Feb 09 2016
Data Center

Microsoft Nano Server Brings Containers to Campus

Container server technology may prove the next big thing for system admins.

When there’s an outbreak, keeping the infected away from the general population is often the best way to prevent further spread.

That analogy, however bleak, explains why a new technology set may soon power much of higher education’s IT infrastructure: container servers.

The concept — pulling together an entire runtime environment, including all of an application’s dependencies (libraries, binaries, configuration files) — has been around for some time, but more recent breakthroughs point to a future where applications will be managed more efficiently through operating systems built to run entirely in the cloud. Doing so could eliminate a lot of the pain points IT departments suffer when it comes to troubleshooting, eliminating malware and supporting updates.

Nano: A Thin Powerhouse with Remote Access

Container technology has received some extra attention thanks to buzz over Microsoft’s forthcoming Nano Server. The new package did away with a graphic user interface (GUI), 32-bit support (WOW64), MSI and several legacy Server Core components. Everything can be controlled remotely through VMware and PowerShell.

Microsoft positions the innovation as a boon for productivity and security: “Nano Server provides just the components you need — nothing else, meaning smaller server images, which reduces deployment times, decreases network bandwidth consumption and improves uptime and security.” Containers prove especially helpful for restraining certain types of vulnerabilities that could otherwise make their way into a system, says J. Colin Peterson, an independent IT consultant.

“If you shut down that activity, you’re not ruining the operation of multiple departments, so you can contain the threat,” he says. “In education, you often see various departments networked together, which can create a cumbersome IT situation. If someone gets a virus, it can mean that other areas of the organization are affected.”

A lot of work remains before this specific initiative starts to roll out. James Casey, a Microsoft vice president of engineering, says the final result will require collaboration with Chef, a tool used to deploy Azure-based technology.


lower VHD size offered by Nano Server compared with Windows Server

SOURCE: Microsoft Windows Server Team blog, “Microsoft Announces Nano Server for Modern Apps and Cloud,” April 8, 2015

Built for Cloud Apps and Containers

Nano Server substantially pares down Windows Server to allow remote management and more efficient runtimes for services. It’s designed for born-in-the-cloud apps and containers, a more common environment today for larger enterprises.

Containers have typically offered an improvement over virtualization when it comes to the ability to pack more applications into a single, physical machine.

Nano Server’s impact could come should it live up to Microsoft’s pledge to offer fewer patches and faster restarts.

The technology won’t have a GUI because it’s completely headless, so it offers a substantially smaller footprint than Windows Server and lightens the load even further to focus on hosting multiple applications. Management is performed remotely through WMI and PowerShell.

Microsoft will offer a new web-based Nano Server management tool — a trade-off that promises to pay big dividends with speed and security.

No release date has been detailed yet; however, given that it’s an option in Windows Server, it could be part of the next version due out later this year.

More On


Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.