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How Microsoft Nano Servers will change VM management

While Nano Servers will improve hardware consolidation, they will also challenge traditional server management practices.

One of the Windows Server 2016 features that has received a lot of attention is Nano Servers -- micro Windows Server...

deployments that include an extremely bare bones code set. In fact, Nano Servers are far smaller than server core deployments and have a storage footprint of less than 1 GB.

In some ways, Nano Servers are going to be great for virtualized environments. A Microsoft Nano Server's tiny size means that they will make efficient use of the physical hardware resources that are available for use by virtual servers. This will no doubt go a long way toward increasing a host server's potential VM density and may also end up improving VM performance. At the same time however, virtualization admins may have to rethink the way they manage VMs.

The adoption of Nano Servers probably won't force large, enterprise-class organizations to drastically change the way that they manage VMs. Conversely, smaller organizations that begin using Nano Servers will have to transition into using a management model that closely resembles one used by the largest enterprises. There are two main reasons for this:

The first reason is that an organization that makes full use of Nano Servers is probably going to have more Nano Servers than the total number of VMs that were previously being used. Second, Nano Servers do not have a server console.

Nano Servers aren't like a regular Windows server deployment. According to Microsoft, each Nano Server should be configured to perform one very specific task. Consequently, you will probably never have a multirole or a multifunction Nano Server. A Nano Server is meant to perform one task.

Of course this raises the question of how to configure application servers, since some applications have numerous dependencies. SharePoint, for example, depends on SQL Server, IIS and the .NET Framework.

Nano Servers are not intended to replace every VM in your organization. They are primarily intended for use as infrastructure servers (DNS, DHCP and so on). Applications cannot run on Nano Servers (at least not yet).

The point is that an organization can conserve a significant amount of hardware resources, thereby driving down hardware costs by transitioning to Nano Servers wherever possible. The end result will be a mixture of Nano Servers and VMs running more traditional Windows Server deployments. However, this model is almost certain to increase the number of VMs that must be managed.

Enterprise-class organizations commonly manage thousands of VMs and have become very adept at doing so. Although it is unlikely that smaller organizations will suddenly find themselves managing thousands of VMs, they can learn a lot by looking at the VM management techniques used by larger organizations.

Many of these management techniques used in larger organizations will become more universally important, because Nano Servers do not have a server console.

At first, the idea of a server not having a console may not seem all that different from the way things are today. After all, when Microsoft introduced the concept of server core deployments, it was often said that core servers did not have a console. However, there is a big difference. Server core deployments have a pseudo console. These servers might, for instance, provide a command-line interface. Nano Servers do not have a command-line interface. If you open a Microsoft Nano Server VM's console, you will see a black screen with a flashing cursor, and that's all. At least that is how it looks in the preview release.

In smaller organizations it is easy to get into the habit of managing VMs by opening VM Manager or VMware vCenter, opening a server console and then performing whatever task needs to be done on that server. Enterprise-class organizations don't do this. There are simply too many VMs to be able to manage them all manually. Large organizations rely heavily on bulk management techniques.

The adoption of Nano Servers will force even smaller organizations to adopt bulk VM management techniques similar to those used in enterprise environments. Even if these smaller organizations don't see a huge increase in the number of VMs, the lack of a server console will make manual management nearly impossible. Microsoft Nano Server administrators will have no choice but to adopt bulk management techniques.

Nano Servers have the potential to reduce the cost of server virtualization by decreasing VM hardware use. However, Nano Servers are significantly different from traditional Windows Server deployments and will therefore force smaller shops to adopt bulk VM management techniques.

Next Steps

Complications with a Nano Server install

Going small with Windows Nano Servers

Improve your server's performance in 10 minutes

This was last published in September 2015



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Do you plan to adopt Microsoft Nano Servers? What will you use them for?