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Introduction to Nano Server in Windows Server 2016

nano   2016_2

General availability of Windows Server 2016 was announced in early October 2016.

Windows Server 2016 includes 3 main editions:

  • Datacenter: This is the main, large scale edition release of the Windows Server operating system, designed for corporate and enterprise environments
  • Standard: This edition is most ideal for small to mid-sized organizations (as well as niche uses in larger corporations) that have smaller virtualization needs and / or more of a need for a general purpose server operating system.
  • Essentials: This edition is mainly designed for smaller organizations, generally with less than 50 users.

Under the Standard and Datacenter editions, there are three installation options:

  • Server with Desktop Experience: The Server with Desktop Experience installation option (previously known as Server with a GUI) provides an ideal user experience for those who need to run an app that requires local UI or for Remote Desktop Services Host. This option has the full Windows client shell and experience, consistent with Windows 10 Anniversary edition Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB), with the server Microsoft Management Console (MMC) and Server Manager tools available locally on the server.
  • Server Core: The Server Core installation removes the local client UI from the deployment, providing an installation that runs the majority of the Server operating system roles and features on a lighter install. Server Core does not include the MMC or the GUI based Server Manager, but these tools can be used remotely from systems where they are installed locally. Task Manager is available on the Server Core installation, as well as PowerShell for local or remote management.
  • Nano Server: Designed and optimized for private clouds and datacenters. It is similar to Windows Server in Server Core mode, but the final deployment foot print is significantly smaller. It is designed to be remotely administered, as it has no local logon capability, and supports only x64 applications
The main focus of this blog post will be on the newly released Nano Server operating system.

The Nano Server operating system, released under Windows 2016, has been designed and optimized for private clouds and datacenters. To a certain degree, it is similar to Windows Server in Server Core mode, but the final deployment foot print is significantly smaller. It is designed to be remotely administered, as it has no local logon capability (GUI or otherwise), and it supports x64 applications only – there is no backwards compatibility for any 32-bit / x86 based applications.

Nano Server takes up far less disk space, installs and configures significantly faster, and it requires far fewer updates (security and / or functionality) and restarts than prior versions of Windows Server, Server 2016, or the Server Core mode installations.

The Nano Server installation option is available for both Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2016. Nano Server also gains security improvements by nature of a stripped down architecture because with less services, features, and other components of the GUI that are available by default or installed as an available add on, Microsoft has indicated in its information releases on the product that “Nano Server will required 93 percent fewer critical bulletins, and 80 percent fewer reboots.” Simply put, there is far less of an attack surface available for hackers and attackers to use because of the limited customization capabilities of the installation.

Nano Server is specifically geared toward three main server roles: Hyper-V, cloud-native application hosting, and scale out file server hosting. In addition, Nano server can also be considered for use to host DNS services as well as web services under Internet Information Services (IIS)

By locking the focus of the use for this version of Windows Server to these few core uses, administrators are provided with more capability for large-scale VM deployments because the small footprint offered by Nano Server, which is even smaller than Server Core, provides the ability to quickly scale and the better ability for them to auto-deploy multiple VMs in a short period of time.

There are some limitations to Nano Server (as follows):

  • Nano Server cannot serve as an Active Directory domain controller
  • Group Policy is not supported.
    • Desired State Configuration can be used to apply base settings
    • You can manage Nano Server as target nodes with Windows PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC).
    • You can manage nodes running Nano Server with DSC in push mode only.
    • Not all DSC features function with Nano Server.
  • Nano Server cannot be configured to use a proxy server to access the internet.
  • Nano Server is not supported for use under System Center Configuration Manager and System Center Data Protection Manager
  • There are certain Windows PowerShell features that are not available in Nano Server
    • ADSI, ADO, and WMI type adapters
    • Enable-PSRemoting, Disable-PSRemoting (PowerShell remoting is enabled by default; see the “Using Windows PowerShell Remoting” section of Install Nano Server).
      Scheduled jobs and PSScheduledJob module
    • Computer cmdlets for joining a domain { Add | Remove } (for different methods to join Nano Server to a domain, see the “Joining Nano Server to a domain” section of Install Nano Server).
    • Reset-ComputerMachinePassword, Test-ComputerSecureChannel
    • Profiles (you can add a startup script for incoming remote connections with Set-PSSessionConfiguration)
    • Clipboard cmdlets
    • EventLog cmdlets { Clear | Get | Limit | New | Remove | Show | Write } (use the New-WinEvent and Get-WinEvent cmdlets instead).
    • Get-PfxCertificate cmdlet
    • TraceSource cmdlets { Get | Set }
    • Counter cmdlets { Get | Export | Import }
    • Some web-related cmdlets { New-WebServiceProxy, Send-MailMessage, ConvertTo-Html }
    • Logging and tracing using PSDiagnostics module
    • Get-HotFix (to obtain and manage updates on Nano Server, see Manage Nano Server).
    • Implicit remoting cmdlets { Export-PSSession | Import-PSSession }
    • New-PSTransportOption
    • PowerShell transactions and Transaction cmdlets { Complete | Get | Start | Undo | Use }
    • PowerShell Workflow infrastructure, modules, and cmdlets
    • Out-Printer
    • Update-List
    • WMI v1 cmdlets: Get-WmiObject, Invoke-WmiMethod, Register-WmiEvent, Remove-WmiObject, Set-WmiInstance (use CimCmdlets module instead.)

Microsoft has informed the user community that Nano Server is supported only on the Current Branch for Business (CBB) model as there is no Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) release for Nano Server at this time.

What you can expect with Nano Server serviced under this Current Branch for Business (CBB) model is better alignment for customers who are using and deploying their builds under the “cloud cadence” model of rapid development cycles. Under this model of support, management, and release, customers can expect feature update releases of Nano Server at a rate of (expected) two to three times per year.

For proper support in the enterprise, customers will be required to have Software Assurance for Nano Servers where deployed and operated in production environments. In order for customers to be fully supported, system and network administrators must maintain their environments and be no more than two CBB releases behind. Nano Server future releases do not have an auto-update feature and will not advance automatically on any existing deployments; server administrators will need to perform manual installations and upgrades of new CBB releases to maintain their versioning status and the supportability of their deployments.

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