Nano Server – The Good, the Bad, and the Future

Nano Server – What is it (the Good)?

As most of us have undoubtedly noticed, the focus of Microsoft’s latest corporate strategy is a determined push toward the cloud.  We have seen changes in each of the primary product areas, such as Windows, Office, and even enterprise tools, to provide better integration into an existing cloud presence.  There are many new and improved features in Windows Server 2016 alone that enable more efficient cloud services.  The focus of this article is on just one of those many services…Nano Server.

Enterprise software like Windows Server 2016 is being built specifically with cloud implementations in mind.  Nano Server has been designed by Microsoft to yet again provide another key component of their strategy to keep them highly competitive in the private cloud market.

Microsoft recognized that a necessary change in Windows Server was required to accommodate the need for better virtual machine (VM) functionality.  Their solution was to significantly modify the size of the minimum footprint required to run a Windows Server VM, with the result being a stripped-down version of Windows Server that can run a subset of applications and services, but with huge efficiency gains…and Nano Server was born. Nano Server is a remotely administered server operating system optimized for private clouds and datacenters.  It needs far less disk space, deploys much faster, and requires far fewer updates and reboots than a traditional Windows Server.

Now, you may be thinking…this sounds familiar.  Ever heard of Server Core?  That’s right…it’s similar to Server Core, but much smaller, with no local logon or GUI capability (it’s a “headless” environment), and only supports 64-bit applications, tools, and agents.  Nano Server also has the following differences in comparison to Server Core with Desktop Experience installations (so, here’s the “bad”):

  • Cannot function as an Active Directory domain controller.
  • Group Policy is not supported.
  • Cannot be configured to use a proxy server to access the internet.
  • NIC Teaming is not supported. Switch-embedded teaming (SET) is supported instead.
  • System Center Configuration Manager and System Center Data Protection Manager are not supported.
  • Best Practices Analyzer (BPA) cmdlets and BPA integration with Server Manager are not supported.
  • Does not support virtual host bus adapters (HBAs).
  • Does not need to be activated with a product key. When functioning as a Hyper-V host, Nano Server does not support Automatic Virtual Machine Activation(AVMA). Virtual machines running on a Nano Server host can be activated using Key Management Service (KMS) with a generic volume license key or using Active Directory-based activation.
  • The version of Windows PowerShell provided with Nano Server has important differences.
  • Nano Server is supported only on the Current Branch for Business (CBB) model–there is no Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) release for Nano Server at this time.

Nano Server originally may have been an ideal solution as a “compute” host for Hyper-V VMs, as a storage host for Scale-Out File Servers, as a DNS server, as a web server running IIS, or as a host for applications developed using cloud application patterns and running in a container or VM guest operating system.  On paper, Nano Server has some serious potential when paired with Windows Server 2016’s support for container apps. Having the ability to deploy a new VM and install container apps within minutes has a huge potential for both developers and administrators. The added value of being able to run hundreds of these types of VMs on a single host due to the small footprint could be a big plus for IT Pros.

Nano Server – The Future

So, that’s what Nano Server is, or at least, what it once was.  Things have somewhat changed from the beginning.  Nano Server no longer provides all of those “ideal solutions” that once may have attracted us.  Starting with the release of Windows Server 1709 (September 2017), changes to Nano Server took place.

Microsoft is removing all physical features from Nano Server. That means that drivers will be removed. Hyper-V will be removed. Scale-Out-File-Server will be removed. Failover Clustering will be removed. Basically, you will not be able to install Nano Server on a physical virtual machine. In fact, you will not be able to install Nano Server into a VHD either. There will be no virtual machine support.

Microsoft has decided that a smaller Nano Server will be the perfect kernel for running in containers and that will be its focus going forward. For more information on containers, check this out…  The vision is for truly built-for-the-cloud applications that are built for the most portable form of PaaS that there is.

So, where does that leave us?  If you have already deployed Nano Server and you are currently running some of these removed roles, don’t worry.  These “legacy” versions will still be supported for some time (based on traditional Microsoft support policies).  You will still be able to add Full/Core installations of Windows Server 2016 to Nano Server clusters, move the clustered roles, and even remove the Nano Server nodes.  Application servers built using Nano Server will have to be migrated.  That could get interesting, and possibly even be a little painful, but it’s doubtful too many organizations have even deployed to this extent yet.  For those looking for this type of application support in a stripped down environment, we will again go back to discussing the wonders of Server Core, and we will continue to wait and see what Microsoft’s next effort to diminish the full installation will be (or will it end with this recent rollback on Nano?).

You can find references to this information, as well as more details at the following locations:,2-897.html

You can also learn more about Nano Server and Containers in the following course:


And learn more about additional features of Windows Server 2016 in these courses:

Microsoft course MS-20741 – NETWORKING WITH WINDOWS SERVER 2016 Microsoft course MS-20742- IDENTITY WITH WINDOWS SERVER 2016

Watch our schedule for upcoming Windows Server 2016 courses!

Please let us know if you have any questions or if you would like more information regarding courses scheduled at LRS Education Services.


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