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After 20 years of Windows Server, Microsoft looks to agile future

Mary Branscombe | July 29, 2016
Windows Server 2016 still comes with a traditional, graphical server interface, but that’s not the future for the server operating system, according to its chief architect.

“In the past, because of the way we did software, it was a benefit to have everything there. If you needed it, you used it. And if you didn’t need it, you didn’t use it. It wasn’t a big deal.” That kitchen sink approach isn’t realistic any more, he maintains.

“Today, we have so many resources, so why not continue with that model? The answer is that it's all about efficiency. It’s about speed and agility. With Nano Server, when you boot it up, you use half the kernel memory, and that means you can have more and more instances on the same hardware. But it’s also about security. Security has become even more important, so you need something that's absolutely lightweight and has only the features you need and use.”

Addressing two very different markets doesn’t mean compromising on either of them, Snover insists. “The reality is that Windows Server 2016 is great for the cloud era but it's also great as a server for the masses. In fact, it's better now, because now it's really the client experience with the server features added.”

That’s important, because it means that Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 are consistent, which is what Snover says customers asked for. “When we did the technical previews for Windows Server 2016, which didn’t have that client option, customers gave us a very strong message; ‘no, that’s not right – we still need that, we need a great client experience for server.’ ”

There are potential drawbacks to this approach, Snover warns. “The ramification is you can no longer go from ‘server with a desktop’ to Server Core. But it turns out that the ability to do that was important when people weren't sure whether Server Core would meet their needs…. Now we're confident that Server Core has everything people need and they can be successful with it.”

Snover says that Server Core benefits from the work Microsoft has done to create the minimal Nano Server option. “Frankly, the focus on Nano Server has driven the clean-up of the long tail of manageability; because if you can't do it remotely with Nano Server, you can't do it at all.” And yes, that is a big change in what it means to work with Windows Server. “There’s a little bit of Cortés burning his ships,” he admits.

Evolving development models

Another way that Windows Server has stayed relevant for so long is by supporting new application models, from client-server to n-tier, n-tier plus web, and now cloud.

Again, Snover highlights how important it was to make application development available to more businesses. “[In] Windows Server 2003, .NET really allowed that line of business app explosion…. Before that, you could write a VBScript program, but now you could write a real mission critical application because you were freed up from the minutiae of things like memory allocation.”


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