After some delays, Microsoft has unveiled the latest preview for Windows Server 2016, Technical Preview 2. This release is starting to take shape and should give us a good idea of the direction Microsoft is going with Windows Server. In this article, I’ll cover some of the new features in Technical Preview 2.

Say goodbye to the GUI (by default) ^

Windows Server 2008 introduced us to Windows without the GUI—also known as Server Core. Windows Server 2012 improved on the feature by giving us the ability to install/uninstall the GUI and changed the default install option to Server Core. Windows Server Technical Preview 2 takes that to the next level by completely removing the GUI as an option at install time. Now, the only options available are Server Core and MinShell, which includes the local graphical admin tools.

Windows Server Technical Preview 2 - Select the operating system you want to install
Windows Server Technical Preview 2 – Select the operating system you want to install

Just to show you how seriously hardcore Microsoft is about killing the GUI on servers, even the Control+Alt+Delete prompt is in a command prompt window.

Control Alt Delete on Windows Server Technical Preview 2 Server Core
Control+Alt+Delete on Windows Server Technical Preview 2 Server Core

The good news is that you can still enable the GUI via PowerShell if you have applications that need features of the GUI.

Nano Server ^

Another new feature of Windows Server that was demonstrated at Microsoft Build 2015 is Nano Server. Nano Server is a stripped-down version of Windows Server that is 20 times smaller than Server Core. Because it is running only the most essential services, reboots (which are much faster) are decreased by 80% and there are 92% fewer critical updates necessary. This does come at a cost: Nano doesn’t include local console access, which means management has to be performed via PowerShell or WMI. It also doesn’t include support for installing software via MSI or support for 32-bit applications through WOW64.

Nano is currently limited to be used as a host OS for running cloud workloads as a Hyper-V host, as a host to run Scale-Out File Server, or for deploying cloud-based applications. Additionally, Nano isn’t currently available when running a manual installation of Windows Server. You’ll have to get the WIM file off the ISO and deploy it with your OSD solution. Paul will post a more detailed article about Nano Server in a couple of days

Rolling Cluster Upgrades ^

If you’re running Windows Server Failover Clusters for something like a Scale-Out File Server, Hyper-V, or any other clustered workload, you know how painful an upgrade can be when a new OS is released. Previously, nodes in the cluster had to be evicted and upgraded to the latest OS. After the upgrade, you would have to form a new cluster and then migrate services from the old Failover Cluster to the new Failover Cluster, which introduces the possibility of downtime while you had cluster nodes down.

Server 2016 Technical Preview includes a feature called Rolling Cluster Upgrades. With a Rolling Cluster Upgrade, nodes with a newer OS can coexist in the same Failover Cluster with nodes of the previous OS without having to form a new cluster. This new feature introduces operational levels for Failover Clusters similar to that of Active Directory. A Failover Cluster with a mix of Server 2012 R2 and Server 2016 servers would run at a Server 2012 R2 operational level. Once all the nodes are on Server 2016, the operational level can be raised to the Server 2016 level.

Hardware improvements ^

The RDMA improvements in Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 reduces the number of NICs needed in Scale-Out File Servers from four to two. Previously, it was necessary to run dedicated NICs for your RDMA traffic. Now, that traffic can be on the same converged network as VM network traffic.

Server 2016 TP2 also includes functionality for hot adding and removing of memory and NICs, which reduces the number of maintenance events for simple hardware additions to VMs.

Storage improvements ^

Server 2016 includes a number of improvements to storage, starting with Storage Spaces Direct. In addition to external JBOD enclosures, Storage Spaces will now support disks within the server chassis through Storage Spaces Direct. NICs between 10 GB and 40 GB can be used for traffic between nodes without the need for external enclosures.

Storage QoS (Quality of Service) will allow administrators to control how virtual machines access storage. Doing so either ensures that VMs receive a minimum level of IOPS/access or prevents VMs from using more than their fair share of access to resources.

Server 2016 also includes improvements to storage path resiliency for VMs. This will allow VMs to better handle storage outages and failures by pausing and restarting gracefully.

Last, but not least, is my favorite new feature: Storage Replica. Storage Replica allows block-level replication of data between servers or clusters for disaster recovery purposes. It supports both synchronous replication (no data loss) and asynchronous replication (possible data loss).

Hyper-V improvements ^

Server 2016 also comes with a number of improvements to Hyper-V for organizations running their own on-premises cloud.

Nested Hyper-V

One of the complaints I hear a lot from IT pros in the IT community is that you can’t run Hyper-V inside of Hyper-V for lab and testing environments. Other products, such as VMware Workstation, support the functionally.

Windows Server 2016 now supports running nested Hyper-V. This functionality appears to be primarily aimed at organizations running containers, but it will be very helpful for IT organizations testing upgrades and other solutions.

Virtual TPM

Let’s all say it at the same time… FINALLY! Before Server 2016, the absence of a TPM made encrypting the boot drive (C:\ drive) of your servers unsupported in a virtual environment. Server 2016 includes support for adding a virtual TPM inside of virtual machines, which allows for support of encrypting BitLocker boot volumes on Windows Server VMs.

Updates to shared VHDX

Server 2012 R2 introduced us to shared VHDX files for running Failover Clusters inside of Hyper-V virtual machines. Server 2016 improves upon this feature with a new file format, VHDS. VHDS files now support host-based backup, which was missing in Server 2012 R2. It also supports online resize—another feature missing in the original release.

Secure Boot for Linux

Server 2012 R2 introduced Generation 2 VMs that included Secure Boot. In Server 2016, supported Linux distributions will also be able to take advantage of Secure Boot in Gen 2 VMs.

ReFS improvements

Resilient File System (ReFS), introduced with Server 2012, is also receiving some upgrades in Server 2016. VHDX files hosted on ReFS volumes will enjoy significant performance improvements during provisioning and checkpoint merges.

Shielded virtual machines

Shielded VMs offer the ability to protect virtual machines from the Hyper-V administrator. In a typical Hyper-V environment, the Hyper-V administrator can easily access the contents of any VM running inside the environment. The purpose of Shielded VMs is to protect the data inside your VMs from snooping administrators either inside your organization or with a hosting provider.

Conclusion ^

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 has many more enhancements and improvements. We’ll likely see a few more things added or updated for the final release late this year or early next year.

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What about you? Are you looking forward to any other killer new features in Server 2016? Is anything missing? We’d love to hear what you think!

7 Comments
  1. bala 7 years ago

    Hi,
    I have updated my windows laptop to Windows Server Technical Preview 2 from previous preview version.

    Here the issue is after updating the preview2 its asking to press Control+Alt+Delete to unlock and then blank screen appears.

    I am totally struck up on what to do now.

    Any one can help me on this please.

    Control+Alt+Delete on Windows Server Technical Preview 2 Server Core

    • Author

      In the DM you sent me on Twitter, you said: "its asking to provide the administrator password and then I cant login to my laptop." So you've described what sounds like two different problems. If you start a new thread on our Forums describing your problem and post screenshot/picture of your laptop screen, that would make troubleshooting the problem much easier.

  2. Matthew Henson 7 years ago

    Why in the world are they headed the opposite way of every other environment. Most of us hate the command line. The only possible reason I can think of is they are so bad at designing usable/intuitive GUI's.

    • Author

      Scripts offer a way to perform tasks over and over again in a repeatable fashion. When you're working on large scale, clicking GUI's makes no sense. I recently deployed multiple new nodes to a Hyper-V cluster and was able to configure networking, install all of the required components, and add the servers to the Failover Cluster in minutes with PowerShell. Clicking through GUI's would have taken a hour or more per node. For one-time and simple task, the GUI may be easier or faster, but for large complex tasks, PowerShell will always be faster and easier to repeat over and over.

  3. Dan Ogden 6 years ago

    Kyle, removing the GUI to force the use of PowerShell is illogical and totally unnecessary as PowerShell can obviously be used when you have a GUI. Everything you say you like about PowerShell does not go away when there is a GUI. You can still use PowerShell to your heart's content. But removing the GUI gives us one less option. More options are always better, not less. The removal of the GUI is another example of Microsoft forcing its customers to do things the way Microsoft wants them done as in the same way when Microsoft introduced that stupid ribbon in Windows Explorer and took away the Explorer menus. Microsoft just needs to leave well enough alone. The GUI in Windows Server 2012 is great so why change? At least give us the option to install the GUI.

    • Author

      The GUI tools are still available from a management station and will be available in web form at some point in the very near future. There's also nothing that says you can't install the GUI on the server either after the OS has been loaded. If you're using an OS deployment solution like MDT or SCCM, just make it part of your OS deploy. Just be aware that adding the GUI means more complexity. More complexity means more patches and more reboots. Removing the GUI is about reducing attack surface and the need for patches and reboots.

  4. Mary 6 years ago

    how to download the most  recently created filename from a website with a certain name in powershell?

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