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Windows Server 2019 Skips RTM, Goes Straight to Release

Windows Server 2019 has reached the "general availability" stage, Microsoft announced on Tuesday, though organizations will have to wait a few more months for equipment makers to roll out the related hardware.

The new server OS is available in Essentials, Standard and Datacenter editions. It can be downloaded from the Volume Licensing Service Center by Windows Server licensees with Software Assurance coverage (Software Assurance is an annuity that assures upgrades within a contract period). It's also available for download by testers at Microsoft's Evaluation Center. Those deploying Windows Server 2019 on an Azure virtual machine can access the download from the Azure Marketplace.

Various professional subscribers and partners, though, will have to wait to get the Windows Server 2019 bits. "Later in October, we'll be adding Windows Server 2019 to Visual Studio Subscription (former MSDN) and other portals, such as the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN)," Microsoft's announcement clarified.

For details about Windows Server 2019 features, see this newly published "What's New" Microsoft document.

RTM Got Skipped
The reason that certified hardware isn't available yet from Microsoft's OEM partners is that Microsoft skipped the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) stage with this release of Windows Server 2019. "RTM" signifies a milestone when equipment manufacturers test the polished bits on hardware before releasing new integrated products.

This release constitutes the first Windows Server OS product to dispense with an RTM, according to an announcement by Cosmos Darwin, a senior program manager on Microsoft's Core OS team:

Windows Server 2019 is the first version to skip the classic Release To Manufacturing (RTM) milestone and go directly to General Availability (GA). This change is motivated by the increasing popularity of virtual machines, containers, and deploying in the cloud. But it also means the hardware ecosystem hasn't had the chance to validate and certify systems or components before the release; instead, they start doing so today.

Microsoft has a Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) program for its hardware partners that's designed to validate key Windows Server features, including storage features like Storage Spaces Direct (a Datacenter Edition feature), as well as the hyperconverged infrastructure capabilities of the operating system. The goal of the program is to produce certified Windows Server hardware. For details on the program, see this Q&A.

The first certified Windows Server 2019 hardware products are expected to "launch in mid-January 2019," Darwin indicated. There will be a WSSD launch event around that time, he added.

Instead of waiting for the WSSD launch, it's possible to build the hardware from scratch using components listed in the Windows Server catalog, which is an approach that Microsoft supports for Windows Server 2019. However, until the WSSD launch event happens, Microsoft will pop up an advisory message concerning the use of features like Storage Spaces Direct and software-defined networking capabilities in Windows Server 2019, as indicated in Knowledge Base article KB4464776.

The Knowledge Base article describes a pop-up notice that tells Windows Server 2019 users that the node using the current build of the OS "will be quarantined."

The notice is kind of a block, but it's still possible for such custom-built servers to be used in production environments with Windows Server 2019. In such cases, individuals will need to contact Microsoft Support to get directions on disabling the advisory message.

Microsoft plans to release a final build of Windows Server 2019 (build 17763) that will dispense with the advisory message.

In-Place Upgrades Supported
For organizations using Windows Server 2016, Microsoft does support "in-place upgrades" to Windows Server 2019, depending on hardware requirements. An in-place upgrade replaces the underlying OS bits, and is different from the traditional "wipe-and-replace" deployment approach. An in-place upgrade, though, should take place when the server is listed as certified in the Windows Server 2019 catalog, Microsoft advised. Organizations can check with their hardware supplier if that's the case.

On top of the Storage Spaces Direct and hyperconverged infrastructure improvements in Windows Server 2019, Microsoft announced on Tuesday that the Remote Desktop Services (RDS) 2019 role in the new server is now at the general availability milestone.

With RDS 2019, Microsoft is promising "reduced network traffic and smooth video playback" due to improved graphics processing unit virtualization technologies. There's also better support for "video-intensive interactions."

Microsoft's RDS announcement tended to stress the benefits of using RDS 2019 from Azure datacenters because it adds scalability support. It also suggested that there will be "a path to go from RDS to Windows Virtual Desktop" on Azure infrastructure. That path will be available when "Windows Virtual Desktop gets closer to preview later in calendar year 2018."

Windows Virtual Desktop is Microsoft's new virtual desktop infrastructure solution that uses Windows 10 instead of Windows Server. It became available as a preview with this week's release of Windows 10 version 1809, according to this IT pro blog post.

Windows Server 2019 Licensing
As with Windows Server 2016, Microsoft licenses Windows Server 2019 by physical core. Licenses are sold in two-packs and 16-packs. Client Access Licenses (an additional cost) are required to support server connections, except when using the Essentials edition.

A datasheet on Windows Server 2019 licensing can be downloaded from Licensing School, a U.K.-based consultancy on Microsoft licensing. It keeps a roster of such publications at this Licensing Guides page.

According to a Licensing School announcement, Microsoft's datasheet "confirms that there's a 10% price increase for Windows Server 2019 Standard Core licenses, and gives a nice overview of the Servicing Channels."

Windows Server 2019 is offered with either the traditional "5 + 5" years servicing option (now called the "long-term servicing channel") or a "semiannual channel" servicing option of 18 months of support between new OS feature updates.

About the Author

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

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