August 20, 2017

Microsoft & Docker, a Big Investment

Microsoft has invested heavily in Docker, encouraging customers to try Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 Azure cloud compute instance deployments and publishing demonstrations with Docker containers running on this next iteration of Windows Server. The success of Docker for Windows Server is a big goal for Microsoft.

Case in point, at the San Francisco DockerCon in June of this year, Microsoft’s Mark Russinovich, an accomplished developer with contributions including several Windows tools such as the Windows SysInternals demo’d how to build an app to run in Docker containers on Windows Server. “I don’t believe Microsoft would have Mark Russinovich giving demos of how to do this and then yank it from the product,” Matt Baldwin, Head Architect, ProfitBricks, an IaaS company exclaims.

“At this point I think we can safely say that Microsoft will be shipping Docker in Windows Server 2016, which is currently on Technical Preview 2,” says Baldwin. Technical Preview 2 is the second beta version of Windows Server 2016, v10.0.10074, which Microsoft released May 4th of this year.

A Little Microsoft / Docker History

As early as October 2014, the wheels were set in motion to unite Docker and Microsoft on Windows Server under the moniker Windows Server Containers, according to a more recent article / post by Mike Neil, General Manager, Windows Server.

Leaping forward just six months in that same article published April 8th, Neil declared that “today, we are taking containerization one step further by expanding the scenarios and workloads developers can address with containers [through]: Hyper-V Containers, a new container deployment option with enhanced isolation powered by Hyper-V virtualization; [and] Nano Server, a minimal footprint installation of Windows Server that is highly optimized for the cloud, and ideal for containers.”

Microsoft will release its Windows Server 2016 early next year, conspicuously later than it did with its current Windows OS release.

Nano, Nano?

Though a far cry from “Nanu, Nanu”, the memorable, joyous greeting from the late Robin Williams’ character Mork from Ork of Mork & Mindy TV fame, Microsoft has aptly named a version of its futuristic new Windows Server “Nano”. Futuristic enough in fact for Neil to say that it has “evolved dramatically” since its transition to cloud computing, with customers needing an OS designed especially for the purpose of powering applications that never knew life outside the cloud. And so Neil introduces Nano as purpose-built for powering modern apps and containers.

“Nano Server provides just the components you need – nothing else, meaning smaller server images, which reduces deployment times, decreases network bandwidth consumption, and improves uptime and security. This small footprint makes Nano Server an ideal complement for Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, as well as other cloud-optimized scenarios,” says Neil in his blog article before teasing that a Nano preview would be forthcoming.

But with the appearance of Nano the customer’s cry is as much “Hello, Challenges!” as it is “Hello, World!” “The downside to Nano is that you’re required to remotely manage it using WMI or PowerShell. It would be nice to see Microsoft follow through with their intent on shipping some type of SSH support as this would allow broader integrations of tools and systems,” says Baldwin.

As Microsoft has optimized its Windows Server Nano to run containers, so in the long run Microsoft’s Hypervisor will host those containers to further optimize performance vs. running a virtual machine running containers, says Baldwin. “Still, there will always be a need for a variety of deployments: virtual machines with containers, containers on bare-metal, and containers on hypervisors, with workloads dictating the placement of the container,” cautions Baldwin.

Looking to the Future

Microsoft will ultimately have to address services surrounding the orchestration, management, and security of Docker containers as well as how to network them. But first the software behemoth must satisfy the needs of the developer, which they are starting to do. “Their DockerCon15 demo illustrated how well integrated they have made their toolset. Like many other enterprise ISVs, want to make it easy, seamless to move containers from development straight through the pipeline into production,” says Baldwin.

David Geer

David Geer’s work has appeared in ScientificAmerican, The Economist Technology Quarterly, CSO & CSOonline, FierceMarkets, TechTarget, InformationWeek, Computerworld, Byte.com, ITWorld.com, IEEE Computer Society’s Computer magazine, IEEE Distributed Systems Online, Government Security News, Laptop, Smart Computing, Technical Support, The Hosting Standard (Canada), TechWorld.com (UK), SIGnature, Processor, and the Engineering News-Record. David served as a technician at CoreComm in Cleveland, OH prior venturing into writing.

  • It’s great to see Microsoft moving ahead with Docker support. It’s mildly surprising to see their Technical Preview of Docker support lacks SQL Server, which is presumably a must to be relevant to the .NET community. A new option for Docker engine support has also been recently announced by WinDocks, who is supporting SQL Server in Docker containers. You can visit the at http://www.windocks.co