When Windows Server 2016 was released last year, one of the features that I myself, and much of the community were excited about was the new installation option called Nano Server. The way I’ve always described Nano Server is that it’s like Windows Server Core, but on steroids. It is a completely gutted, only-what-you-need installation option, and it’s an installation option that really talked to my Linux and open-source roots. I loved the idea of having only what was absolutely necessary installed on a server, not just because of the attack surface reduction, but because of the reduction in software to maintain on the system as well. I remember running Gentoo Linux on some systems simply because it was a “compile from source” type of distribution and I loved the idea of again, only installing the needed bits, and with Nano Server I felt like we had arrived at something resembling that in the Microsoft world as well.

When Nano Server was released, it was stated that it would be the recommended installation path for containers and for core infrastructure workloads as well. This included things like Hyper-V, Storage Spaces Direct, DNS, IIS… and there was talk of more supported roles coming at some point. This was a lot to get excited about for sure! Hyper-V hosts running with a TINY OS image. It was amazing, it was awesome…  and ultimately, not meant to be.

Nano Server Gets Gutted for Infrastructure Workloads

Last week the Windows Server team hit us with THIS bombshell. Here are the key takeaways from the announcement as far as Nano Server is concerned

  • Going forward, Nano Server will be used primarily as a container image.
  • Support for Infrastructure Workloads and Bare-Metal will be removed from Nano Server. (This includes the removal of support for Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct)
  • Windows Server Core will now be the recommended deployment mechanism for Infrastructure roles/features
  • Server Core will also be able to be used as a container image for deployment of traditional applications via container services

You could see some of this coming if you read between the lines in Microsoft’s marketing and what not. The messaging behind Nano never really went further towards infrastructure workloads other than saying its a great installation option for those roles. Installation was difficult, documentation was spread out over several pages, with different UI image builders, and scripted deployment options. It was being used for too many things to be able to keep it as it was, and if I’m really honest with myself, I can understand why this happened.

The concept of something like Nano Server dictates that it be very CLEARLY defined as to what it’s going to be and what it’s going to do. By continuing to add more role and feature support to it, Microsoft was essentially creating another Server Core. Jeff Woolsey from the Hyper-V Product group said it best in that IT Pros using Nano Server for infrastructure wanted more roles/features and more drivers. Devs wanted a smaller footprint for their applications. There was no way to reconcile both of those complaints.

I think Microsoft listened to customer feedback, reviewed telemetry data, and made a decision, that they were not going to continue using Nano Server for infrastructure any longer, and instead they were going to make it the best container image on the market. While it bums me out for my infrastructure stuff, it makes me feel better that it has a VERY specific goal now, and with that, I think Microsoft will succeed in that goal.

So what is the Recommended Installation Option Now?

That leaves us with Server Core as the recommended installation option for infrastructure workloads. I’ve been using Windows Server Core for Hyper-V since the 2008 R2 days and I’ve always found it to fit my needs. Additionally, Microsoft has made a TON of improvements and changes since then like including Server Core in their new Semi-Annual Release Cadence, also announced last week.

If you hadn’t heard, Microsoft will now be bringing core feature updates to Windows Server twice a year, in the spring and fall. This update branch applies to customers that have ALL of the following:

  • Windows Server 2016 Standard or Datacenter
  • Running with the Nano Server or Server Core Deployment Option
  • Active Software Assurance

Also below is a chart from Microsoft detailing the different installation options and their associated channels

Services Branches

Long-Term Servicing Channel

Now I understand that this quicker release cadence isn’t for everyone, and Microsoft gets that too. That’s why they are still providing what they call the Long-term Servicing Channel (LTSC). LTSC is what you’ve been used to using all these years. You install your Windows Server and another big release comes out in a couple of years. In the mean time you get 10 years of support (from the OS release date) on that installed operating system if you don’t decide to upgrade it. This is the best option for those organization that don’t need the latest and greatest features, and perhaps need the most stable branch of server software possible.

What if I already deployed Hyper-V on Nano in Production?

You have support on Nano Server (the Fall 2016 version) until Spring of 2018. You’ll want to migrate those workloads to a Windows Server Core option. Following something similar to the rolling cluster upgrade procedure should help with this process. We actually happen to have a how-to article on that HERE.

Wrap-Up

While it’s a let down to some, I feel better in that the lines are more clearly defined now. We have Server Core for infrastructure and we have Nano for Containers and both of them will get the attention they deserve moving forward.

As always if you have any follow-up questions and/or comments, be sure to leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!