Windows Server 2016, Microsoft’s newest server operating system, has the potential to be a big hit with businesses, IT professionals, and users. Developed alongside Windows 10, the Windows Server team worked closely with the System Center and Azure teams to establish a tightly-knit ecosystem. The end result delivers a seamless Microsoft experience from beginning to end; it bridges familiar technologies such as Active Directory and virtualization with modern infrastructure concepts, like containerization, federated services, and cloud-based services.

For the latest information on Windows Server 2016, check this article periodically, as this “living” guide will be updated when Microsoft releases new information about the OS.

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Executive summary

  • What is Windows Server 2016? Windows Server 2016 is Microsoft’s latest iteration of its server line of operating systems and the successor to Windows Server 2012 R2.
  • Why does Windows Server 2016 matter? Windows Server 2016 includes a number of new features to its core foundation, including identity management and enhanced security capabilities to ensure data and access to data maintains its integrity from end to end, regardless of whether it’s stored locally or in the cloud.
  • Who does Windows Server 2016 affect? Businesses relying on Microsoft services to empower their business functions, and the IT pros that are responsible for managing this infrastructure.
  • When was Windows Server 2016 released? Microsoft released Windows Server 2016 on October 12, 2016, ending development of its software cycle and making the final code or “gold master” generally available for download.
  • How can I get Windows Server 2016? Windows Server 2016 is available for purchase and download directly from Microsoft’s website and authorized resellers worldwide.

SEE: Server deployment/migration checklist (Tech Pro Research)

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What is Windows Server 2016?

Released initially as a Technical Preview on October 1, 2014, Windows Server 2016 was available for download directly from Microsoft for free as part of a public beta test. Upon reaching its gold master status, Microsoft made its Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version available on September 26, 2016. The latest release of Microsoft’s Windows Server operating system was delivered for general availability on October 12, 2016 (Figure A).

Figure A

Microsoft’s goal with Windows Server 2016 is to further assimilate local resources with public and private cloud infrastructures to provide a greater degree of manageability over various computing environments (virtualized and physical), while keeping it seamless for businesses and users to be productive. The Windows Server 2016 team worked alongside the System Center team to integrate services and to extend coherence.

Windows Server 2016 includes several important changes to the core operating system and many new features in an effort to double down on the security of Microsoft’s products, as well as the data being used by endpoints. New and upgraded features include the following.

  • Nano Server: Similar to Windows Server Core mode, a Nano Server must be remotely administered, as it provides no local logon capability and only supports 64-bit applications. Nano Server is optimized for use in private clouds and data centers, as well as running web services, such as DNS or IIS.
  • Windows containers: Unlike virtual machines, containers allow for operating system-level virtualization by providing just enough access to the OS, libraries, and underlying resources to host applications in an isolated user-space.
  • Active Directory Domain Services: Privileged Access Management (PAM) helps to address the theft of credentials by working with Microsoft Identity Manager (MIM) to protect the Active Directory (AD) forest from accounts with privileged access. Additionally, new processes are in place for requesting administrative access and monitoring of such accounts, including the expiring links feature, which limits the administrative window period based on a specified time frame.
  • Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) continues to provide simple, secure identity federation and Single Sign-On (SSO) between ADFS-secured enterprises and partner organizations. New in 2016 is the ability to authenticate users stored in LDAP or cloud-based providers.
  • Hyper-V introduces hot management of virtual networking adapters and memory for virtual machines. For security-minded administrators, Windows Server 2016 includes shielded virtual machines that minimize tampering with or the theft of data and virtual machine states by encrypting both and preventing the inspection of video signals and disks.
  • Windows Defender: Microsoft’s Windows Server Antimalware application is installed by default in Windows Server 2016 in an effort to detect and neutralize malware threats in real-time with automatic updating.
  • Storage Spaces Direct enables the building of high-availability storage from local storage systems, including JBODs stored locally or networked as part of a storage pool.
  • PowerShell 5.0: Continuing the trend towards being Microsoft’s de facto management terminal, PowerShell retains its backwards compatibility while introducing new cmdlets and modules for remote management and scripting of clients, servers, and applications.

In addition to the new features, the installation method has been modified so that, by default, the Server Core versions of the OS are installed. Introduced in Windows Server 2008, Core refers to a hardening of the OS by which the attack surface of the server is minimized by removing the GUI and any unnecessary optional installations.

This has been an optional install method in previous iterations of Windows Server, and now in Windows Server 2016, it is the default option. The full install, or “Desktop Experience” version, is still available as an option during the initial installation process for users that require the additional resources (Figure B).

Figure B

Windows Server, version 1709

On October 17, 2017, Microsoft released Windows Server, version 1709 as part of its announced Semi-Annual Channel releases. This version includes new features and advancements for Nano Server, virtualization, and containerization, and it adds support for managing Linux subsystems.

  • Nano Container: Nano Server, introduced in previous versions of Windows Server, has been deprecated and replaced by Nano Container. Essentially, a Nano running within a container image, bringing with it an almost 80% reduction in image size.
  • Server Core as a container: The Server Core container image is almost 60% smaller, while being further optimized for life-and-shift scenarios, as well as migrating applications into containers.
  • Linux support: By installing the optional Windows Subsystem for Linux feature, users can download, install, and run Linux distributions on Windows Server.
  • Software-defined networking: One of the newest features is the encryption of traffic between virtual machines on a virtual switch, utilizing Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) to encrypt packets between VMs on encryption-enabled subnets to prevent eavesdropping, tampering, and forgery of data in transit.
  • Docker support: Docker’s container-as-a-service was already allowed in Windows Server 2016; in version 1709, you can install Docker natively, and support Windows-based and Linux-based Docker containers from within Windows.
  • Storage Replica: The Storage Replica protections added in Windows Server 2016 have been expanded to include Test Failover, which mounts snapshots of replicated storage for temporary testing or backup purposes. Also included is Project Honolulu support, a graphical management console for server-to-server replication, which previously required PowerShell to manage.

Windows Server 2016 Editions

Windows Server 2016 is available in Standard and Datacenter Editions. Additionally, Microsoft has released Hyper-V Server 2016, which is a hypervisor that installs on bare-metal servers to run multiple virtualized OSes. Windows Server Essentials 2016 brings the Windows Server infrastructure to small businesses; this edition allows these organizations not to worry about complex CAL licensing requirements.

System requirements:

  • Processor: 1.4Ghz 64-bit processor
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Disk Space: 32 GB
  • Network: Gigabit (10/100/1000baseT) Ethernet adapter
  • Optical Storage: DVD drive (if installing the OS from DVD media)
  • Video: Super VGA (1024 x 768) or higher-resolution (optional)
  • Input Devices: Keyboard and mouse (optional)
  • Internet: Broadband access (optional)

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Why does Windows Server 2016 matter?

Just like with Windows 10 where Microsoft recreated much of the underlying operating system, taking into account the change in landscape brought on by smartphones and tablets, Windows Server 2016 represents the culmination of several principles: Compute, Identity, Management and Automation, Networking, Storage and Security and Assurance.

These are further broken down into the core elements of the OS, infusing Virtualization, Active Directory, Systems Administration, Network Management and Software Defined Network (SDN) Technologies, Disk Management and Availability, and Cloud Integration and Management together to bring enterprises to the future of technology–without abandoning the equipment they are currently using today.

Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition is a full-featured server OS that fuses the rock-solid performance of the Windows Server line with modern infrastructure advancements. It shares much in common with the Datacenter Edition, as all of the core features are available to both. The Datacenter Edition includes support for a greater number of Hyper-V containers, as well as new storage features and enhanced security aimed squarely at protecting virtual machines and network communications with its “zero trust” implementation.

Hyper-V Server 2016 is similar to the Windows Server Core Mode in previous versions of Windows Server with one major notable exception: It does not include any of the roles and services available to the Standard and Datacenter Editions. The reason for this omission is due to Hyper-V Server 2016 being a hypervisor that is installed onto bare-metal (physical) servers; it simply does not require any roles and services, as it serves to host virtual machines only.

Windows Server Essentials 2016 (formerly known as Small Business Server or SBS) is a full server operating system with certain limitations. Designed with SMBs in mind, Server Essentials 2016 aims to provide Active Directory Domain Services along with user/computer management for workspaces of up to 25 users and 50 devices. It offers a wide range of the new and updated features of the larger Standard Edition, while scaling others down to offer an affordable, easy-to-use solution perfect for a first server. Unlike Standard and Datacenter Editions, Server Essentials does not require the use of Client Access Licenses (CALs) for each user or device accessing the server, which is a huge cost saver.

Windows Server, version 1709

The focus of Windows Server, version 1709 lies squarely on Server Core, containers, and microservices in an effort to reduce image sizes when hosting services or migrating existing code bases. The shift from previous versions of Windows Server allows systems administrators and developers to deploy containerized images that have been reduced dramatically and further optimized, while providing modernized security to protect virtual machines (VMs), encrypt network transmissions using software-defined networking, and provide enhanced storage and disaster recovery protection through failover and replication features.

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Who does Windows Server 2016 affect?

While upgrading to Windows Server 2016 is not a requirement per se, businesses and various IT fields using recent versions of Windows Server will see several instant benefits to upgrading, including enhanced security, virtualization/containerization, and management of identity and storage. And yet, ZDNet contributing writer Ken Hess noted that, according to a November 2015 Spiceworks survey, “…almost half of IT pros state that they have no plans to adopt it or that they don’t know if they will adopt it or not.”

SEE: Virtualization Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Consolidation of servers through virtualization will increase ROI on newly purchased hardware, while lowering the overall resources used by decommissioning previous physical servers. Windows Containers will allow for multiple applications to be hosted from the server with finite resources, essentially allowing corporations to do more with less. If your enterprise is hosting its own private cloud, or transitioning to a public or a hybrid cloud setup, the additional security included with Active Directory Federated Services along with Nano Server technologies will keep unauthorized access to a minimum while permitting authorized users to access necessary applications, data, and intranet sites.

Windows Server, version 1709

Windows Server, version 1709 primarily affects systems and server administrators, especially those tasked with managing virtualized infrastructures. The move to add Linux support and management of Linux servers, including container support will also affect Linux admins that run mixed networks in a hybrid format for both Linux and Windows.

To a lesser degree, users will be affected given the move to virtualization and containerization of web-based software applications, legacy applications, and how the technology allows for faster deployment and better performance–even on existing hardware.

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When was Windows Server 2016 released?

Public beta testing via Technical Preview 1 (TP1) began on October 1, 2014. As subsequent improvements were made, additional TPs were released for public download; TP4 was made available on November 19, 2015.

RTM was released on September 26, 2016, ending development of its software cycle and making the final code or “gold master” available for download. General availability to all Microsoft software partners rolled out on October 12, 2016 with build number 10.0.14393; and included with the finished code, Microsoft added the following features to the 1607 build:

  • UI: Improvements were made to enhance the user experience (GUI). OS performance changes were made as well.
  • Windows Hello: The popular Windows 10 security feature that manages access to Windows systems through the use of multi-factor authentication, including biometrics, to further secure devices and data.
  • Evaluation to Licensing Path: Microsoft included a 180-day evaluation for enterprises to test Windows Server 2016 prior to upgrading production networks to the latest OS. The conversion process is built right in and is as simple as entering a new product key to register the correct license.

Additional fixes were made available to correct minor issues reported during the Technical Preview period, including Start Menu and Login screen adjustments to correct corruptions. Also, Windows Store apps have been removed, by default, resulting in a cleaner installation.

Volume licensing information is available through Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Service Center. General pricing information (PDF) is detailed in the Windows Server 2016 Licensing Datasheet, except Hyper-V Server 2016, which is offered as a free download that does not require a product key–only activation with Microsoft.

Windows Server, version 1709

Microsoft released Windows Server, version 1709 on October 17, 2017, and has since made it available as downloadable images for Software Assurance customers from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) portal, as well as from the Azure Marketplace for Azure customers.

Note: Version 1709 is an update to the Windows Server family–not an update installable over an existing Windows Server 2016 installation; it is a full-version installation that will require a clean install in order to reap the benefits of the new server OS.

Additional resources:

How can I get Windows Server 2016?

Users can obtain Windows Server 2016 directly from Microsoft, authorized resellers, and Microsoft partners. According to ZDNet contributing writer Mary Jo Foley, the shift to per-core pricing from per-processor in an effort to “align the licensing of its public and private cloud offerings” is noticeable (Figure C).

Figure C

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