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Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged options are here

The latest edition of Windows Server from Microsoft includes options for implementing a hyper-converged infrastructure in a Microsoft-only IT operation.

Microsoft has added hyper-converged infrastructure capabilities to Windows Server 2016. This makes it possible for organizations to implement a software-defined data center based on Windows Server and Microsoft-validated hardware.

Microsoft's Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) story begins with the Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) program, a system for creating validated software-defined data center (SDDC) designs in conjunction with Microsoft partners, such as Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Fujitsu and Lenovo. With an SDDC, virtualized, clustered servers function as consolidated resource pools.

The goal of the WSSD program is to ensure that customers deploy and operate their Windows Server SDDC implementations on validated hardware. To this end, the program provides guidance for designing reference architectures and performing SDDC-specific testing. The program also offers "experience guides" and automation scripts to deploy and manage HCI systems.

Some Microsoft partners already offer WSSD-approved systems that are configured and tuned for specific data center workloads. As of this writing, the WSSD program supports three categories of SDDC implementations: Converged Software-Defined Storage (SDS), HCI Standard and HCI Premium.

Systems in the SDS category utilize a virtual storage layer to provide an alternative to traditional storage area network and network-attached storage systems. Storage for SDS systems is made up of a cluster of server nodes and locally attached drives. The result is storage infrastructure that is cheaper to implement and easier to deploy than traditional systems. The SDS model also makes scaling storage up and down much simpler for most IT systems, including the new Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged infrastructure.

The HCI Premium category differs from the HCI Standard by including software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities and additional security features, such as BitLocker and Shielded Virtual Machines, which help protect against malware and other vulnerabilities. Otherwise, the two Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged categories offer the same features.

HCI technologies in Windows Server 2016

Only the Windows Server 2016 Datacenter edition includes HCI capabilities. Organizations can install the Datacenter edition either in Server Core mode or in Server with Desktop Experience mode. The Server Core mode requires less disk space and exposes a smaller attack surface area. The Server with Desktop Experience mode includes all Windows tools and client features.

To virtualize the CPU and memory, the Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged platform uses Hyper-V, the hypervisor technology built into the Windows Server platform. Hyper-V also supports container technologies, so applications installed in the same virtual machines (VM) can run isolated from each other. In addition, Hyper-V provides a platform to virtualize the storage and network resources.

Windows Server 2016 provides Storage Spaces Direct, Microsoft's new SDS technology that pools the locally attached storage on the cluster nodes and makes those resources available to the VMs. Storage Spaces Direct, which evolved from Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012, uses features such as failover clustering, the Cluster Shared Volume file system and Server Message Block 3. In addition, Storage Spaces Direct introduces Software Storage Bus, a virtual storage bus that spans all servers in the cluster.

Windows Server 2016 hyper-converged infrastructure also includes SDN capabilities for abstracting the physical network components. At the heart of these capabilities is Network Controller, a centralized mechanism for configuring, managing and monitoring virtual and physical network components, such as routers, switches and gateways. Network Controller also makes it possible to automate the configuration of the network infrastructure in order to maximize network performance.

Microsoft provides tools for managing the HCI system across the server nodes. For example, administrators can use PowerShell and Microsoft System Center 2016 to control HCI components.

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