First 'Semi-Annual' Windows Server Release Coming October

The first "semi-annual channel" release for Windows Server 2016 (version 1709) will arrive in "early October," Microsoft reiterated this week at Ignite.

Windows Server 2016 version 1709 will be available for organizations having Software Assurance on top of their server licensing in "mid-October," according to Microsoft's announcement. It'll also be possible for MSDN subscribers to download version 1709 from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center at that time.

Semi-annual channel updates get released every six months, bringing new features to Windows Server 2016, in an approximate spring and fall release cycle. Organizations going the semi-annual update route will have server versions supported for 18 months before they'll have to jump to the next release. Microsoft also supports its traditional "long-term servicing branch" approach for Windows Server, with upgrades released every two to three years. At Ignite, Microsoft is promising to explain the new update cadence with Windows Server 2016 in its Wednesday sessions.

The changes coming with next month's Windows Server 2016 version 1709 release will mostly center on "investments accruing to applications, particularly those built on containers and microservices," Microsoft's announcement explained. Microsoft also is promising that version 1709 has the potential to permit both Linux and Windows containers to run on the same machine, explaining that "the Docker work is nearly completed." Microsoft and Docker had outlined that capability earlier this month, which partly depends on a Docker LinuxKit software project.

The dual container support coming with Windows Server 2016 version 1709 means that organizations won't have to spin up dedicated virtual machines anymore for Windows and Linux, explained Jeff Woolsey, principal program manager for Windows Server, in a video contained in Microsoft's announcement.

Software Assurance Requirement
The semi-annual channel release cycle is already in effect for the Windows 10 client and Office 365 ProPlus productivity suite products. The main difference on the Windows Server 2016 side is that organizations will need Software Assurance to take advantage of the more frequent updates.

Software Assurance, an annuity on top of the licensing, is also a requirement to use the Nano Server minimal-footprint role of Windows Server 2016. Nano Server just has a role for supporting container images now, but it's also "nearly 80% smaller," Microsoft's announcement explained. Microsoft had outlined those changes and the coming semi-annual channel release plan for Windows Server 2016 back in June. However, only this week did it specifically indicate when the first semi-annual channel release would occur.

Server Core is Microsoft's main recommendation now for running workloads on Windows Server 2016. Organizations will be able to manage Server Core remotely using Project Honolulu, which is Microsoft's new browser-based management tool that promises to be more comprehensive than the earlier Server Management Tools product, which was deprecated. Project Honolulu also will be capable of remotely managing Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft's announcement promised.

Docker Addition
In related news, Microsoft this week announced that Docker's ingress routing mesh capability will be part of Windows Server 2016 version 1709. It's an addition to Swarm, which is Docker's container management solution. Organizations typically might use the routing mesh approach to simplify production environments, but it's mainly conceived as perk for developers. In particular, the ingress routing mesh feature enables container access via a single port.

"With ingress routing mesh, the containers for a published service, can all be accessed through a single 'swarm port' -- one port, published on every swarm host (even the hosts where no container for the service is currently running!)," the announcement explained.

The routing mesh approach is the default behavior for Linux containers, "and now it's also supported as the default on Windows," the announcement added.

The ingress routing mesh capability requires Windows Server 2016 version 1709 plus the Docker Enterprise Edition, which is currently at the preview stage.