I’ve been working with, writing about, and training people on the Windows Server platform almost since the beginning. And like other IT pros who work in a Windows-centric world, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. It’s been more than 20 years since Windows NT Server 4.0 first hit the streets and I still remember being impressed with the reliability and ease of use of the platform. Of course, it was even more reliable after you installed Service Pack 1, and SP2, and SP3, and SP4, and SP5, and SP6, and SP6a, all of which were released over a mere three years! What a change from today. Now instead of having to install service packs every six or 12 months or so, Windows Server customers now have two primary release channels to choose from: the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) which was formerly called the Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) where a new major version of Windows Server is released every two to three years (hence the approaching Windows Server 2019, which will replace the current Windows Server 2016 platform) and the new Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) release cadence) where an updated release of Windows Server will come out twice a year, in the spring and the fall, the first SAC release being Windows Server version 1709 where the “17” refers to the year of its release (2017) and the “09” the month i.e. September. (I’ll bet you didn’t know that about the version numbers!) This means of course that the next SAC release of Windows Server should come out before the end of March and be called Windows Server version 1803. And since I happen to be writing this article on March 27, there are only four days left to go. I’ll bet the Windows Server team is sweating bullets at this point.
Which brings me to my take on what’s happening with the Windows Server platform and its upcoming LTSB release of Windows Server 2019 next year. Microsoft has always promised us the sky with each release of the Windows Server platform. And while they often aim for the stratosphere they usually at least reach the tropopause. And that’s no mean feat. Windows Server 2016 is an impressive piece of work with lots of significant improvements in the areas of virtualization, storage, identity, networking, and security. Many of those improvements weren’t quite up to snuff, however, with what customers had expected, so further improvements were made in version 1709 that made Nano Server container images smaller, brought improved awareness of the OS and applications within virtual machines to make virtual machine start ordering better, added support for mapping SMB file shares to drive letters inside containers, added data dedup support to ReFS, incorporated additional features that support Docker, improved network speed with TCP Receive Window Autotuning, adding Dead Gateway Detection, and made various other changes to address certain security vulnerabilities (like removing SMB1 as a default) and improve network security (for example with Virtual Network Encryption).
The question, of course, is why some of these improvements didn’t make it into the original Windows Server 2016. But that’s Microsoft, of course, always shooting for the stars and making it into low-earth orbit instead.
So what are they shooting for with Windows Server 2019? Erin Chapple the director of program management for Windows Server recently posted some tantalizing info on Microsoft’s Windows Server Blog (now part of its Cloud Perspectives Blog) about what new features and improvements will be coming in Windows Server 2019. After reading through Erin’s post and reflecting on its contents, I’ve come up with an initial shortlist of three things that make me excited about Windows Server 2019 and three that leave me kind of snoozing.
Shielded virtual machines (Shielded VMs) will now support virtual machines running Linux. That’s exciting because more and more organizations are using Linux and this will make Windows Server (and thus Microsoft Azure) the hosting platform of choice for enterprises leveraging private, public, or hybrid cloud. Shielded VMs were first introduced in Windows Server 2016 as a way to help protect virtual machines from being compromised by encrypting them with BitLocker using a virtual TPM so they can only be accessed from the guarded fabric.
Embedding Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) is a welcome no-brainer as it will help protect your infrastructure from a wide range of different forms of attacks. Windows Defender ATP is already included in most editions of Windows 10 but it’s definitely needed on the server side as the line continues to blur further between the cloud and the endpoint.
The planned co-release of System Center 2019 together with Windows Server 2019 will also be a big plus since System Center has become the default platform for enterprise management of Windows Server deployments. For many years the System Center suite of management applications seemed to grow piecemeal as Microsoft acquired new products from third-party vendors and tried (often somewhat unsuccessfully) to integrate them into their comprehensive “suite” of System Center applications. So it’s refreshing that now the two platforms, Windows Server and System Center, seem to finally be evolving “in sync” instead of having System Center always trying to catch up (or push forward) Microsoft’s systems management paradigm.
Encrypted Networks will enable administrators to basically flip a switch to protect network layer communications between servers on a network segment. Network encryption like this is essential nowadays and if it’s as easy as is being described then it will be a big improvement from having to mess around with configuring IPsec. On the other hand, this feature will probably only work with Windows Server 2019 so greenfield deployments, especially in large datacenters, will likely be the ones that benefit most from this new capability. So while Encrypted Networks sounds like a great idea, it’s likely to remain unused by organizations whose environments still include previous versions of Windows Server, sort of like the cruise control of my car, which I rarely use because I mostly do urban driving. Nice bell and whistle, though — ding-ding, toot-toot.
Project Honolulu, which is already available as a separate Technical Preview and will soon be “integrated” into Windows Server 2019 sounds like yet another web-based server management effort coming out of Redmond a.k.a. The Wonderful World of GUIs. Maybe I’m just old school but I still say, What’s wrong with the MMC model? MMC let me customize server management using snap-ins, and I’m sure it could easily be extended to managing server workloads running in Microsoft Azure should Microsoft decide to do so. And the MMCs were way more customizable than the Server Manager introduced in Windows Server 2012. My own experience with web-based management tools such as the one currently used for managing virtual machines, networks, and storage in Azure is that their so-called “intelligence” can be way more frustrating than the modest automatic customization capabilities of the ribbon in Microsoft Office. Besides, being built as an HTML5 web application probably means Redmond will start delivering advertisements to us as we administer our Windows Server 2019-based hybrid cloud environment using Honolulu (or whatever it’ll eventually be called).
Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), according to Gartner, is a rapidly growing market trend that should reach $5 billion by next year. Yeah, sure. Remember how Gartner predicted back in 2009 that the netbook market would explode? Let’s face it, industry pundits get it right or wrong with about the same level of accuracy as a coin toss. The industry has been murmuring the “hyper-converged” buzzword for a number of years now, but enterprises don’t seem ready to bite. If anything Microsoft is probably making this one of their key areas of focus in Windows Server 2019 simply to satisfy their server system vendors like HP and Dell and not because customers are crying out for more hyper-converged offerings. After all, IDC reported last year that the worldwide server market declined almost 5 percent in the first quarter of 2017. So vendors that supply server systems to enterprises are probably getting desperate, telling Redmond “Give us something we can sell.”
Your thoughts on Windows Server 2019?
If you haven’t done so yet you can join the Windows Insider program and download the latest Windows Server Insider Preview and Tools. Then tell us what you think about Microsoft’s plans for Windows Server 2019 by using the comments feature below to give us an idea what excites you about Windows Server 2019 and what just leaves you snoring.