First 'Insider' Windows Server 2016 Test Build Released

Microsoft this week released its first preview build of Windows Server 2016 to its Windows Insider Program testers, kicking off Windows 10-like plans for the server product.

Windows Server 2016, build 16237, is currently available to test participants that have signed up to get access via the Windows Insiders for Business or the Windows Insider programs. However, there's a "temporary issue" for Windows Insider for Business participants who signed up using their Azure Active Directory account. Those participants will have download problems. Microsoft's announcement of the Windows Server 2016 preview noted the problem, but it didn't provide details about a resolution. Those users can try using Microsoft accounts via the Windows Insider Program instead, Microsoft suggested.

Windows Server 2016 build 16237 can be tested until it expires, which will happen on Dec. 4, 2017, according to the announcement by Dona Sarkar, a software engineer on the Windows and Devices Group.

Faster Pace for Windows Server 2016
Windows Server 2016 now follows the same biannual update model as Windows 10, System Center Configuration Manager and Office 365 Pro Plus, in which major software updates are expected to arrive in March and September of each year. In addition, Windows Server 2016 now has a Windows Insider test program, where build 16237 constitutes the first release. Microsoft also released build 16241 for Windows 10 testers this week as part of that more long-running test program.

Incidentally, Microsoft plans to answer questions about Windows 10 management during an online event on July 25, with details listed here.

Microsoft's update scheme on the Windows Server 2016 side is somewhat more nuanced than on the Windows 10 client side. Until recently, Windows Server 2016 users were all part of the long-term servicing branch update model, which theoretically could permit organizations to defer updates throughout the product's 10-year lifecycle. Now, Windows Server 2016 also has an option to get updates according to the "semi-annual channel release" cycle (formerly known as the "current branch for business" cycle). In other words, Windows Server 2016 now can track with Microsoft's March and September major update release-cycle scheme.

Microsoft explained this turn of events for Windows Server 2016 last month, indicating that only organizations with Software Assurance coverage for Windows Server 2016 would have the option to get biannual updates. This option was added because some customers wanted to keep pace with "digital transformation," according to an explanation by Erin Chapple, general manager of Windows Server, in Microsoft's June announcement. At that time, Microsoft also explained that Server Core was now Microsoft's recommendation for Windows Server 2016 infrastructure use. Nano Server isn't recommended anymore for infrastructure use. It's now optimized only for supporting container workloads, Microsoft explained.

As a consequence of the new specializations for both Server Core and Nano Server, both of those Windows Server 2016 install options are getting scaled down. The footprint size reductions are reflected in this Windows Server build 16237 test release. Server Core in this release is more than 20 percent smaller, while Nano Server for containers is 70 percent smaller.

"To optimize for containers, several features were removed that were in the Nano Server base image in Windows Server 2016," Sarkar explained. "These [features] include WMI, PowerShell, .NET Core, and the Servicing stack, which has significantly reduced the image size."

Other Highlights
Sarkar's announcement included a bulleted list of the Windows Server 2016 build 16237 changes. A few highlights stood out.

When Windows Server 2016 build 16237 is used for cloud hosting, Server Message Block 1 (SMB 1) will be "disabled by default," Sarkar indicated. The 30-year-old SMB 1 Windows protocol recently made the news as a major security problem. Microsoft recommends that organizations should remove SMB 1 from their networks if possible, and it's now starting to remove it from new Windows Server releases.

Also, this build adds support for shielded Linux virtual machines, encrypted virtual networks and secure clusters when Windows Server 2016 is used for hosting services. Microsoft also added a software-defined networking improvement that permits encryption for virtual network subnets, which can be used to "protect your traffic from anyone with physical access to the wire, including network administrators," Sarkar explained.

Microsoft is improving event-log time traceability in this build. It's being done to address the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation requirements, which are expected to take effect next year, affecting all organizations doing business with EU member states. System Center now has "a new rule which lets you detect when a machine in your environment is out of compliance," Sarkar indicated.

This build has Secure Sockets Layer throttling. This feature helps to "enable predictable service for established connections in the face of high incoming SSL traffic," according to Sarkar.

Microsoft enabled a PowerShell cmdlet, called "Set-VM," that now can be used to "enable and disable Battery Passthrough" on virtual machines. The Battery Passthrough feature permits VMs to have "the same battery state as the host they are on," Sarkar explained.

On the container side, Nano Server is getting .NET Core 2.0 support, along with PowerShell 6.0 support. Microsoft is also providing better Kubernetes container networking support with this build of Windows Server 2016.

Those interested in using this build of Windows Server 2016 with containers can find "matching Windows Server container images" at the Docker Hub, Sarkar added.

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