Microsoft Windows Server LTSC (Long-Term Servicing Channel)

What is Microsoft Windows Server LTSC (Long-Term Servicing Channel)?

Microsoft Windows Server LTSC (Long-Term Servicing Channel) is one of the servicing options available for users of the Windows Server operating system (OS). This long-term servicing option follows the familiar track for a traditional lifecycle of quality and security updates, with a new major version of Windows Server released every two to three years.

Key features of Windows Server LTSC

Windows Server LTSC is tailored for companies that prefer a more traditional long-term servicing option. With LTSC, users can access five years of mainstream support, plus five years of extended support, for their Windows Server installation.

Microsoft recommends scenarios that are best suited for the LTSC channel, including the following:

Windows Server LTSC vs. Windows Server AC

Starting September 2023, the only two primary release channels available for Windows Server are LTSC and Annual Channel (AC). Most hardware drivers function in both releases, and the minimum hardware requirements to run the releases of Windows Server are the same for both channels. Furthermore, both releases are supported with security and nonsecurity updates, albeit for different lengths of time. These similarities notwithstanding, there are many differences between the channels that Windows Server users should be aware of.

An AC release is not an update, but the next Windows Server release. AC users get more frequent releases of the OS -- typically every 12 months -- with each release supported for 24 months from the initial release. This channel enables users to take advantage of new OS capabilities faster, which can be especially valuable if they are innovating quickly.

In contrast, LTSC users get new major versions of Windows Server over a two- or three-year period. With LTSC, they get an option that provides greater stability and consistency. Also, AC's 24-month support lifecycle for each release is limited to 18 months of mainstream support and six months of extended support, which is much less than the five years of support available with LTSC -- mainstream, plus extended.

Unlike AC, which is only available to Microsoft's volume-licensed Software Assurance customers and customers that are part of loyalty programs, like those with Visual Studio subscriptions, LTSC is available with all Microsoft licensing programs for commercial, academic, government, nonprofit and direct purchasing customers, as well as partner programs. Also, AC releases do not apply to Windows Server 2019 and earlier, meaning these products can only run LTSC releases.

image showing server administrator and different kinds of servers
As of September 2023, Microsoft offers two primary release channels for Windows Server: Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) and Annual Channel (AC).

Another difference between LTSC and AC is that AC focuses on containers and microservices. For this reason, it is best for customers running containerized applications on container hosts that can benefit from fast innovation. The only available installation option for AC is Server Core for a container host.

Admin users can determine whether a server is running an LTSC or AC release by checking the Windows Server OS version and then running the Get-ComputerInfo PowerShell command. The syntax for the command is: Get-ComputerInfo | fl WindowsProductName,OSDisplayVersion. In response, the system displays the WindowsProductName, e.g., Windows Server 2022 Datacenter, and OSDisplayVersion, e.g., 21H2, which indicates LTSC.

History of Windows Server LTSC

In June 2017, Microsoft announced it would split Windows Server into two channels: Semi-Annual Channel and LTSC -- formerly Long-Term Servicing Branch. SAC catered to enterprises that preferred a shorter term between feature updates to get the most recent updates for rapid application development cycles.

Microsoft retired SAC on Aug. 9, 2022, which made LTSC the primary release channel for Windows Server from that point on. With the retirement of SAC, Microsoft stopped releasing critical updates for Windows Server SAC images, although the company announced that all Windows Server SAC node pools would continue to function after the SAC retirement date -- with heightened security issues due to the lack of future updates for SAC.

LTSC installation options and support terms

Two installation options are available with LTSC: Server Core and Server with Desktop Experience. The latter provides a graphical user interface for point-and-click management. Server Core has no GUI and requires the use of a remote server management tool. Microsoft's documentation also states Nano Server is available as a container OS on the LTSC platform.

Windows Server LTSC comes in three editions -- Essential, Standard and Datacenter -- and is available through all channels. In particular, the option is available with Windows Server 2022 Datacenter and Standard and with Windows Server 2019 (version 1809) Datacenter and Standard. For Windows Server 2022 Datacenter and Standard, the end date for mainstream support is Oct. 13, 2026, while the end date for extended support is Oct. 14, 2031. For Windows Server 2019 (version 1809) Datacenter and Standard, the end date for mainstream support is when servicing ends, and the end date for extended support is Sept. 1, 2029.

Managing Windows Server servicing updates

Organizations can manage servicing updates for Windows Server in several ways. For instance, internet-connected servers that have Windows Update enabled can be serviced with Windows Update (standalone). Additionally, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) is natively available in the Windows Server OS to control, defer, approve and deploy Windows Server and Windows client updates.

Another tool, Microsoft Intune -- formerly known as Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager or Microsoft Endpoint Manager -- also provides control over Windows Server servicing. Like WSUS, it enables admins to defer or approve updates, as well as use different options to target deployments and manage bandwidth usage and deployment times.

Windows Server preview releases

For organizations that want to get an early look at the upcoming features of Windows Server in the next LTSC or AC release, Microsoft makes preview builds available in its Windows Insider Program for Windows Server.

The program enables admins to access Windows Server Insider Previews and Remote Server Administration Tools. They can also view available Window Server Preview builds and deploy releases in a test environment to test feature changes and head off potential issues early. Microsoft encourages customers to provide feedback during this testing phase to help shape the course of Windows Server OS releases.

Microsoft is planning a number of changes in the next version of Windows Server, including more financial flexibility and improvements in security and workload performance. See what's coming in Windows Server 2025.

This was last updated in July 2024

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