The latest server OS from Microsoft, Windows Server 2016, was released on September 26th, 2016. It has introduced lots of new and prominent features over its predecessor, Windows Server 2012.
Our server research team has been hearing about this latest server OS and its new features for months. So they went ahead and tried out functional upgrades that were included. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the features of Windows Server 2016. We are sure you will be convinced to upgrade your existing server OS to Windows Server 2016.
Internet Information Services 10.0
IIS 10.0 is the latest version of web server shipped with Windows Server 2016 OS. It comes with plenty of new features that will make your site a lot faster. We’ll discuss them one by one in this section.
1. HTTP/2 Protocol Support
HTTP/2 is the major upgrade of the HTTP protocol in the last decade. Thanks to its efficient connection reusability, it can significantly improve the page load time. Let’s have a look at some of the outstanding features of HTTP/2 protocol.
One Connection For Multiple Requests
HTTP/2 reduces the need for a request to wait while a new connection is established, or wait for an existing connection to become idle. This ensures faster access to site resources, which results in fast web page loads.
Header Compression With HPACK
An older version of HTTP supports data compression, but headers are sent as uncompressed text with a lot of redundancy between requests. This makes a browser have to send smaller requests on the first packet which includes headers.
HTTP/2 introduces HPACK compression scheme for HTTP headers, which reduces the redundancy between requests, so the first connection becomes much faster.
HTTP/2 has introduced the concept of PUSH i.e., the server will respond to requests the client hasn’t made yet, by assuming the client will request it soon. For instance, if you browse some part of the web page having 20 requests, but the full page contains more than 100 requests, PUSH will store all 100 assets in the cache, assuming that you’ll request them soon. This feature allows web servers to continue providing the latency benefits, so the client can cache their site assets and reuse them on other pages.
This feature allows web servers to continue providing the latency benefits, so the client can cache their site assets and reuse them on other pages.
To get the benefits of IIS 10 and HTTP/2, recently we moved our website to Windows Server 2016 server. Here’s the screen excerpt of the online HTTP/2 lookup tool.
2. IIS 10.0 on Nano Server
Nano Server is a lightweight installation option for Windows Server 2016 which installs only necessary OS components and therefore uses a very small amount of hardware resources. We will discuss Nano Server thoroughly in a separate section of this blog post.
IIS 10.0 on Nano server supports ASP.NET Core, Apache Tomcat, and PHP workloads. The IIS features included on Nano Server are listed here.
3. Wildcard Host Headers Support
IIS 10 now supports Wildcard Host Headers. Wildcard Host Headers allows IIS to serve all subdomain requests for any single website. For instance, the following would all be valid hosts for accuwebhosting.com website.
- subdomain2.accuwebhosting.com, and so on.
The wildcard host header of *.accuwebhosting.com can be added while setting up the website in IIS Manager.
Windows Defender Without GUI
Windows Server 2016 now includes a built-in anti-malware application called Windows Defender. It actively protects your system against known malware definitions and keeps them updated through the Windows update.
On the Windows Server 2016 OS, Windows Defender runs headless, i.e., without GUI (Graphical User Interface). Running without GUI has lots of benefits, including the ability to utilize the server resources in other areas. Since there’s no GUI, you are less prone to the security vulnerabilities.
If Windows Defender GUI is essential for you, it can be easily installed through Windows PowerShell by issuing the command, shown below, as an Administrator user.
Install-WindowsFeature -Name Windows-Defender-GUI
Until Windows Server 2012 R2, we had 2 types of installation of Windows servers: a server with a GUI (full installation) or just a server core (No GUI).
With the introduction of Windows Server 2016, Microsoft has provided the third type of server installation known as Nano Servers. We can also call it a headless installation as there is no GUI, RDP access and no local login capabilities.
Nano servers can be deployed and managed via PowerShell only. Furthermore, they only support 64-bit application, tools, and agents as Microsoft has removed 32-bit support.
Features of Nano Server
Lightweight: Nano Servers are optimized for the smallest footprint and the lowest disk space usage. So, your actual disk space usage of a server will be less than 1 GB as there’s literally nothing in the file system, but minimal system files, device drivers, and server roles.
Reduced Attack Surface: As Nano Servers run with minimal system files, there are fewer chances of attacks or service exploits.
Total Remote Management: Nano server runs a headless version of Windows Server OS, hence they are only managed through remote PowerShell.
Fewer Reboots: Due to minimal OS components, Nano Server requires fewer updates and reboots as compared to Windows Server with GUI installation.
Usages of Nano Server
Some of the ideal scenarios for Nano server usage are as below.
- A web server running IIS.
- DNS server.
- Storage host for scale-out file server.
- Compute server for HyperV VMs.
- Alternative for container or VM running applications.
Check out Microsoft’s Quick Start Guide for Nano Server installation and How to deploy them.
Web Application Proxy in Windows Server 2016
The latest version of Web Application Proxy shipped with Windows Server 2016 mainly focuses on publishing & pre-authentication of applications and improved user experience.
The following section describes the latest features of Web Application Proxy on Windows Server 2016.
- HTTP to HTTPS Redirection: To ensure your visitors can access only the secure version of your site, even if they neglect to type HTTPS in the URL, Web Application Proxy will automatically redirect it to HTTPS.
- HTTP Publishing: It is now possible to publish HTTP applications using pass-through pre-authentication with Web Application Proxy.
- Pre-authentication for HTTP Basic Application Publishing: HTTP Basic is the authorization protocol used by many other protocols which can be ActiveSync, to connect to rich clients including Smartphone, Exchange mailbox etc. Web Application Proxy interacts with Active Directory Federation Services (AD-FS) using redirection, which is not supported on ActiveSync clients. The new version of Web Application Proxy provides support to publish an application using HTTP Basic by enabling the HTTP app to receive a non-claims relying party trust for the application to the Federation Service.
- Other Features: There are numerous other features as well, including the publishing of RDP gateway apps, new debug log for better troubleshooting, improved service log for complete audit trail, improved error handling, admin console UI improvements and propagation of client IP address to backend applications.
Ease of Maintaining Guest Virtual Machines
HyperV, shipped with Windows Server 2016 also has some great features which are helpful for maintaining the guest virtual machines. For instance, the integration services don’t have to be installed by mounting an ISO file as a DVD. Instead, they are now installed through Windows update.
You can also adjust the amount of memory assigned to a virtual machine while it’s running, even if you haven’t enabled Dynamic Memory. This works for both generation 1 and generation 2 virtual machines, running Windows Server 2016 or Windows 10 OS.
Furthermore, to implement several maintenance tasks, shutting down of a guest VM is essential, which can now be changed without incurring downtime. Having said that, your Hyper-V administrators can now add or remove network adapters, or upgrade RAM, while your VM is running.
There are also significant improvements in the Virtual Hard Drives (VHD) system, allowing it to resize without having to shut down the guest VM. The number of virtual processors a guest VM can be allocated has increased to 128, and the total amount of memory is now over 4TB. Thanks to the nested virtualization feature, you can now create VM on VM, which itself is a guest on a HyperV server.
The number of virtual processors a guest VM can be allocated has increased to 128, and the total amount of memory is now over 4TB. Thanks to the nested virtualization feature, you can now create VM on VM, which itself is a guest on a HyperV server.
There are many situations when a virus infects a VM causing it to consume high resources, which negatively affects the performance of the neighbor VMs. This problem has been resolved on the Windows server 2016 HyperV. The VMs can only utilize the resources allocated to it, which prevents the overuse of particular VM and maintains the performance balance of the main HyperV node.
Improved User Experience & Performance
With its latest Server OS, Microsoft has put more emphasis on demand of the graphical interface of the OS. The desktop experience version of Server 2016 includes all the standard user interface tools and client experience features, which were separate installations on earlier server OS.
With the full desktop experience, you have the look and feel of the Windows 10 user interface, along with the ability to install and configure server roles. Some of the features like Windows update server, RDS workloads, and streaming media services run flawlessly on full desktop experience.
PowerShell 5.0 is introduced with Windows Server 2016. It’s a feature-rich tool with new cmdlets for managing local users and groups. A new
Get-ComputerInfo cmdlet can dump detailed information on the system.
It has many other improvements including a new module called Package Management which allows you to install software packages from the Internet.
The PowerShell 5 now runs on Nano server directly, so the administration of this lightweight server platform is made simpler. PowerShell 5 remote commands have -VM* parameters which allow you to send PowerShell commands directly into the HyperV host VMs.
PowerShell 5 is essential for the users who want to manage their Nano Servers running Windows Server 2016 remotely. PowerShell commands are issued using the VM bus. You can refer to the full list of PowerShell 5 features here.
If we sum up the new features of Windows server 2016, we can certainly conclude that Windows engineers have deeply focused on enhancing the system virtualization, security, resource utilization and optimization of the server.
Looking back at the Windows server 2012 or earlier versions, there are many refinements covered in windows Server 2016. The 2016 preview releases helped Microsoft engineers to collect feedback from users, which they implemented and released in a very satisfying final version.
The features like IIS 10.0 supporting HTTP 2.0, PowerShell 5, Nano Server, Nested Virtualization and Windows Defender will attract Windows Server 2012 users, very likely enticing them to upgrade to Windows server 2016.
So, it’s time to upgrade your Windows Server 2012 to 2016 and get your hands on these cool new features. We would love it if you would share your thoughts in the comment section of this blog post.
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