One of the biggest announcements made by Microsoft this year was the Nano Server, the new installation option for Windows Server 2016. It works with the concept of minimal installs, which Microsoft offered earlier as Server Core. But unlike Server Core, Nano Server will be a totally headless installation. Also, you can install Windows UI on the Server Core. This is not possible with Nano Server.
Nano Server's benefits
With private-service providers making advancements regularly in VM (virtual machine) density, Microsoft recognized that the weakest point of Windows Server was how large should the minimum footprint be to run it. The footprint for the installation of the Nano Server was reduced by removing features such as the UI, MSI support, and 32-bit compatibility.
What you are left with is a stripped-down Windows Server that can only run a few applications and services but has improved efficiency. For enterprises that run heavy application or VM workloads, Nano Server lets them increase the VMs they are running without worrying about the overhead of the OS.
Nano Server also benefits from some security improvements because of its stripped-down architecture. Based on the removal of several features, Microsoft says it will need 80 percent fewer reboots and 93 percent fewer critical bulletins.
Microsoft has not just slimmed down the Nano Server for the heck of it. And it didn't strip out the GUI for nothing either. It may take a little effort to switch to the Nano Server, even when you are using automation and PowerShell. But Nano Server will only need one-tenth of the critical patches you would otherwise require.
The improvement here is not that Nano Server requires fewer resources or reboots, though; it is that it is much more secure. Critical patches are basically vulnerabilities that are fixed by Microsoft. This means that there was a vulnerability that they didn't knew about earlier. Fewer patches means increased security.
Now, here are a few things you should know about the Nano Server:
What is it?
Nano Server is a pared-down version of Windows Server, which was developed by Microsoft under a code name, Tuva. It has been designed to run services and also be managed remotely. Microsoft says it is an operating system built with the purpose of running applications and containers that have been born in the cloud.
How is it different?
The biggest difference is that it is 100 percent headless. It doesn't have a GUI. It has a smaller footprint as compared to Windows Server, too. And it is also much smaller than Server Core. The VHD size is supposed to be 93 percent smaller. The smaller OS means fewer components have to be maintained and the number of security exposures are reduced as well. This helps make scalability easier.
Will it have GUI or local management?
Nano Server is not going to have a GUI. Unlike Server Core, it is not going to have a command prompt or PowerShell console either. It will have no local login. It has been designed entirely for supporting services.
Can it run regular applications?
None of the traditional GUI applications can be run on Nano Server. Instead, it has been designed for providing infrastructure services.
What does it run then?
There are a couple of core scenarios available for Nano Server. There is the Server Cloud infrastructure services like Hyper-V, Scale-Out, Hyper-V cluster, etc., which are running on virtual machines, development platforms, and containers that do not require a user interface. It is going to support various different runtimes including Python, Node.js, C#, and Java. It is also API compatible within its own subset of components.
What has been removed?
Apart from dropping command shells and the GUI, Microsoft has also removed support for 32-bit, MSI installers, and various components that were default with the Server Core.
How do you manage everything?
Nano management will be remotely performed with PowerShell and WMI. Microsoft has stated that Nano will use features on demand and deploy image servicing and management. It will also have remote file server support, remote debugging, and remote script authoring. There is also a new Nano Server management tool that is web-based.
It is not just application styles and development models that are changing. Even server hardware has come a long way in the last few years. There is a dramatic revolution everywhere. Whether it is memory architecture, SoC's, or nonvolatile memory technology, everything is advancing rapidly.
Also, it is the data center that is becoming more radical as opposed to rack-style architecture. You now have a number of components attached to networks. There are changes happening at every layer.
This is probably why Microsoft has decided to provide complete support. This is one of the most paramount changes. Containers surprised everyone. People were expecting container washing, but they got so much more. That is exactly how it is with Nano Server, too.
This is not a new version of Windows Server; it is only a new way to use it that has been made possible with multiple changes to the code. It is a major refactoring and the best 64-bit-only deployment option. It is a subset of the Windows Server that is API compatible. It is not a new server and it is still a Windows Server, and is compatible with all included components. There just aren't too many.
There are tons of other things about Nano Server. It is 20 times smaller compared to the Server Core. The disk space required is just 410MB instead of 8.3 GB. Setups that used to take 300 seconds take just 40 seconds now. These statistics were taken from the preview of Nano Server. The performance pass will certainly see the numbers changing. They might go up, they might go down. But still, they will be a major improvement to the Windows Server.