In case you missed it, Microsoft has announced the availability of the first public preview of Windows Server 2019. Now that we’ve all had a chance to read the announcements and maybe take it for a spin, let’s take a closer peek at what all of this will mean.

Remember the Servicing Channels

A while ago, I wrote an article about the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) to explain the Windows Server product releasing on a six-month cadence. Windows Server 2019 belongs to the Long-Term Servicing Channel which only has new releases every few years. It is the direct descendant of Windows Server 2016. However, it brings many features from the SAC into the LTSC. It also showcases many items that have only appeared in Insider Builds.

The presence of the GUI marks the primary difference between LTSC and SAC. In case you’ve heard any rumors or had any concerns about Microsoft removing the GUI in Windows Server, you can lay them to rest right now. Windows Server 2019 has a GUI, as will all LTSC builds into the foreseeable future.

An Overview of Windows Server 2019’s Direction

You can read through the article that I linked above for Microsoft’s take on the new release. I’ll briefly recap the highlights with a few points of my own.

Hybrid Cloud Goal

I have no real idea how much interest small businesses have in hybrid solutions. I doubt that many businesses, regardless of size, have zero cloud footprint anymore. However, an authentic hybrid solution may not (yet?) make sense to the typical small business. But, given the intended multi-year lifespan of LTSC, this might be the version that plugs you in — even if that happens on some future date.

Honestly, I think that this might be the area of Windows Server 2019 with the greatest impact. The line between Azure and on-premises continues to blur and I believe that this release will serve as the gateway.

New Security Features

Windows Server 2019 includes several interesting features. On the Hyper-V front, we will get three new features related to Shielded VMs:

  • VMs running Linux can be shielded
  • If you have administrative credentials to the guest operating system, you will be able to use VMConnect
  • You will be able to designate Encrypted Networks in your software-defined networks to protect inter-server traffic

Outside of Hyper-V, you also get Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection baked right in. If you’ve only met Windows Defender on client platforms, then you’re in for a treat. For us Hyper-V admins, ATP allows us to stop worrying that our antivirus program will trash our Hyper-V hosts or virtual machines.

Advanced Linux Interoperability

If you’ve already tinkered with the Linux Subsystem for Windows on Windows 10, then you’re ready for the next one. Windows Server 2019 sports LSW as well. I have a few ideas for this one myself, but I would really like to hear what other people plan to do with it.

One thing to point out: WSL does not involve containers or virtual machines (so, no nesting concerns, either). WSL really is your Linux distribution running right on top of the Windows kernel. As you can imagine, that involves some trickery to get everything to mesh. You might occasionally detect a seam. For instance, you cannot set up a WSL instance to run daemons and other background operations. However, for situations where it has a use, you certainly can’t argue with this sort of resource usage:

For situations where WSL does not address your Linux problem, you still have containers and virtual machines.

Increased Focus on Hyper-Convergence

Windows Server 2019 does not add a huge amount of capability to Windows Server for hyper-convergence. The greatest new power it offers pertains to management. The Honolulu project includes a high-powered graphical interface for Storage Spaces Direct. In addition to control, it includes displays of performance history.

One thing that Windows Server 2019 does not change is S2D’s target customer. You still need Datacenter Edition and multiple physical systems. In order for those systems to perform acceptably, you’ll need more than gigabit networking as well. With all of S2D’s wonders, small businesses will not be able to afford to buy in anytime soon.

Other Items

If you get a copy of the preview, then you’ll also eventually stumble upon the Insider’s announcement page where you’ll find a few other listed features and goals. I found several enticing items.

In-Place Upgrades

In-place upgrades have been available forever. In your experience, how often have they resulted in a reliable, trouble-free system? For me, not often. Even though you can run an in-place upgrade more quickly, almost everyone chooses to perform a completely new installation and migrate services and data. Prior to virtualization, we typically bought new physical systems as replacements to old and replaced our operating systems instead of upgrading them. Virtualization upset the balance. But, we still chose new installs.

Microsoft has been working very hard to make in-place upgrades into a viable choice. I don’t know how that will work out. It may take many more iterations for them to gain our trust, and it would take very little for them to lose it. I will try this out, but I won’t intentionally try to influence anyone’s expectations.

Cluster Sets

A cluster set is essentially a cluster of clusters. This technology was designed to break individual resources free of any single cluster in order to dramatically increase the scale of clustering.

Of course, I tend to keep my focus more on how Microsoft technologies can help smaller businesses — the kind that won’t even approach the 64-node counter of a standard cluster. That said, I want to investigate some possibilities of the technology to see if it might have some other uses.

My Take on Windows Server 2019

The divergence of SAC from LTSC creates an interesting situation for many of us. If you’re in a small business that doesn’t use SAC, you probably also don’t need many of these new features. Finding them in 2019 probably doesn’t change much for you, either. If you’re in a larger organization that has adopted SAC, then you could just continue using SAC. LTSC adds the protection of long-term support, but that’s about it.

For the smaller organizations, the appeal of the GUI is nice. But, what else is there for you?

In my mind, I’ve begun thinking of these two channels like this:

  • SAC: Use for Microsoft-only uses, such as Active Directory, DHCP, DNS, file serving, Hyper-V, etc.
  • LTSC: Use to operate third-party line-of-business applications

From the feature sets, I don’t really know what Windows Server 2019 gets you — where’s the value-add from an upgrade? I expect that most small and large institutions will take it only organically. However, don’t forget that Microsoft always keeps the greatest focus on the current version of Windows. Aside from security fixes, things just sort of stop happening for older versions.

For those groups, I find two things enticing about Windows Server 2019 over Windows Server 2016:

  • Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection
  • Enhanced support for hybrid cloud

I think that organizations that skew more toward a “medium”-sized organization (no fixed definition exists) will get the most value out of Windows Server 2019. These organizations probably don’t keep up with the rapid release of SAC, but will still want access to the newer features. They get the dual comfort of support and a GUI.

That said, don’t lose track of the hybrid cloud focus. Windows Server 2019 just might start encouraging a wider audience to look into the impressive offerings of Azure.

How to Get Started

It’s time to have some fun! Get your own copy of the Windows Server 2019 Preview and make up your own mind.

Join the Insiders program: https://insider.windows.com/en-us/for-business-getting-started-server/

The keys for the preview:

  • Datacenter Edition: 6XBNX-4JQGW-QX6QG-74P76-72V67
  • Standard Edition: MFY9F-XBN2F-TYFMP-CCV49-RMYVH

The initial public announcement again: https://insider.windows.com/en-us/for-business-getting-started-server/

The Insiders announcement with other details: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Windows-Server-Insiders/Announcing-Windows-Server-2019-Preview-Build-17623/m-p/173715

Things to Remember

I’m never entirely certain how it happens, but some people seem to forget what “preview” means. I want everyone reading this article to keep some things in mind:

  • “Preview” means “pre-release”. “Pre-release” means “not ready for release”. “Not ready for release” means “not production ready”. Do not use this software to hold up important services. Do not expect it to behave all of the time. For instance, when I installed into virtual machines on my 2016 system, the guest OS locked up so hard that VMConnect failed to work and I couldn’t even force the virtual machines offline. I had to reboot the host to get them to work (that fixed them). Preview releases are intended to get lots of people to play with the bits so that they can be massaged into a production-ready product.
  • Preview installs cannot live forever. All of them have a concrete, time-bombed expiration date. Do not become overly attached to your preview installs.
  • Preview releases update frequently. Insiders are already accustomed to that. Regular administrators might find it to be a bit of a shock.
  • More preview releases will come. That would be a good time to test out in-place upgrade, no? You’ll know them by their build numbers. WS2019 starts with build 17623.

Your Mission

Try out the new build. Report back! Don’t report technical details to me though. I won’t mind hearing from you, of course, but I can’t do much for you. Use the Windows Insiders feedback forum: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Windows-Server-Insiders/bd-p/WindowsServerInsiders. However, I’d love to hear your general thoughts about Windows Server 2019. Do the new features work well for you? Disappointed you didn’t get the upgrade you were expecting? Let me know in the comments below.