AD DS) and Active Directory Federation Servers (AD FS) both include new features in Window Server 2016 TP3, as AD DS has undergone improvements to help organizations secure Active Directory environments and provide better identity management.

Improvements to AD FS include a new feature that enables one to configure Federation Services to authenticate users stored in non-AD directories such as LDAP and SQL databases. Together, these new features to AD DS and AD FS will help organizations provide an improved identity management experience on all devices.

Microsoft continued to lay the foundations of its new Hyper-V technology in TP3 by introducing improvements in the ability to manage shielded VMs and guarded hosts with ease in shared environments.

Technical Preview 4: Hyper-V Containers

The big introduction with Technical Preview 4 in November 2015 was Hyper-V containers, offering further deployment options for administrators that can provide increased isolation. Hyper-V Containers encapsulate each container in a lightweight virtual machine and support containerized applications with a greater degree of security by making use of Microsoft’s hypervisor.

The advantage of Hyper-V containers is that they are highly isolated from everything else and can be a great platform on which to run untrusted code or set up new hosting environments, if you’re so inclined. Hyper-V Containers can offer both OS virtualization (container) and machine virtualization (VM) in a slightly lighter-weight configuration and are interchangeable with Windows Server Containers without any modification.

Alongside the introduction of Hyper-V containers, the few issues that were reported with Windows Containers in TP3 — mostly involving application compatibility issues — were addressed and application frameworks became fully functional in TP4, including ASP.Net 3.5 and 4.6.

Azure Stack Technical Preview

In January 2016, Microsoft released its Azure Stack technical preview — a hybrid cloud platform that allows businesses to deliver Azure services from their own data center. The Technical Preview includes capabilities such as compute, networking and storage foundational services and a unified application model to help deliver Azure services in your datacenter.

Users who are already familiar with the previous Azure interface should encounter minimal problems trying to get up to speed with the Azure Stack infrastructure, as the services in Azure Stack can be programmed using the same APIs as the ones available for the Azure public cloud services.

How to Get and Understand Windows Server 2016

The rumored release date for Windows Server 2016 is set to be during the second half of 2016, likely at some point in Q3. An article in The Register acknowledges this timeframe by suggesting the language used by Microsoft to describe "early previews" suggests there’s more work to be done and also, referring back to the Microsoft Server and Cloud Platform Team’s blog post, customer feedback on application and running issues is useful in enabling them to make improvements before General Availability.

Technical Training and Information for Windows Server 2016

While we wait for General Availability though, obviously admins, experts and enthusiasts alike have been able to take advantage of a number of the features and upgrades in all the aforementioned Technical Previews by downloading the latest Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 4, which provides first-hand experience of the new server operating system. The Microsoft Virtual Academy provides a slide and video presentation allowing administrators to become familiar with Windows Server 2016 features.

From a business point of view, in order to have the correct skillset on board to set up and install Windows Server 2016, it is highly recommended for your systems administrator (or similar) to work towards MCSA certification.

Although the MCSA Windows Server 2016 course won’t arrive until 3-6 months post General availability, systems admins can familiarize themselves with the platform by achieving the MCSA Windows Server 2012 course. The course is designed to certify individuals and equip them with the core set of skills to initiate Windows Server 2012, thus reducing your IT costs and delivering more business value in the long-term.

Microsoft offers a wide range of Windows Server certifications from, as a starter, the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) qualification, which covers basic IT infrastructure for those considering a career in technology, to the globally recognized expert level Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) for IT professionals. There are several MCSE certification courses that cover both server and desktop infrastructure, giving professionals all the skills needed to run a highly efficient and modern data center.

It is unlikely that this certification will be updated to Windows Server 2016 until post launch, but many of the topics covered in the current MCSE qualification are transferable to Windows Server 2016 such as desktop virtualization, systems management, storage and networking.Spiceworks: Windows Server 2016 Adoption

Windows Server 2016 Reception

Despite the anticipation surrounding Windows Sever 2016, particularly the deluge of new features, SpiceWorks has identified that IT departments are apparently not in a huge rush to upgrade to the upcoming Server OS. Only 4% of those interviewed said they will adopt Windows Server 2016 as soon as it becomes available, and only 13% plan to adopt it within the first year of its release.

One reason behind this could involve cost. Katherine Noyes suggests that as Windows Server 2016 customers will have to purchase licenses based on a per-core model, they will have to buy licenses for at least 16 cores (or eight two-core packs) for each physical server.

This means that essentially customers will have to buy more licenses than they would have done previously, although the price for a single-processor, 10-core system will remain the same. Peter Bright predicts that Windows Server 2016 will cost 25% more on average to run than Windows Server 2012.

Notwithstanding this, when Windows Server 2016 comes to General Availability, there is no doubt it will be an impressive platform through which to upgrade your server infrastructure. The features unveiled in the Technical Previews such as Hyper-V containers, PowerShell 5.0 and Azure Stack all point towards a modern server operating system that will provide us with improved performance, better security and improved cost-effectiveness (in the long-term) and energy efficiency.

Author Bio

Ed Jones works for Firebrand Training, a Microsoft Gold Learning Partner. He has worked in the IT training and certification industry for the past 5 years. He is a tech enthusiast with experience working with Windows Server, Windows desktop and SharePoint.

This article was originally published on Tuesday Mar 1st 2016
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