Microsoft Releases New Version of Windows Server

On the 17th of October, Microsoft dropped the first of its planned biannual channel releases of Windows Server, chirpily called Windows Server, version 1709. Obviously, 1709 does not refer to the year of release anymore, as this would be been prior to the invention of Babbage’s difference engine. No, 1709 refers to the year and month, therefore 2017 and September. This new way of naming upgrade cycles was announced at Microsoft’s Ignite conference, where it informed the world that Windows was now in a CD/CI cycle.

We will see if there is a Windows Server version 1803—a fine vintage.

If we are to see continuous development, what wonderful new features have been deployed other than rolling up previous security fixes and patches? Perhaps the biggest surprise is that 1709 is only available in Server Core configuration. This is an interesting angle. According to Microsoft, it is seeing more and more interaction with servers via APIs though PowerShell. This is OK if your new server is running file and print, or maybe SQL Server, or another core Microsoft program, but maybe not so much for an RDS server or a machine that is going to host legacy applications that need a graphical installation.

Other anomalies have to do with Nano Server, the ultra-lightweight server engine that debuted in Windows 2016. It appears to have been relegated to functioning as a container. Nano host has been deprecated and is replaced by Nano running as a container. That said, this does make sense. It is getting harder and harder to actually use up all of the compute capability of a modern x86/64-based server.

Microsoft has done a lot of work in this edition in the area of container management and configuration, adding support for containers to access persistent data volumes located on Cluster Shared Volumes as well as support for mapping a drive letter to a container; the latter is called SMB global mapping.

In Hyper-V, it has lowered the hardware requirements for HGS (Host Guardian Service); it no longer requires a minimum of a three-node physical cluster. Further, you can now shield Linux VMs, too.

SMB1 is dead (well, almost). It is no longer installed as a default, and this is with regard to both the Windows Server and the Windows 10 version of 1709.

Docker mesh routing is now supported, as is the Docker Linux container. There is also full Jenkins support. Windows Server now has full feature parity with Linux when using Kubernetes.

However, to me, what is more interesting is what is missing.

There is no ability to install 1709 with an Explorer head. This appears to limit the release in terms of utilization use cases. What has really has me scratching my head is the apparent removal of Storage Spaces Direct. This was released with great fanfare with the original release of Server 2016 and is effectively Microsoft HCI play for virtualization. On paper, it was a reasonable 1.0 release. It seems that Microsoft is working hard to add new features to Storage Spaces Direct, and that this likely is the reason it was pulled from the 1709 release. Development is still ongoing with the product, which can be previewed with the Windows Insider builds. It seems that if you are utilizing either RDSH or Storage Spaces Direct, 1709 is not the release for you. What is even more worrying is that the page on features removed or planned for replacement makes no mention of the removal.

Another “gotcha” in the works is that there is no valid upgrade path from 2016 (RS1) to 1709 (RS3). If you attempt to do so, your system will be wiped back to a base install.

All in all, not a very impressive start for Microsoft’s first attempt at a CD version of its server operation system. It is confusing, and the documentation surrounding the release is confusing and full of marketing language rather than concise technical language about what it can and cannot do. Microsoft needs to up its game for the 1803 version. There also needs to be greater clarity surrounding the differences between the biannual releases and the Long-Term Servicing Branch of the product sets.