There has been a lot of excitement recently about Windows 10, the forthcoming version of Windows that restores the Start menu, dangles the promise of universal apps and has lots of hidden features. But what about its less sexy but more successful Windows Server sibling? Here's what we know so far about plans for its next version.
A technical preview for Windows Server launched at the same time as the Windows 10 technical preview. Unusually, this has also been made available for anyone to test — previous Windows Server releases have tended to have a more limited distribution this early in the development cycle.
There are a number of preview options on offer. You can access the preview through the TechNet Evaluation Center. If you're an MSDN subscriber, it's also available through your existing subscription. And if you're an Azure customer, you can try it out via an Azure gallery image.
Given that it's early release code which no-one in their right mind would deploy on a production server, it seems likely that the Azure testing option will be especially popular. When Azure's Australian data centres go live next week, I'd expect this to be what some people signing up for free trial accounts will test. Microsoft's own data shows that relatively few Windows 10 users are testing the desktop environment in a virtual machine so far, but for Windows Server customers, running a virtual instance is likely to be the default option in many cases.
One element in Windows 10 which is likely to appeal to Windows Server customers is the drastic improvements to the command prompt. Those improvements should also benefit customers running the Server Core installation of Windows Server — a popular choice if only because the lack of a bundled Internet Explorer means it requires far less patching than most other versions of Windows.
So far, Microsoft is being relatively coy about the under-the-hood changes for Windows Server in the next release, though it has discussed many minor improvements. Amongst the changes which it has highlighted, the most broadly useful would appear to be the ability for Hyper-V clusters to automatically upgrade to the new version without downtime.
Other promised additions include a network controller role to make managing virtual and physical networks easier, better synchronous storage replication, support for OpenGL and OpenCL on remote desktops, and enhanced identity and access management (IAM) scenarios.
We know that one feature planned for an upcoming version is support for Docker containers with Windows Server itself, building on the existing support offered for Linux VMs running on Azure. Again, this highlights how what happens in Azure is one of the most crucial aspects of Windows Server development.
The biggest question between now and rollout will be the charging and update model. Microsoft's announcement blog post hints at some changes:
We are also evolving how we ship our software and service our platform products to keep the software up-to-date. For our datacenter products, there is a duality in what customers want: in some scenarios customers tell us they favor stability and predictability while in other scenarios they want access to the latest and greatest technologies as fast as possible. We’ll have more specifics in the coming months, but you can expect us to deliver the best of both worlds: options for speed and agility, plus options for stability and durability.
In a cloud scenario, not handling updates is appealing. If you're running your own systems, then predictability and stability definitely matter more. How Microsoft handles this, while also trying to shore up its own position as a cloud provider, will make for an interesting 2015.