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Windows Cloud Server For Enterprises

Windows Server 2016: The Platform For Your Private Enterprise Cloud

When companies talk about cloud computing, they probably think of global players in the field, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. However, there may be a number of reasons why companies do not want, cannot or are not allowed to use these globally available services. For example, German legislation does not allow the processing of certain data outside the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany, or only with restrictions and high requirements. In such situations, people will consider whether it would not be possible to set up and operate the offerings of the global players in their own data centers.

The latest versions of Windows Server 2016 published by Microsoft at the beginning of October 2016 and additional components such as System Center 2016 represent a platform with which a private cloud can be implemented in the company and which also allows scaling up to the integration of global services so that a hybrid cloud can be created if required.

What Does Cloud Computing Mean For Your Own Data Center?

cloud providerCompanies often believe that if you move your systems and applications to a virtual platform in the data center, you already have your own cloud. But this does not correspond to the idea of cloud computing. For this, automation in the provision of resources and self services is of essential importance for the users or customers of the cloud provider.

A user – in a company, for example, this can be a specialist department – does not want to wait until a demand message reaches the data center team via internal channels and can be processed there manually. Rather, a cloud platform is expected to be able to use a web portal to compile a suitable environment from a catalog of available resources – be they virtual servers, storage space or networks – with just a few mouse clicks and to trigger the provisioning process.

This can only be achieved if no time-consuming installations are required and everything is automatically defined and made available via software. This is why we speak of a software-defined data center.

The Software-Defined Data Center With Windows Server 2016

Microsoft calls Windows Server 2016 the “Cloud Ready” operating system. The new version incorporates many of the experiences that Microsoft has gained over many years of operating the Azure Cloud. The result is a flexible operating system that can be used to set up and operate a software-defined data center in your own company.

I don’t want to bore you with a long list of the innovations that Microsoft has given to the new server operating system. You can find such a list on Microsoft’s websites on the Internet, e.g. under Innovations in Windows Server 2016. However, I would like to briefly mention a few innovations, as they seem very important to me in connection with cloud computing in a software-defined data center.

The Microsoft virtualization component Hyper-V now offers a number of extremely extended limits for the operation of Hyper-V hosts and clusters such as number of nodes, number of VMs and manageable RAM, as well as a particularly secure form of virtual machine, so-called shielded VMs.

These are Bitlocker-encrypted virtual machines whose contents and data are accessible only to their owners. Administrators can manage such VMs, move them between hosts, or back them up, but they have no way of viewing or extracting data from these VMs. A very important feature in cloud computing with potentially competing users and customers!

Hyper-V now also supports nested virtualization. This means that you can now provide additional Hyper-V hosts in a VM. This can be practical when setting up test and demo environments, but also when providing an isolated application environment for a customer. Nested virtualization also enables a new platform for applications based on Docker Container technology. This allows secure cloud services and web servers to be operated that can be deployed very quickly. Hyper-V containers also provide another layer of isolation between applications.

And because we are currently talking about application platforms, Linux is no longer a foreign word in the Microsoft world. With Windows Server 2016, virtual machines in Hyper-V are also fully supported with this alternative operating system, such as Red Hat Linux, SUSE, OpenSUSE, CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian and Oracle Linux.

A new provisioning method for the server operating system is the Nano Server option. A Nano Server is up to 25 times smaller than a classic Windows Server installation. Only the components absolutely necessary for the respective task are installed. This significantly reduces resource consumption, the number of potential attack surfaces and thus also the number of updates and patches. A Nano Server can be configured for many server roles, especially as a host for virtual machines with Hyper-V and then act as a cluster node.

enterprise cloudIn the area of storage management, a new technology called Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) offers the possibility of building highly available and scalable storage clusters using standard server hardware and the local hard disks built into it. Compared to traditional SAN and NAS infrastructures, there is a significant cost reduction because comparatively cheap SATA or SAS drives are used.

And the Storage Replica function, which is also new, ensures synchronous storage replication between different data centers to ensure that data and applications remain available even in the event of a disaster.

And last but not least, the Network Controller should be mentioned. It is a new scalable server role in Windows Server 2016 that can be used to dynamically define and deploy complex network structures. This also includes possibilities for network virtualization in order to be able to operate customer-specific networks in isolation in the cloud environment.

In addition to the NVGRE procedure already known from earlier Windows versions, VXLAN is now also supported, which is even preset as the standard procedure.
Management, monitoring and automation

A cloud environment requires the right tools to manage, monitor and automate its many functions. Windows Server 2016 already includes a number of tools for this purpose.

The Server Manager offers a graphical user interface for managing small infrastructures in particular. It can be used, for example, to call the tools for the various server roles, regardless of whether the service is installed locally or on a different server. You can also quickly get an overview of the status of individual systems. This does not allow complete administration, but the Server Manager is sufficient for the simple daily tasks.

The main tool for the administration, monitoring and automation of a Windows Server or Cloud environment is the Powershell, which is available in all Server Editions including the Nano Server and can now also be used in Linux environments via an Open Source project. There is practically no function that cannot be administered with Powershell.

A special technology within the Powershell of Windows Server 2016 is the Desired State Configuration (DSC). This can be used to describe how a system or individual system components or applications are to be installed and configured. DSC then monitors the processes and can also ensure that deviations are corrected automatically. DSC is also compatible with third-party configuration tools such as Chef or Puppet.

System Center 2016

If you have to administer large infrastructures such as a private cloud, it makes sense to use more advanced tools. Microsoft offers System Center 2016 as an in-house solution for this purpose. The various System Center components ultimately only use the basic mechanisms of Powershell available in the server installations over long distances.

Usually the utilities (“consoles”) and helpers (“wizards”) generate Powershell scripts which are then started as jobs. These scripts can be collected and processed so that recurring administrative tasks for the various components in a software-defined data center can be automatically controlled and monitored.
Self Services via Web Portals

In the introduction, I already pointed out that a cloud offering in your own data center also includes a portal through which end users and customers can order services and administer them themselves. Now Windows Server 2016 itself does not contain such a solution, but you have to fall back on more extensive offers.
Windows Azure Pack

Microsoft Azure Pack for Windows Server is a collection of Microsoft Azure technologies that you as a Microsoft customer can install in your own data center at no additional cost. The Windows Azure Pack integrates with Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, and by using Microsoft Azure technologies, you can offer a comprehensive multi-tenant self-service portal based on the public Microsoft Azure cloud.

With the Windows Azure Pack you can create not only Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offers, but also advanced cloud solutions such as web pages or SQL databases.

Future Vision – Windows Azure Stack

At the Ignite Conference in May 2015, Microsoft announced a new vision for cloud computing in a private data center called Windows Azure Stack. Azure Stack is a Hybrif cloud platform that enables organizations to deliver Azure services in their own data center consistently with the Microsoft Azure public cloud. Azure Stack will be offered as an integrated hardware and software solution through certified hardware vendors. Currently, Microsoft is collaborating with Dell, HP and Lenovo. The release date is currently mid 2017.

A Technical Preview 2 currently exists in the form of a collection of virtual machines that can be downloaded as a package from the Microsoft Azure website and installed on a single server. This preview is not intended for productive use, but is intended to provide a glimpse into the future of how you can offer Azure services in your own data center.


Another interesting alternative for a cloud portal is currently emerging in the OpenStack open source community – Openstack for Hyper-V. This solution will provide a turnkey cloud environment based on Windows 2016 Nano Servers with Storage Spaces Direct. The product is currently under development, but is already available as a technical preview for testing and evaluation purposes.

Just Give It A Try

Now you can of course write many pages of text about the “Cloud Ready” capabilities of Windows Server 2016. But my experience is that “trial and error” is about studying. And so there are programs from Microsoft for testing and productive introduction of the new platform.

Especially the Technet Evaluation Center offers complete evaluation versions for Windows Server 2016 as well as for System Center 2016 including the Windows Azure Pack, which can be used for 180 days without restrictions and obligations and afterwards can be used as fully licensed versions without reinstallation.

In addition, there are various support programs such as the Operational Readiness Kit (ORK) including the Powershell Deployment Toolkit (PDT), which can be used to create specific scenarios for proof of concept projects or productive use relatively easily.

We would be happy to introduce these tools to you and support you in introducing them to your IT environment or migrating from previous Windows Server environments to Windows Server 2016.

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