Malta: Top 10 Features In Windows Server 2016 Sysadmins Need To Know About

Last Updated: 28 September 2016

Authored by Casper Manes.

The new Microsoft's server operating system is finally here, and we've prepared a list of the most important new features, including the ones you won't find on other blogs.

The newest release of Microsoft's server operating system, Windows Server 2016, hit general availability on September 26th, along with System Center 2016. We've been hearing about new and improved things coming in Windows Server 2016 for months, so you most probably know about the container support and the improved security and networking tools. Maybe you've even used some of them in the technology preview versions.

But in case you've been holding out for GA, or your working day consisting of endless tickets simply doesn't allow you to find time to tryout betas and technology previews, we've prepared a closer look at the top 10 features in Windows Server 2016 that every sysadmin needs to know about.

Server footprints get even smaller with Nano

The next evolution of Server Core – Nano Server, is an even more thinned down version of Windows Server 2016. A Nano server must be managed remotely and can only run 64 bit applications, but it can be optimized for minimum resources, requires far less patching, restarts very quickly, and can perform a number of specific tasks very well with minimal hardware.

Good uses for Nano Server include IIS, DNS, F&P, application servers, and compute nodes. So if you liked Server Core, you will love Nano; and if you never really understood Server Core, you should give Nano a chance, especially if patching and downtime are challenges in your 24×7 shop.

Improved server management with PowerShell 5.0

Windows Server 2016 comes with PowerShell 5.0, a part of the Windows Management Framework 5.0. There are many improvements in PS5 (you'll find a complete list in this blog post), including support for developing your own classes, or a new module called PackageManagement, which lets you discover and install software packages on the Internet.

The Workflow debugger now supports command or tab completion, and you can debug nested workflow functions. To enter it in a running script you can now press Ctrl+Break, in both local and remote sessions, and also in a workflow script. And PS5 now runs in Nano server directly, so administration of this lightweight server platform is made even simpler.

Versatile container support for enhanced density

Windows Server 2016 offers two kinds of containers to improve process isolation, performance, security, and scalability. Windows Server Containers can be used to isolate applications with a dedicated process and a namespace, while Hyper-V Containers appear to be entire machines optimized for the application.

Windows Server Containers share a kernel with the host, while Hyper-V Containers have their own kernel, and both enable you to get more out of your physical hardware investments. On top of this, Microsoft announced that all Windows Server 2016 customers will get the Commercially Supported Docker Engine for no additional cost, enabling applications delivered through Docker containers to run on Windows Server on-premise installations or in the cloud, on Azure. Here's an official announcement on the Docker blog, with much more details.

More secure identity management

WS2016 brings some huge improvements to Active Directory, security, and identity management, such as Privileged Access Management (PAM), restricting privileged access within an existing Active Directory environment. In this model you have a bastion forest, sometimes called a red forest, that is where administrative accounts live and which can be heavily isolated to ensure it remains secure. Just-in-Time administration, privileged access request workflows, and improved audition are all included, and best of all – you don't have to replace all of your DCs to take advantage of this.

Simplified administrative work

"Just Enough Administration" is a new capability in Windows Server 2016 that enables administrators to delegate anything that can be managed through PowerShell. Do you have a developer who needs to be able to bounce services or restart app pools on a server, but not log on or make any other changes? With JEA you can give him or her exactly those abilities, and nothing more. Of course, you may have to write some PS1s to let them actually do that, but the point is that now you can.

Improved HA remote desktop management

Customers who want to set up highly-available RDS environments, but not go to the trouble and expense of setting up HA SQL, can now use an Azure SQL DB for their Remote Desktop Connection Broker, making it both easier and less expensive to set up a resilient virtual desktop environment.

The RD Connection Broker can now handle massively concurrent connection situations, commonly known as the "log on storm", and it has been tested to handle more than 10k concurrent connection requests without failures.

Software-defined storage for easier management

Software-defined storage enables you to create HA data storage infrastructures that can easily scale out, without breaking the bank. With software defined storage, even SMBs can start to take advantage of high availability storage with the existing budgets.

Three new features take over the stage: Storage Spaces Direct enables you to combine commodity hardware with availability software, providing performance for virtual machines, Storage Replica replicates data at the volume level in either synchronous or asynchronous modes, while Storage QoS guards against poor performance in a multitenant environment.

Time slips into more accuracy

If you have set up an NTP server on your network, or subscribed to NTP services from an NTP pool, you know how important accurate time can be. Typically, Windows environments were less worried about accurate time, and more concerned with a consensus of time, with a five-minute drift being acceptable.

Now in Windows Server 2016, the new time service can support up to a 1ms accuracy, which should be enough to meet almost all needs – if you need more accuracy than that, you probably own your own atomic clock.

Connection flexibility with software-defined networking

Immensely valuable in a virtualization environment, software-defined networking enables administrators to set up networking in their Hyper-V environment similar to what they can in Azure, including virtual LANs, routing, software firewalls, and more.

You can also do virtual routing and mirroring, so you can enable security devices to view traffic without expensive taps.

Boosted security

There are so many security improvements in Windows Server 2016 that we could do an entire post just on that, which, as a matter of fact, we will in the coming weeks. For now, be aware that WS2016 includes improvements to protect user credentials with Credential Guard and Remote Credential Guard, and to protect the operating system with Code Integrity, with a whole host of improvements with virtual machines, new antimalware capabilities in Windows Defender, and much more.

As stated on the Windows Server team's blog post announcing the new version, Windows Server 2016 is immediately available for evaluation, and will be available for purchase with the first October price list, while volume licensing customers will be able to download fully licensed software at General Availability in mid-October.

Watch out for new posts on this blog for more information on Windows Server 2016, as we will take a deeper dive into some of the most significant features for SMB organizations, as well as a much closer look at the security improvements in the next few weeks. You can subscribe here and get the new blog post announcements directly in your inbox.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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