In April 2015, Microsoft announced a new feature available in Windows Server 2016 called Nano Server. It is similar to Windows Server Core mode but remarkably smaller. Apparently there are big plans in store for Nano Server. Jeffery Snover, lead architect for Windows Server, consistently stated throughout the Microsoft Ignite event, “Nano Server is the greatest change to Windows Server since Windows NT”. This tiny-sized OS is configured with only the components installed that are needed and nothing else. For example, in the standard version of server with a GUI, if you want to install IIS all you need to do is go into server manager and click the checkbox to add the role and it gets installed. This is because the files necessary to install IIS are already stored in the OS. With Nano Server this is not the case. One of the biggest changes with this version of Windows Server, is there is no GUI, login interface, or remote desktop capability at all. Instead, Nano Server is managed via PowerShell Remoting and WMI. Because this server is set up this way, it will provide some major benefits in a Hyper-V environment once Windows Server 2016 is released:
1. Improved security
The attack surface is much smaller now. There is no Internet Explorer, no Windows Explorer, and no GUI to exploit. The “Windows Ease of Access exploit”, demonstrated in my previous post on how to reset a forgotten Hyper-V admin password with a Windows CD, would not work on a Hyper-V host running Nano Server as there are no GUI components installed. Also, the default ports open with a base install is 12 as opposed to 34 ports open by default with a full Windows GUI Server install. This makes Nano Server a much more secure OS than its predecessors.
2. Lowered costs
Because this server creates such little overhead, the amount of resources needed to run Nano Server VMs on a Hyper-V host will be miniscule. With its potential to lower costs and increase margins, this will be one of the biggest reasons for companies to use Nano Server VMs whenever appropriate. Allowing companies to get the most out of every dollar spent on hardware is huge.
3. Faster boot times
Nano Server is only installed with the components that are going to be used, so the startup time is significantly faster. The boot IO is around 150MB. In fact, at Microsoft Ignite when Snover presented a demo of a Hyper-V Nano Server cluster, the servers were powering up faster than the switch was!
4. Fewer reboots required
IT Admins will no longer be frustrated by unnecessary reboots caused by patching windows components that aren’t even used on their servers. Since only the components needed are installed, the amount of patches and updates that are pushed out to Nano Server will be much less. With the current Nano Server build, the estimated amount of reboots a year are 3, and Microsoft is working diligently to try to get this down to 2. Fewer reboots on Hyper-V hosts and their VMs means less interruptions, which also means less “after hours” work for some environments.
5. Easier remote management
With Nano Server there is no local logon, it will be managed entirely remotely. This direction on Microsoft’s part requires them to focus on improving the remote administration capabilities of Windows Server. They have recently been working on improving some of the remote management aspects that were previously lacking. For example, as part of the Azure stack, there is now a remote task manager that allows admins to connect to VMs and view performance and processes running. This will benefit IT Admins by improving the remote administration experience when managing Hyper-V hosts and VMs.
6. Smaller server image
Nano Server is 20x smaller than the full Windows Server with a GUI. Because of this, storing Nano Server VMs on a SAN or Hyper-V local storage will not consume large amounts of space. Mass deployments of Nano Server VMs will not take as long to install and configure; and copying server images over to Hyper-V nodes will take less time. The small footprint of this OS is what really makes it shine.
Future Roadmap of Nano Server
Microsoft is currently working on adding DSC and package management to Nano Server. As of right now, it is targeted as an OS for born-in-the-cloud applications and cloud OS. However, Microsoft plans to take this a step further and eventually develop Nano Server to become the foundation of Windows Server. It can be installed on physical devices, windows containers, or as a guest OS. With Nano Server still early in development, Microsoft is currently working on adding additional roles and application frameworks and is actively looking for feedback from IT Pros. It can currently run the Hyper-V, failover cluster, and file server roles. To let them know what else you would like to see running on Nano Server pay a visit to the Nano Server forums and voice your request. There is also currently no MSI support in Nano Server. current builds require xcopy or custom PowerShell scripts to perform the registration of applications. An installer for Nano Server is in the works, which will provide install and uninstall capabilities as well as offline and online installation support. If you’re interested in playing around with Nano Server be sure to check out the Windows Server Technical Preview 2 which can be downloaded here. The idea of controlling what is installed on a server down to the very bit makes Nano Server one of the most promising features of Windows Server 2016.