Installing Nano Server 2019 is a much different process than that of Windows Server 2016.  In this post, we will take a look at the process for installing Nano Server 2019.

In a previous post, we examined the elusive Nano Server role in Windows Server 2019.  The role has certainly changed between Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2019.  In the evolution of the Nano Server role, Microsoft has positioned Nano Server as a "containers only" role that provides an ultra-thin platform for running containerized workloads on top of a Windows Server 2019 host.

Today, we will take a look at installing Nano Server 2019 and see how the Nano Server role in Windows Server 2019 is installed and configured for use with containerized workloads.  We will look at the requirements, installation, and configuration.

Prerequisites for installing Nano Server 2019 ^

Standalone installation of Nano Server 2019 can no longer be performed onto bare metal or into a virtual machine, as was possible with Windows Server 2016. It must now run inside a container that is supported by Microsoft in Windows Server 2019. This means there are a few prerequisites that must be considered when you install Nano Server 2019 for serving out production workloads, including installing and running containers on top of Windows Server 2019. What are these prerequisites?

At a very basic level, you need the following to install Nano Server 2019 as a container on a Windows Server container host:

  1. Windows Server host – Server 2016, 2019, or one of the semi-channel releases
  2. Hyper-V if you want Hyper-V isolation
  3. Compatible hardware for virtualization (CPUs with virtualization technology, etc.)

Windows Server 2019 container host preparation ^

In the following installation of Nano Server 2019, I already have a Windows Server 2019 host up and running, fully patched, etc. In addition, the host has been loaded with the following:

  1. Nuget Provider
  2. DockerMsftProvider
  3. Docker
  4. Hyper-V role
  5. Housecleaning tasks – including reboot

As a sanity check, it is a good idea to check your Docker version and run a few other Docker commands to ensure your installation is up and running as expected. You can run a simple Docker command, such as:

This will display the version of Docker you are running on your Windows Server 2019 host.

Finding the installed version of Docker in Windows Server 2019

Finding the installed version of Docker in Windows Server 2019

If it has been a while since you installed Docker, you may want to make sure you are running the latest version of Docker. To find the latest available version of Docker for installation, run the following command:

Finding the latest version of Docker available for installation

Finding the latest version of Docker available for installation

To update Docker to the latest version available, run the following command:

Due to the nature of containers, they are much more ephemeral than virtual machines. Keeping your container infrastructure updated should allow you to run with the latest and greatest features in your production, development, and test environments.

Installing Nano Server 2019 ^

Now that we have Docker installed, configured, and updated (if needed) on a Windows Server 2019 container host, we are ready to install Nano Server 2019 using a base container image. The "installation" process for Nano Server 2019 is not the typical "boot from ISO" process to run a normal Windows installer.

Since Nano Server is no longer supported as a full standalone installation, as it was in Windows Server 2016, it is installed as a container image. This means that you pull the Nano Server container image from the Microsoft Container Registry (MCR).

Search Microsoft Container registry for Nano Server

You may wonder how to see which Nano Server images are available for pulling to your Windows Server 2019 container host. You can search the Microsoft Container Registry using a built-in Docker command:

The search command returns all the available Nano Server container images that are available to pull down from the Microsoft Container Registry. By default, these are listed in order by the number of stars given to the download. So basically, you are seeing the rating given to the image.

There are two in particular that most will want to pay attention to. These are:

  • Official Nano Server base image
  • Official Nano Server insider base image

These official images are published by Microsoft. The base image is the current stable release of the Nano Server image that is for general consumption. The insider base image is the preview release that contains all the newest features and functionality; however, this image is not meant for production use like the preview builds that can be downloaded for Windows Server and Windows 10 in general.

Searching the Microsoft Container Registry for available Nano Server images

Searching the Microsoft Container Registry for available Nano Server images

Pulling the Nano Server 2019 image

There is a point to note about pulling a Nano Server image from the Microsoft Container Registry. The Windows container version compatibility post from Microsoft states the following:

“Because Windows Server containers and the underlying host share a single kernel, the container’s base image OS version must match that of the host. If the versions are different, the container may start, but full functionally [sic] isn't guaranteed. The Windows operating system has four levels of versioning: major, minor, build and revision.”

This means you need to match the version of the Nano Server container you are pulling with the version of Windows Server 2019 you are running on your container host. Microsoft has also deprecated the latest tag for pulling container images. You have to specify the version explicitly.

Since I am running the GA version of Windows Server 2019 (version 1809), I will specify this as the version of Nano Server to pull down as a container image.

Nano Server image pulled and extracted to Windows Server 2019 container host

Nano Server image pulled and extracted to Windows Server 2019 container host

When you pull down a container image, it is extracted by default in Windows Server 2019 in the following directory:

C:\ProgramData\docker\windowsfilter

Local downloaded Nano Server 2019 container image

Local downloaded Nano Server 2019 container image

Running Nano Server 2019

Once you have pulled the Nano Server 2019 image from the MCR, you can spin up a Nano Server 2019 container quickly with the following command:

The Nano Server 2019 container will spin up almost instantly. Using the "-it" switch, the Nano Server will launch with an interactive cmd prompt session.

Concluding thoughts ^

Installing Nano Server 2019 has changed quite a bit between Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2019. Now, with Nano Server 2019, this version of Windows Server is a "container only" image. As shown, the process to step through searching the Microsoft Container Registry, pull a Nano Server image, and spin up a Nano Server 2019 container is straightforward and easy to accomplish.

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2 Comments
  1. michiel miltenburg 3 weeks ago

    You mention that installing Nano server has changed quite a lot. However the process is exactly the same as it has been for a long time in Server 2016. Only in the early 2016 days it was different. 

    Besides that, you do not 'install' Nano server. Your terminology isn't correct, I am afraid. 

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    • Author
      Brandon Lee 3 weeks ago

      Michiel,

      Thank you for your feedback.  However, the article is examining the differences in context with what administrators were able to do with Nano Server in 2016.  The full "install" on bare metal is no longer available with Windows Server 2019 as was present with Windows Server 2016, only the containerized install/deploy.  

      The article is pointing out this difference along with showing how to "install" Nano Server in Windows Server 2019.  Hence the quotes for "installation" process.

      Thank you!

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