Windows Server 2016

I have written about software-defined data centers quite a bit in the past weeks. This time I dive into Microsoft’s SDDC solution, which is very promising. Microsoft Windows Server 2016 tries its best to become a one-stop shop for the data center environment. Let’s see what tricks it has up its sleeve.

Nano Server is a small, yet powerful muscle

I especially like the Nano Server, a small footprint version of Windows Server, which is optimized for cloud environments. Its hypervisor is only a few hundred megabytes in size, which results in a smaller image, faster restarts, better resource utilization, and tighter security. Fewer patches and update events allow for higher up-time. Scalability is one of its virtues as it allows for really hyper-scale cloud environments that run the so called born-in-the-cloud applications.

Networking virtualized to the bone

A significant number of new network features can be found in Windows Server 2016. Software-defined network (SDN) implementation follows the separation of duties into management, control, and data parts.

Windows Server 2016 (currently available in the Technical Preview version 5) comes with simplified network management. Everything can be managed from the PowerShell as it offers several cmdlets and scripts. Another possibility is to use System Center’s Virtual Machine Manager.

The control part requires the use of at least three controllers (we don’t want to enter into the “split brain” scenario) to build a quorum to achieve a high-availability solution.

The data part is implemented using the Azure Virtual Filtering Platform (VFP). The virtual network policy is defined through the Microsoft Network Controller using an API, while the security policy and rules can be set for each flow/host individually. By implementing the VFP, you can set access lists for every single virtual machine independently to achieve micro-segmentation. The platform itself takes care of the ACL, metering, L2 switching, L3 routing, load balancing, NAT, VPN, IPsec, NVGRE, VxLAN, and much more.

Coupled with a powerful host, the distributed firewalls (the set firewall rules are distributed across the workload in the data center) are capable of achieving up to 40 Gb/s throughputs per server. You want to have your firewalls to be at their best – I have seen so many times how they can become a choke point of modern business solutions. Of course, Microsoft allows you to use third-party appliances for you to have more advanced features in the multitenant environments.

Storage demystified

Storage Spaces Direct is a little wonder of a solution – the idea behind it is for Windows Server 2016 to control/manage all storage devices it can see (being disk drives, SSDs, or even newest NVMe storage hardware) and create a storage pool out of them. So it is using servers with local storage to create highly available and scalable storage. You can use the storage in a converged or hyper-converged way. By using local storage, you can decrease complexity and increase scalability. Auto-tiering helps with hot data, while compression and deduplication save space, which creates big value. Sometimes I find myself thinking about what will be left for the big storage players to sell at a premium if such solutions can make commodity hardware perform so well.

There is another enterprise-grade feature present. Storage Replica takes care of synchronous replication (block based) as it enables mirroring of data on physical sites with crash-consistent volumes to ensure zero data loss. There is asynchronous replication as well – allowing the data storage to extend beyond local sites. Windows Server 2016 comes with the advanced quality-of-service (QoS) feature for storage that delivers centrally monitored end-to-end storage performance. Every VM, tenant, or storage device can be assigned its own storage QoS policies with a specified reserve (minimum) and a limit (maximum) to be applied to a collection of data flows, delivering distributed performance on the host or volume level.

There you have it – Windows Server 2016 is a force to be reckoned with in the software-defined data center.