With Windows Server 2012, there wasn’t much that distinguished Windows Server Standard and Windows Server Datacenter beyond the licensing details. Microsoft really decided to shake things up and introduce new features that would change that with their release of Windows Server 2016.
While nothing was removed from Windows Server Standard, new features were added and some of those new features are now exclusive to Windows Server Datacenter.
New Features to Standard and Datacenter:
- Windows Containers
- Nano Server (minimal install)
New Features specific to Datacenter:
- Storage Spaces Direct
- Storage Replica
- Shielded VMs
- Host Guardian Service
An additional Software Assurance benefit has also been added. Prior to February 2016, there was no way to leverage a Windows Server license covered with Software Assurance toward an Azure scenario. Now, Software Assurance on Windows Server Standard or Datacenter will provide preferential pricing on either two virtual machines in Azure of eight cores or less or one virtual machine in Azure of 16 cores or less. This could save thousands of dollars per year for those who are continually running higher tiered virtual machines in Azure. The virtual machine(s) covered by this benefit must be designated using PowerShell when uploading their Windows Server images up to Azure. At this point, it’s worth renewing any Software Assurance that you may have on Windows Server even if you’re not going to use it, solely to get a discount on virtual machines in Azure.
Going back to the physical additions in functionality, new to both editions are Windows Containers and Nano (minimal install). Containers allow the user to sandbox applications for testing and more without affecting the OS or system at large. It’s like a quarantine for software. As of now, there are two different container types: Windows Server Container and a Hyper-V Container. The latter of the two will run in a highly optimized virtual machine. Containers will consist of several layers. For example, once a container has been started, all write actions (file system modifications, software installations) will be captured in a sandbox layer. Containers will make applications completely portable and allow them to run anywhere. Think of what this could do from a developer’s standpoint!
Nano Servers are an operating system of types that hosts cloud-based applications and allow you to install only the components of the server that you require without anything else. They deliver agility and speed with lower resource consumption. It is important to note that Software Assurance is required to deploy and operate Nano Server in a production environment.
Windows Server Datacenter 2016 has some additional awesome new features. Storage Replica brings a new level of preparation for disaster recovery. For the first time, they offer you the peace of mind of zero loss of data. If for some reason, a disaster occurs, this feature will make it so that all data will exist elsewhere without any possibility of loss. If you know something is going to happen, you have the ability to switch workloads to a safer location prior to the occurrence also without losing any data.
The most intriguing feature to me is Shielded VMs and the role that they play with Host Guardian Service. Now, this may be a scary thought, but imagine one of your administrator accounts is compromised. The person on the other end of that username and password may not have the best intentions but somehow manages to get ahold of your domain controller. What do you do, or better yet, what if you’re not aware of the situation yet? An administrator can by nature do anything that they want. If you have shielded virtual machines, you can protect those virtual machines from compromised administrators and protect your VMs so that they can only run on the infrastructure that you specify it to run on. Host Guardian Service will then check to see if the host that the virtual machine gets put on is authorized to run it. Check out this graphic to better understand how this works.
If you’re considering upgrading to a new version of Windows Server, the 2016 release is the only release that will give you these extremely useful features. We are here to help answer any questions you might have along the way.