The release of a new operating system (OS) often results in challenges for backup operators. Backing up the new OS, for instance, may require a new backup agent specifically designed to be compatible with it. In the case of Microsoft Windows Server 2016, which is scheduled for release sometime next year, data backup requirements and challenges may go far beyond the need for an updated agent. The new OS will include features that current backup applications may be ill-equipped to handle.
One of the biggest changes Microsoft is making in Windows Server 2016 is the introduction of Nano Server. However, Nano Server is also one of the two features with the potential to be the most problematic in regard to the backup requirements process.
Nano Server will be a tiny, completely bare-bones way to deploy Microsoft Windows Server 2016. This concept isn't exactly new; Microsoft has long offered the option to deploy Windows Server in a lightweight Server Core configuration. Even so, a Nano Server deployment will be far smaller than a server core deployment. It will be so small that Nano Server won't include a user interface -- not even PowerShell.
Nano Server's small size -- about half a gigabyte in the current preview release -- and lack of a user interface limit its use. For now, Microsoft recommends that Nano Server be used to host Hyper-V, scale out file servers or run cloud applications.
While it will be possible to create backups of Nano Servers, they will require some planning. If a Nano Server is running as a VM, a virtualization-aware backup application with Windows Server 2016 support should be able to back it up. If a guest-level backup is required, the backup agent -- which must be Nano Server-compatible -- will need to be injected into the deployment image from which Nano Server is created. Nano Server can only be installed from a deployment image.
Microsoft Windows containers
Another Microsoft Windows Server 2016 feature with the potential to break an organization's backups is containers. Microsoft has not yet released a lot of information about containers, aside from the fact that Windows containers will essentially be Docker containers designed to work with Windows. And these containers will be useful to virtualize applications.
The problem with backing up Windows containers is that backup vendors may not initially offer a good solution for container backups. This will likely change over time, but early adopters will have to find a way to back up containers within the limits of their backup application's capabilities.
Although Docker has been around for a while, most backup vendors do not have Docker-specific capabilities baked into their software. Organizations running Docker on Linux servers commonly use scheduled scripts to back up Docker containers to a tar file. Once created, the tar file can be backed up just like any other file.
Windows as a Service architecture
It isn't just the Microsoft Windows Server 2016 feature set that has the potential to complicate backup requirements. Microsoft also plans to deliver Windows as a Service. So far, Microsoft has only talked about Windows as a Service with regard to the new Windows 10 OS. Even so, Microsoft has a long history of Windows desktop and Windows Server builds paralleling one another. As such, there is a strong possibility that Microsoft will extend the concept of Windows as a Service to Windows Server 2016.
For those unfamiliar with Windows as a Service, it refers to Microsoft's plan to deliver new features and capabilities to the Windows OS through updates, rather than requiring customers to purchase new versions of Windows every few years. If this approach is applied to Windows Server, backup operators will have to perform rigorous testing of new builds -- especially those that contain major changes or additions -- to ensure that updates do not cause problems.
Microsoft Windows Server 2016 has the potential to force organizations to rethink their backup strategy. Initially, it will probably only be the early adopters who have to deal with issues that stem from using backups in conjunction with new Windows Server features. But as the new features gain wider adoption, organizations will have to think about how their backups will be impacted.
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