Reflections on windows of the office block

What is the future of Windows Server?

October 18, 2017

Microsoft revealed various features that give a vision into their strategy at its annual Ignite event.

Microsoft are keen to be seen as a company that have a seamless integration between on-premise Windows servers and the cloud. It is now taking on VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS) directly with its approach, called Azure Stack.

At the Ignite conference, Microsoft showcased their new Windows Server and cloud features, next to a range of cloud-related enhancements.

It has been reported in the past that the Azure Stack systems from Dell, EMC, HPE and Lenovo are now shipping. This is Microsoft’s way of attempting to bridge the on-premise and Azure worlds with an on-premise operating system and software stacks which copies its own public Azure cloud.

In Microsoft’s latest quarterly financial results, CEO Satya Nadella said: “Azure Stack extends Azure to enable developers to build and deploy applications the same way whether they run on the intelligent cloud or at the intelligent edge, so customers can meet any regulatory requirement and bring cloud applications to remote or disconnected locations like cruise ships or oil rigs.”

The key part of his message is about deployment. In a blog describing Azure Stack, Mark Jewett, director of product marketing, cloud platform at Microsoft, wrote: “It enables a consistent development experience for cloud-native and traditional applications, with the flexibility to deploy in the cloud, on-premise, or at the edge.”

Microsoft are working on browser-based server management via Project Honolulu, this is now in technical preview to provide consistency from an IT management perspective.

Project Honolulu is supporting server administrators in circumstances where a server application is installed somewhere on the corporate network or even on a client PC, for remote admin via a web browser. To manage this the server administrator needs to install agents on the servers or virtual machines. (VMs)

One of the key features is where a user can connect with alternate credentials, essentially it is now possible to manage servers that are not domain joined or where the current user does not have admin rights. The underlying protocols are remote PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI).

There is greater scope of Project Honolulu in comparison to the current desktop Server Manager application. Extensions include a file explorer, registry editor, process viewer and more. This will be a free add-on for Server 2012 and higher.

Browsers key for hybrid management

It appears a browser-based management is more than likely to be the norm for Windows Server in the future. It is a better fit for server which do not have desktop GUI and integrates with the Azure portal for VMs in Microsoft’s cloud.

New Windows Server release? Microsoft didn’t reveal a date, however they did say there would be a new long-term servicing release every two or three years. This indicates there should be a release of Windows Server in 2018 or 2019.

Interim wise, Software Assurance customers can choose quicker updates via a semi-annual channel.

The releases do not have desktop GUI, however they do bring new features to Windows Server Core and Nano Server.

The new release at Ignite, Windows Server 1709, includes the Windows Subsystem for Linux (as seen on Windows 10) as well as support for Linux containers with Hyper-V isolation. These semi-annual releases are only supported for 18 months.

Also at the Ignite event, Microsoft announced an enhanced Azure Security Centre, this is to bridge cloud and on-premise Windows server security.

It was a service originally for monitoring the health & security of Azure VMs, however it has now been extended to on-premise servers as well, it can be accessed via a downloadable agent. Essentially, the same agent is used by Operations Management Suite (OMS) in System Center. Microsoft provides a dashboard for monitoring patch status, security threats, unexpected activity and other key indicators. Administrators can also create custom alerts, whitelist which applications are allowed to run, control when remote desktop access is allowed, and more. The cost is $15 per node per month.

Consistency is becoming part of Microsoft’s approach to its file system.

Azure File Sync was the final Windows Server enhancement which was demoed at the Ignite event, this is also now on preview. It seems Microsoft are trying to take on Box and DropBox. Azure File Sync allows users to connect to folders on Windows Server, including on-premise servers, where the storage is actually on Azure. These folders can then be further shared to users on the local network

Multiple servers in different locations can share the same folders, Azure File Sync caches files locally even for fast access even over poor connections. Support for sparse files means that files download on-demand.

Microsoft are offering differently levels of redundancy on Azure, this is a trade-off between resilience and cost. The quality of security remains the same. However, there are some complications in the details, like avoiding anti-virus applications that force all the files to download locally, in principle the service is an easier way to extend storage to the cloud while keeping performance of local file shares.