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Containers Come to Hyper-V

They were part of Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 4.

Although Docker has a large lead in container use and hype, challengers crop up nearly every day. Add to that the newest offering from Microsoft, built around its core hypervisor, Hyper-V.

Yesterday, Microsoft released Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 4, providing a first look at Hyper-V containers, an additional deployment option for those looking to create multitenant environments. Hyper-V containers offer a higher level of isolation, which offers better security, according to Microsoft. It's available for download now along with the new System Center 2016 Technical Preview 4.

In addition to the debut of Hyper-V containers, Microsoft has issued improvements to Windows Server containers and the Docker Engine for Windows, which made their appearance in the last technical preview, released back in August.

"Hyper-V containers isolate applications with the guarantees associated with traditional virtualization, but with the ease, image format and management model of Windows Server containers, including the support of Docker Engine," according to Microsoft's Server and Cloud blog post.  "You can make the choice at deployment of whether your application needs the isolation provided by Hyper-V containers or not, without having to make any changes to the container image or the container configuration."

Microsoft acknowledges that while there's still room for improvement, application compatibility is a key focus in the new technical preview. Among the applications and application frameworks that now work with Windows Server containers are ASP.NET 3.5 and 4.6. In addition, the new Nano Server deployment option allows for deployment as both a container host and as a container runtime in which the OS runs within the container. Microsoft said this is "a lean, efficient installation of Windows Server ideal for born-in-the-cloud applications." Microsoft also added support for shared folders support, which Docker calls volumes, as well as hostname configuration.

The Nano Server, Microsoft's reduced servicing deployment option, also includes support for Desired State Configuration, which is aimed at helping automate large server deployments, championed by Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover and lead architect for the server and cloud group. "These give you the tools for rapid iteration and lighter weight DevOps," Snover said.

Nano Server can now run as a DNS Server or Web Server (IIS). Another key new feature added to Nano Server is the Windows Server Application (WSA) installer based on AppX, which Microsoft said provides a way to install other agents, tools and applications on the server.

Microsoft also announced new software-defined datacenter improvements. Building on the Azure-consistent stack of the last technical preview, Microsoft has added high availability to the network controller, improved load balancing, container network and live migration support. Microsoft has also added Virtual Machine Multi-Queue to enable 10G+ performance.

On the storage front, Microsoft has upgraded its Storage Spaces Direct feature to support all flash configurations with NVMe SSD and SATA SSD devices and Erasure Coding, which Microsoft said offers better storage efficiency. The Storage Health Service has improved health monitoring and operations, with one monitoring point per cluster. Storage QoS now supports adjusting the normalization size of the algorithm from the current default 8 KB settings, Microsoft said.

The new security features include shielded VMs and Just Enough Administration, which restricts administrator rights. The latest preview also supports domain controllers and server maintenance roles.

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.

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