Channeling the Cloud

With Containers, Windows Server Offers Faster Path to Azure

Microsoft's evolving container approach doesn't necessarily deliver digital nirvana, but it is breaking new ground.

The hottest new modern/Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-style apps are those that are portable, meaning they're OS-, virtual machine- and cloud platform-independent. Container runtimes built on microservices environments, such as Docker or Kubernetes, are starting to provide this new level of portability.

Linux servers, Windows Server 2016 and public cloud providers now offer various levels of support for container platforms. These new container offerings don't deliver digital nirvana, but they're breaking new ground.

For its part, Microsoft has made this easier by offering Docker container support in Azure, Hyper-V and Windows Server. Microsoft is doing the same with the popular Kubernetes. Microsoft's April acquisition of startup Deis enabled the rapid release of Draft. Now in preview, Draft offers templates designed to ease development and deployment of Kubernetes apps and images.

The use cases are quite new but compelling. An example is MetLife. The insurance giant wanted to mash up data from its 400 systems of record spread around the world to deliver modern, customer-facing apps and to give sales and customer service reps better access to siloed data. Some of its legacy systems -- spread across IBM mainframes, AS/400s and early versions of Linux and Windows, among others -- have been in production since 1982. Aaron Ades, MetLife's assistant vice president of engineering, described how developers using the Docker Datacenter container platform wrapped those legacy apps into a layer of microservices. Speaking at the recent annual DockerCon conference in Austin, Texas, Ades said the Docker containers provide a layer of abstraction that makes them accessible with workloads hosted in the Azure cloud.

Starting this fall, partners who want to bring these new cross-platform cloud-native apps to customers on Windows Server can do so by opting for Microsoft's new Semi-annual Channel. Access to these twice-yearly Windows Server releases are available to customers with Software Assurance or Azure subscriptions and partners with Service Provider License Agreements (SPLAs).

Why is this important now? The fall release will introduce revamped Server Core and Nano Server deployment options not offered with traditional Windows Server 2016 licenses. Because Server Core is now the base image that runs Windows Server, Azure and the forthcoming Azure Stack, it plays a critical role in bringing more consistency between the server OS and Azure.

Microsoft is recommending Server Core when hosting virtual machines, as well as containers, configured as either a Windows Nano Server or Linux container image. Server Core and Nano Server will also include the new .NET Core 2.0, which provides an optimized container image supporting 20,000 APIs. According to Microsoft, .NET Core 2.0 will let developers use more code in more places.

Perhaps your clients don't have the legacy systems at the scale and complexity of MetLife, but any organization that's been around for a while certainly has its share of distributed silos. It's natural for new apps, as well. As this technology proliferates, customers inevitably will have an appetite for this new approach, if they don't already.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.