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Windows Server Containers are here !!
OCT 13, 2016 20:55 PM
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With the release of Windows Server 2016 this October, we finally have the much awaited feature of being able to launch Windows Containers and deploy Windows native applications on these containers. This journey started a few years back where Microsoft had partnered with Docker to start this project to bring windows containers support, that was to be based on open standards and compliant with the Docker API specifications.

Let us take a brief look at some of the key aspects related to Windows Containers.

  • The Windows containers will run native Windows based applications with the container OS image being either Server Core or the newly introduced Nano Server
    • The Server Core Image was initially introduced with the release of Windows Server 2008 as minimal Windows Server OS with a light footprint with options of some basic GUI applications and a command line execution mode. This was to handle use cases like a DNS Server where the reduced number of services are optimum for that specific server role.
    • The Nano Server (available as part of the Windows Server 2016) is a headless OS with no GUI and is much smaller than the Server Core image. All management on this OS can be performed remotely via PowerShell and WMI. As per Microsoft this has been specifically built for cloud native applications and containers.


  • One of the key highlights is that, since the Windows Container technology is built on top of the standard Docker Engine and exposes the same Docker APIs, all the management tools from Docker including the Client CLI, container orchestrators like Swarm, Mesos and Marathon, can also work seamlessly, as they currently do for Linux Containers. 
  • What this means is, now you can build a true micro-services based architecture using multiple technologies like .NET, Node JS and Java and deploy them across both Windows and Linux containers. 
  • Apart from the Client CLI there are also PowerShell Cmdlets that can be used for automating container management operations.
  • The Windows containers can be deployed in two modes
    • Windows Server Container mode: This is designed on similar lines as the Linux containers there the host kernel is shared and a process level isolation is provided. This is a faster and resource friendly mode to run Windows containers.
      • Use cases include where all containers are part of a single application.
    • Hyper-V Container mode: Here each container runs in a special VM and this provides the container isolation from the host kernel. This results in a higher level of isolation and slightly high resource usage as compared to the other mode.
      • Use cases include where compliance and security are key considerations. Application multi-tenancy requirements can also be one of the governing factor as well.

Image Credit: Microsoft

  • The other aspect to look at is where all can these containers be deployed. Given the Docker API support for Windows containers all deployment models should be possible including purely on premise to hybrid cloud models, using ‘Docker compliant’ orchestration and container management tools. 
  • Azure Container Service is currently providing a private preview for Windows Server Containers with Swarm as the orchestrator, so that is an option which can be used to start experimenting and experiencing this first hand in a cloud environment.


One of the major gaps in the Windows Server arsenal was the ability to run native Windows applications/micro services in a container environment. This is likely to be on the technology radar for most enterprises, especially the ones relying on the Microsoft technologies like .NET. We do expect to see more tools, architecture patterns and cloud offerings evolving around this in the coming year as the industry starts to use experiment and adopt it.


Twitter: @TarunKumarSukhu

Tarun is a Senior Technical Architect at TFG, part of the Technology Office in Engineering and R&D Services group of HCL Technologies and has extensive experience in Product Engineering and Consultancy Services, dealing with Data Management platforms, Cloud, Platform Migration, and Digital e-Commerce. He is also a Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Specialist in Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions

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