back to article Inside the guts of Nano Server, Microsoft's tiny new Cloud OS

Engineers from Microsoft's Windows Server team took the stage at the Build developer conference in San Francisco this week to share more details on Nano Server, the upcoming micro-sized version of the OS aimed at cloud deployments. "Nano Server is by far the most important, most significant change we've made in Server since …

  1. Alan Bourke

    "Just for starters, Nano Server is 64-bit only, meaning 32-bit binaries won't run"

    The what now? Do you mean 16-bit binaries?

    1. joeldillon

      Re: "Just for starters, Nano Server is 64-bit only, meaning 32-bit binaries won't run"

      I imagine they mean 32 bit binaries, i.e. it won't include WoW64, being minimalist and all.

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Re: "Just for starters, Nano Server is 64-bit only, meaning 32-bit binaries won't run"

        But they can make it available as an installable feature like the GUI surely?

        1. Afernie

          Re: "Just for starters, Nano Server is 64-bit only, meaning 32-bit binaries won't run"

          I expect they can, but there comes a time when a decision has to be made about supporting what is, in the end, a legacy subsystem, just as 16-bit application support has had a line drawn under it.

  2. AndrueC Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I once managed to fit a working Windows 3.1 installation onto a 1.44MB floppy disk. It took me half a day to whittle things down and tweak system.ini.

    It wasn't worth it.

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      "Nano Server's disk footprint today is just 400MB, Snover said, and it probably won't ever get much larger."

      So you could make a 512mb USB flash drive of this — physical cost about £1 — and that'll apparently remain possible for all time. Definitely not a foolish prediction.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "remain possible for all time"

        For the life time of the product. I know, I know... a difficult concept to grasp, that is easier to ignore and make a specious comment.

    2. Dallas IT

      Disk storage is cheap. Since they're focusing this on cloud it's likely they're envisioning use cases where a few dozen systems are spun up to support an app and there the disk savings start to become more detectable.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Since they're focusing this on cloud it's likely they're envisioning use cases where a few dozen systems are spun up to support an app and there the disk savings start to become more detectable.

        Small OS images also help when you're copying them over a relatively slow network link, which is sometimes the case for developers pushing updates to the cloud as part of a test/fix/build cycle.

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    Mork calling Orson

    Nano Nano?

    I couldn't resist! It's Friday... pints all around.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mork calling Orson

      That may not mean anything to those young whippersnappers here :).

      1. Afernie

        Re: Mork calling Orson

        Sure it does - and still so relevant today:

        Mork: What's a kleptomaniac?

        Mindy McConnell: Well a kleptomaniac is somebody who steals compulsively.

        Mork: Oh, like politicians

  4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    No GUI?

    With no GUI, we should really stop referring to it as Windows.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: No GUI?

        I was actually thinking something like Decluttered Operating System. There's something about MS DOS as an acronym. I can't quite put my finger on it.....

        And then you could also have the client OS for phones and tablets. I don't know. Something like Phone Compatible Decluttered Operating System.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No GUI?

          There's something about MS DOS as an acronym. I can't quite put my finger on it.....

          We called it Microsoft Denial Of Service :)

        2. Jon_Boy

          Re: No GUI?

          Surely that would be Defenestrated Operating System?

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: No GUI? @Jon_Boy

            I doff my hat to you, sir.

            That is clearly a much better backronym, and makes my suggestion pale into insignificance.

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: "With no GUI, we should really stop referring to it as Windows."

      OK, then.

      Walls...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No GUI?

      How about Unix

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No GUI?

        or VMS?

        1. Canecutter

          Re: No GUI?

          Perhaps they will try to convince the world to return to VMS.

          What's old is once more new!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: No GUI?

            "convince the world to return to VMS."

            No mention of Cutler in the article. Is he still at MS (he was at MS Research, then seen to be working on Xbox).

            He'd be a good man to talk to about the design and implementation of a minimalist robust OS (VMS, VAXELN, RSX11 and some less famous ones).

    4. Captain DaFt

      Re: No GUI?

      "With no GUI, we should really stop referring to it as Windows."

      Uh... 'Curtains'? <Ducking and running>.

    5. nilfs2

      Re: No GUI?

      The name should go back to MS DOS.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the Applications Stupid!

    A good deal of commercial applications require a GUI to install. Yes Server Core has been around for how long... but we all know the rule, 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'. MS will have a hard job ahead getting every application converted to this model (if at all).

    The everything remote mantra will probably work for MS shops. Those who run SQLServer, Exchange, Biztalk and the like but there are a whole raft of products out there that just won't install without a GUI running on the box.

    I know that this is heresy in this 'lets bung everything into the cloud' but there are lots of SME's that just won't do that. Their Server 2008 SBS is all that they need. I don't see a compelling plan for them to chuck their whole biz into the AMS or Azure clouds.

    We offer cloud services for our customers. The takeup is very small. They prefer the IT systems that run their plant to be on-site. There is very little elastic demand so having that in even a local cloud is rather overkill.

    But it is early days yet. We shall have to see how much this OS gets knobbled by MS Management before it hits the streets. Only then will we know if MS are onto a winner here or not.

    1. Ragarath

      Re: It's the Applications Stupid!

      You do realise it said many times through the article that the options for the full fat server are still there for those that need it?

    2. graeme leggett

      Re: It's the Applications Stupid!

      "whole raft of products out there that just won't install without a GUI running on the box"

      The way forward is now going to be 'a whole raft of products that will install under a GUI running on a different box'

    3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: It's the Applications Stupid!

      > A good deal of commercial applications require a GUI to install.

      Just build SSH and X11 support into the nano-server, and you could just export the installer GUI to a remote machine... (don't bother with Wayland or Mir, because we know those are hostile to anything being run remotely)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looking a bit deeper into this...

    This is a list of the modules actually loaded by the Nano Server stack:

    - DrmManager

    - LicenseManager

    - NSAPassThruConduit

    - Clippy

    - MSBob

    - Wine

    and somewhat surprisingly:

    - systemd

    - vmlinux

    I wonder what it all means?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Looking a bit deeper into this...

      I like the idea of Clippy as a default module, LOL.

      Hi, it appears you're trying to set up a server. Do you want to:

      a) do it all yourself manually

      b) let me bollocks it up for you

      c) watch some ASCII p*rn instead? (no GUI).

  7. Neil Alexander

    Let us embrace

    ... the miniature Hyper-V future!

  8. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    It's a Snover Server!

  9. Nate Amsden Silver badge

    took long enough

    I don't know why I remember shit like this

    (in reference to MS hotmail FreeBSD->Windows migration)

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/11/21/ms_paper_touts_unix/

    "We find also that the Windows image size can be a real inconvenience on a big farm: "The team was unable to reduce the size of the image below 900MB; Windows contains many complex relationships between pieces, and the team was not able to determine with safety how much could be left out of the image. Although disk space on each server was not an issue, the time taken to image thousands of servers across the internal network was significant. By comparison, the equivalent FreeBSD image size is a few tens of MB.""

    1. Decade
      Boffin

      Re: took long enough

      Microsoft calls 400 MB “small,” not including drivers. The cloud people call that huge and slow, and are looking to minimize it. Docker is promoting minimalist operating systems like Ubuntu Core, that take like 40 MB of storage. Xen is promoting unikernels that can take less than 1 MB of memory.

      Not to mention that, if you really wanted to, you could make a server out of OpenWRT, that routinely fits Linux and a bunch of other stuff into 8MB of flash.

      Microsoft has a real problem with relevance. Only fools would make themselves dependent on Microsoft products.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: took long enough

      So is this final proof that MS was lying during the antitrust trials when they said Internet Explorer couldn't be removed from Windows? Although I guess now they've also removed Windows from Windows, so maybe they weren't totally lying...

    3. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: took long enough

      The link on the reg article is dead, you might find this useful instead:

      https://superfrink.net/athenaeum/www.securityoffice.net/mssecrets/hotmail.html

      Not sure it is 100% accurate.

      Don't you just love the "Strengths of Windows" section ...

      1. is an utter lie, even back then, if you consider Linux a Unix system

      2. Might have been true then, today, it's completely different

      3. BS, how can I read the temperature, for example, on Windows ? Even back then, the guy who wrote that did not know about dmesg.

      4. UNIX (FreeBSD and Linux) have better hardware support than windows

      5. Is there a version of Windows in Esperanto ? Linux now has so many more translations than windows ... and I am sure FreeBSD just picks them up.

  10. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Pint Sized?

    I know proper Imperial Pints are a bit bigger than Colonial ones (which are based on the Wine Gallon, oh the shame), but if 400MB is "Pint Sized", I have to wonder how any of you can find your feet, let alone your shoes, after a night down at the local.

  11. IGnatius T Foobar

    Microsoft Unix

    After every round of upgrades, Windows Server becomes more and more like Unix.

    1. InNY

      Re: Microsoft Unix

      Microsoft (AT&T) Xenix was pretty good. Fast, stable and easy. But then it wasn't actually Microsoft's...

    2. Afernie
      Thumb Up

      Re: Microsoft Unix

      And that's no bad thing. Powershell remains the single best thing Microsoft have done in a long time, and many aspects of its heritage are easy to trace.

  12. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    It will however take time for us used to the gui (even over rdc) to change over but then if all it b s running is sql express and some websites this cab only be a good thing. Just hope the remote tools are upto the job.

  13. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Seems like a good idea to me.

    First off... I am no Windows fan, but think this is an interesting move on their part, and I hope they have good success developing a stripped Windows. The biggest problem Windows has had is the layer after layer of congealed together, interdependent, bloated cruft; more recently, .NET and so on kind of "sits on top" so a lot of the cruft is not even necessary. This sounds like it strips it right out.

    "A good deal of commercial applications require a GUI to install."

    Yep, the article says right now the "install method" is to just copy files into the install image. They'll have to work on this. Most Windows installers really just ask a question or two (which can be automated for automated installs) and show a progress bar, so I can't see any reason why these can't be made to work without GUI (to be honest, I assumed they already could work without GUI -- if some MSIs get pushed onto your WIndows box by the administrator, it really pops up Windows randomly while it does it's thing?...)

    " Yes Server Core has been around for how long... but we all know the rule, 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'. MS will have a hard job ahead getting every application converted to this model (if at all)."

    Except, this core still had way WAY more cruft than Nano, much of which is really not needed for a server. I think Nano is taking the general concept of Server Core and going way beyond it.

    "The everything remote mantra will probably work for MS shops. Those who run SQLServer, Exchange, Biztalk and the like but there are a whole raft of products out there that just won't install without a GUI running on the box."

    Well, there's plenty of setups (both Windows and otherwise) where someone deploys (usually a VM these days), it runs some services. They script updates, software installs, software replacements, configuration changes, and so on, either "roll your own" or using something like Puppet -- a GUI is actually a hindrance in this case.

    But, I think if the goals of Nano come to fruition, it could still be useful for your scenario where you need a GUI (although Server Core does allow removing some items) -- you could have the GUI, but (unless you want it) no print support, no scanner support, no fax support, no dialup networking, no wifi support, no DirectX support, and so on; exploits in these subsystems cannot be exploited if they don't even exist on your install.

    1. Philip Lewis

      Re: Seems like a good idea to me.

      Isn't .NET currently needed in order to use powershell? Probably enough reason not to use it actually ...

      1. keith_w

        Re: Seems like a good idea to me.

        Apparently you missed this:

        "All management is done remotely, via a combination of Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and PowerShell – or more accurately, Core PowerShell, a new formulation of Redmond's command line that runs on the Core CLR, rather than the full .Net runtime."

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The licensing possibilities are endless !

  15. W. Anderson

    A Microsoft follow-on that rates secondarily

    The 'concept ' of a Windows 'nano-Server' for advanced Cloud Computing is solid, as already proven by slimmed down, single purpose CoreOS, RedHat Atomic Host and Ubuntu Snappy.

    But there are at least 2 critical technical considerations that must be addressed - completely and truthfully by Microsoft, which determines whether Nano-Server is a dud or an alternative - although far inferior - choice against Linux and BSD UNIX-like Cloud Computing Server configurations.

    One is the Windows ResFS file system that is woefully inadequate and weak in performance and scalability compared to ZFS and btrfs file systems in NIX (UNIX and/or Linux), and indispensible for high performance Cloud Computing according to several "real world" case studies and evaluations performed by entities like Oracle, IBM, NEC, HP, Boeing, Ericsson, AT&T and many others for large scale Cloud Computing environments.

    The second concern relates to the exploding use and requirement for "Containerization" functionality, now deemed critical in all Cloud Computing technology, with popular and highly demanded Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) based Docker containerization in particular, developed with and for NIX environments that Microsoft is "bolting on" or "retro-fitting" to their Azure Cloud Computing solution with mixed results at best, since the licensing and copyright for Docker does not permit the type of "proprietary" integration with Windows that Microsoft would prefer.

    While it is possible to run Linux and UNIX Docker containers "within" Azure Cloud services, this is calculated as a convoluted approach, much as it is building a brick house on a sand foundation. A powerful and robust Cloud Computing solution built on NIX with 'native" Docker, Rocket or BSD Jails Containers is technically superior and considerably more sensible that disjointed Microsoft offerings.

  16. Rik Myslewski

    Nice job

    Thanks, Neil, I learned a lot from your good reporting.

    'Preciate it.

  17. J J Carter Silver badge

    Will it run on Raspberry pi?

    1. graeme leggett

      Someone will try, and that's a good thing.

    2. oldcoder

      Nope.

      64 bit only. None of the Raspberry pi products have a 64 bit processor.

      HOWEVER, it is possible it would work via qemu emulating a 64 bit Intel x86-64 processor...

  18. Steve Knox
    Meh

    So....

    "It's really the foundation for all of the components, going forward," Snover said. "We want a model of 'just enough OS'. If you're running an application and you need 5GB worth of components, great; you should have 5GB of components. But you shouldn't have 10GB. And if you only want 900MB, you should only have 900MB."

    So, a modular OS, then -- kind of like people have been asking MS for for about 25 years? The kind Microsoft said was impossible to do in their defense of the whole IE bundling thing?

  19. Dallas IT

    Registry... Why keep it?

    Why would Microsoft keep the concept of the registry when they're removing all GUI access? Does anyone really want to manage the registry completely from command line?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Registry... Why keep it?

      That's not hard. At the command line, you just type "regedit" and hit enter.

      Oh, wait...

    2. James Cane

      Re: Registry... Why keep it?

      You can manage the registry of a remote machine using RegEdit over the network.

      1. James Cane

        Re: Registry... Why keep it?

        But if you've got hundreds or thousands of identical servers running in a datacentre, what are you doing accessing any machine directly, rather than through an automated tool?

    3. nk

      Re: Registry... Why keep it?

      >Does anyone really want to manage the registry completely from command line?

      While possible even in cmd (albeit tiresome) it is even less of a problem in powershell.

      You can mount registry hives and treat them like a file system (within PSh only though, not on windows explorer)

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: Registry... Why keep it?

        > You can mount registry hives and treat them like a file system

        Yeah, the registry usually gives me hives too...

    4. h3

      Re: Registry... Why keep it?

      Use reg.exe it is not that bad.

  20. wayward4now

    Thieves

    They stole the name of my favorite Linux commandline editor. Bastards.

  21. jelabarre59 Silver badge

    nano desktop

    Now if they could just do the same thing for the desktop version of "MSWindows" as well. Then I could have a nice, stripped-down VM instance running only what a particular application needs. If I'm filing my taxes, why do I need a media player, solitaire and a chat client?

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