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New Technical Previews for Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 Released

Both System Center 2016 and Windows Server 2016 received new technical preview versions on Wednesday.

Organizations can try these beta versions today, but final products are expected sometime in Q3 of this year. Microsoft explained this timeline when it released some early licensing information late last year. The company plans to license both products on a per-core model, moving away from its per-processor approach.

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 can be downloaded here, while System Center 2016 Technical Preview 5 is at this page.

The System Center Configuration Manager component of the suite is actually available at the product stage today. It gets regular updates as a service-enabled product. The last release was System Center Configuration Manager 1602 back in March. Microsoft released this component of the System Center 2016 suite early before the other components to support the deployment and management of Windows 10 clients.

Preview Capabilities
System Center 2016 has lots of other components, including Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager, Orchestrator, Data Protection Manager and Service Manager. Technical Preview 5 has something for every IT pro. Microsoft described what can be tested now in this blog post.

In general, Microsoft is stressing hybrid cloud management with its 2016 products. Mike Neil, corporate vice president for enterprise cloud at Microsoft, said in announcement that System Center 2016 is bringing "a new set of capabilities built for the challenges of the cloud," including simplification of the various tools needed for management, and the ability to scale operations.

Along the way, Microsoft also will be selling its Operations Management Suite (OMS) service for managing datacenters and its Microsoft Intune service for mobile device management. Neil stated that "System Center 2016 will include integration with the Operations Management Suite." Intune currently integrates natively with System Center Configuration Manager. Both the OMS and Intune services are extra costs, of course.

For System Center 2016 Technical Preview 5, Neil noted that Microsoft added support for controlling datacenters and managing Linux environments. Also enabled in these previews is Windows Server 2016 support, including support for Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers. It's also possible to manage the Nano Server lifecycle using this System Center 2016 preview, Neil indicated.

Nano Server
Nano Server is Microsoft's newest small footprint deployment option of Windows Server 2016. It's part of Microsoft's DevOps cloud management vision shepherded by Microsoft Technical Fellow Jeffrey Snover. Nano Server has an APPX install model and is a headless server that gets remotely managed, Snover explained at Microsoft's Build developer conference earlier this month.

With Nano Server and the DevOps approach, Microsoft is attempting to address the gap between IT deployment and developer concerns, Snover explained. It's moving more toward an automation model that involves using PowerShell and Desired State Configuration as a management solution for server farms that need to scale. Snover describes these ideas further in this Windows Server blog post. It's the last segment of a 10-part series on Windows Server 2016 benefits.

Microsoft will be giving organizations options with Windows Server 2016. They can use the old graphical user interface (GUI) on the server approach for management or they can go the DevOps route. Microsoft actually restored the GUI option with Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3. However, Snover was clear about Microsoft's future direction, stating in his talk linked above that "the future of [Windows] Server is Nano Server."

In its initial release, Nano Server will be limited to just a few roles. It can serve as the host for compute operations or for storage clusters. It can also serve as the operating system, virtual machine or container for so-called "born in the cloud" applications, per the Windows Server blog post.

Other Capabilities
Other System Center 2016 Technical Preview 5 capabilities called out by Neil include software-defined networking, a Storage Spaces Direct feature and replicated storage volumes.

Some of those features were highlighted in this Microsoft video. Kiran Madnani, a principal lead program manager for System Center, described the setup of "shielded virtual machines" using the Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) component of the System Center 2016 suite. It taps the Host Guardian Service to designate who owns a virtual hard disk (VHDX) file. The VHDX file gets BitLocker encrypted via this process. Setup is automated takes a few clicks.

The Storage Space Direct Cluster feature of VMM will put a bunch of disks into a pool. It works across hosts and also takes just a few clicks to set up.

System Center 2016 Operations Manager now has an improved way to discover Management Packs, which are software components that add functionality to the System Center suite. IT pros don't have to use a browser to hunt down Management Packs at the Microsoft Download Center, Madnani explained. There's a new GetMP function to easily install them.

Operations Manager also has a new "alert tuning" capability. It will show all alerts for a Management Pack based on the rules that are configured in Operations Manager, Madnani explained. It's possible to disable certain alerts, thereby controlling the number that IT pros will see. Microsoft also has integrated OMS into Operations Manager so that IT pros can gain insights into alerts coming from a datacenter, Madnani added.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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