What Does Windows Server 2016 Mean for Small Businesses?

There’s lots of exciting new features in the current technical preview of Windows Server 2016, but if you have one or more on-premise Windows Server 2012 boxes, will Microsoft’s new server OS be worth the upgrade?

There’s one thing that’s clear in the forthcoming release of Windows Server, and to a lesser extent in Windows Server 2012 R2, which was released alongside Windows 8.1 in October 2013, and that is most of the new functionality in these releases is aimed at large enterprises. In addition, functionality is also aimed at infrastructure services needed for running a private cloud or for enabling DevOps teams to work more efficiently.

In my summary of new features, Microsoft Releases Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 on the Petri IT Knowledgebase, I listed some of the new features, such as support for Docker and Windows Containers, improvements to Nano, Software-Defined Networking (SDN), and Virtual Network Appliances. And prior to the release of TP3, Windows Server 2016 already included improvements to Hyper-V, storage, and networking, such as Storage Spaces Direct and DNS Policies.

But if your small or medium business is already running Windows Server 2012 R2, it’s likely that there’s not much to entice you into upgrading when Windows Server 2016 becomes available early next year. The exceptions to that rule may be if you require on-site storage or virtualization with failover capability, but that’s beyond what most SMBs deploy on-site because of the specialist skills required to support the infrastructure.

Will Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 be better together?

The ‘better together’ mantra has long been used by Microsoft to try and persuade customers that client and server operating systems running the same underlying version of Windows work more effectively, than, for example, Windows 10 clients connecting to Windows Server 2012 domain controllers or other server roles. But Windows 10 is the first client OS to release without a corresponding server version, which we’ll have to wait for until early 2016.

So we could conclude that due to the six-month gap between client and server OS release dates, that Windows Server 2016 won’t be required to use new features in Windows 10. That does seem to the case at the time of writing, but because Windows 10, and assumedly Windows Server 2016, will be delivered as a service, i.e. we can expect rolling updates that add new functionality, it may be that Windows Server 2016 may be required to use certain features at a later date.

But I think the majority of Windows 10 features, even those that are not present in the current RTM build, such as Passport, Enterprise Data Protection (EDP), Windows Update for Business, and Windows Store for Business, will either require a domain running Windows Server 2012 R2 domain controllers, or Azure Active Directory (AAD).

Microsoft focusing on the cloud

As Microsoft pushes organizations to move to the cloud, it wouldn’t make sense to demand that SMBs have Windows Server 2016 running on premise to benefit from features new in Windows 10. Windows Server 2016 is all about the cloud — both public and private — and DevOps, so you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise without touching on premise servers. It’s worth noting that Windows Server 2008 R2 KMS hosts are waiting for an update to support activating Windows 10 clients.

But that said, if you do need to maintain servers on site, moving to Server 2016 is likely to be beneficial at some point, to get security updates once Windows Server 2012 R2 is no longer supported, and to take advantage of features beneficial for SMBs that won’t be present in the RTM build that’s released next year.