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Microsoft Windows Server 2016 Beast Mode: Control and Customization with Linux

Microsoft Windows Server 2016 (along with other Microsoft products) has a newfound affection for open source, and particularly, Linux. Combining old true-blue admin tools with new cutting edge features, this operating system is truly a beast for admins. We dig into the details of how Server 2016 is aligning with the Linux and open source ecosystem — and what it all means for your IT career and training.

Big Things Come in Nano-sized Packages

We recently discussed how walled-garden Microsoft is getting friendly with open source Linux; SQL Server on Linux, Docker on Windows Server, and Linux guests in Azure and Hyper-V. With the continued mingling of features and platforms, the dichotomy between choosing to be a Microsoft shop or embracing open source continues to break down, and admins continue to gain new and greater super powers

For starters, this July saw the first Insider Preview release of Server 2016, and with it more innovations from Redmond. The biggest change is with Nano Server. This super lightweight OS flavor is stripped down of many features to optimize it for the cloud. Storage and compute needs are reduced as much as possible to minimize your Azure or AWS bill. For example, the GUI is gone, so management is only accomplished with remote tools. Also gone are 32-bit support, group policy, NIC teaming, and the ability to run domain controller roles.

While you can still manually install and configure other server roles, keep in mind that the OS was designed from the ground up to run as a container. Now, in the Inside Preview, Nano Server is now a container-only option, with no more old school, bare metal installations. The missing features earlier highlighted start to make sense from the perspective of scalable, on-demand, automated spin-up-and-destroy container computing. Enhancement to Kubernetes support will help orchestrate all this container power. These are features and a development mindset that should be familiar to Linux admins everywhere.

The increased admin muscle dovetails nicely with the automated server deployment available through Puppet. If you’ve invested time, energy, and training into Puppet, those resources can be leveraged with the Windows side of your stack, further blurring the line between administering Microsoft and open source.


SSH and SCP support is baked into Server 2016, allowing remote terminals and file transfers without third party tools. You could argue that it’s always been painless to download PuTTY and WinSCP to connect to Linux from the Windows desktop. However, this continues to demonstrate Microsoft’s willingness to embrace the needs of admins needing to keep a foot in both camps and reduce their switching costs.

In the same vein, Server 2016 improved support and speed for the NFS file sharing protocol, both in client and server roles. As the standard in the *nix world for sharing files like to Windows’ SMB, Microsoft again shows how it is building and improving an amazing utility belt of tools for admins.

Virtualization P-P-P-P-Power

All this talk of containers and automation wouldn’t exist without the venerable Hyper-V and Microsoft’s hypervisor got a lion’s share of the beastly upgrades with Server 2016. Nested virtualization, hot adding network adapters and memory, higher numbers of guests and compute resources per guest, greater networking efficiency and QoS, and improved security top the list.

Constant improvements like these bring to mind the never ending battle of Hyper-V vs. VMware. Some hold the opinion that Microsoft is constantly playing catch-up and that Hyper-V is always a step behind in terms of features and market share. With Microsoft’s current show of strength, that gap is greatly diminishing. VMware definitely can’t rest on its laurels and expect to maintain their cut of the market.

The potential for power combos that admins are sitting on is huge. For example, combine Microsoft’s on-premise Hyper-V with Azure cloud offerings for hybrid infrastructures with massive potential for IT departments to leverage. And as we’ve discussed, Azure and Hyper-V not only run Linux guests, but Azure is embraced by Linux admins, with one out of three virtual machines on their cloud running Linux. Again, more melding of the Microsoft and Linux worlds, with admins driving credibility and adoption of these mixed environments.

The cloud may always be “someone else’s server,” but the power of the scalability and reliability behind platforms like Azure are something no admin can choose to ignore.

Friendz 4 Lyfe
The times they are a-changin’. Just a few years ago no one would have believed the big M could open up so much to change, let alone give us such powerful tools to embrace mixed Windows and Linux infrastructures. For Microsoft admins everywhere, it’s worth jumping in to explore this brave new world and leveling up your career!

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