Mark Minasi's  Tech Page
Issue #115 July 2016

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News

Hi all —

Thanks for all of the kind thoughts last month when the Newsletter returned from its perambulating!  I am working on Part Two, a look at Secure Boot, but I hope you'll permit me to delay it just a bit, as I wanted to pass along some very important news about the next version of Windows Server.  Microsoft announced just today (12 July 2016) when Server 2016 would arrive and, much more importantly (to me, anyway), how they're pricing it.  If you're a regular reader then you may recall that I did a similar piece in mid-2012 about Server 2012 pricing, and that it was really good news.  This time, well... you decide. Before we get into the details, however first, a word from our sponsor...

Server Ships in September... If You Can Afford It

Microsoft has been working on Server 2016 for a few years now, and I feel no reticence in admitting that I Cannot Wait For It To Ship.  You'll read on the Microsoft info pages that Server 2016 comes with a few neat tools, like

  • Storage Spaces Direct:  lets you take a bunch of cheap computers, stuff them with a bunch of cheap SATA drives, and in a few clicks you've got a fast, reliable SAN replacement, enabling you to create a fast, cheap Hyper-V or SQL cluster.
  • Storage Replica: sort of like a LUN replicator in a SAN, this lets you take any volume and keep it essentially real-time replicated with a copy.  No, it's not DFS replication, it's way better.
  • Nano server:  an incredibly trimmed-down, no-frills version of Windows Server needing under one tenth of the disk space and, even better, requires 80 percent fewer reboots than regular Server and, when it does have to boot, it's nearly instantaneous. 
  • Host Guardian Service, which makes it impossible for Hyper-V administrators to peek into the virtual servers they're managing for you.
  • NTFS's eventual replacement, ReFS, moves a bit closer to being a 100%-usable file system.  You still can't use it for a boot volume, but it supports cluster storage.
  • Defender:  server antimalware, in the box.
  • More cool new Hyper-V improvements than I can name.
  • Support for containers, Docker, and a Windows version of containers.  (If you've never heard of containers, it's basically a way to run a bunch of separate server applications on a single server.  For many folks, that would involve Hyper-V and multiple virtual servers each hosting one server-type service, but in the case of container-based server apps, you only need one server to host multiple server apps.  It's sort of a "lighter" kind of virtualization -- sort of like how one physical web server can host hundreds of different sites.)

Those are all great, but once you get your hands into Server 2016, you constantly run across little tweaks that make it even more desirable.

Microsoft Has Set the Date... And the Price... And the Gotcha's

Today, Microsoft announced that they will release Server 2016 during their Ignite conference, which runs on the week of 26 September.  Thus, the waiting is almost over, a bit over two months away.  Good news!

They also, however, announced pricing at https://www.microsoft.com/en/server-cloud/products/windows-server-2016/ .  There is also an FAQ at http://download.microsoft.com/download/7/2/9/7290EA05-DC56-4BED-9400-138C5701F174/WSSC2016LicensingFAQ.pdf.  Here's the basics.

  • As with Server 2012 and 2012R2, there will be two main editions, Standard and Datacenter.
  • Pricing for Standard and Datacenter used to be based on numbers of sockets, in two-socket increments.  In 2016, that changes and now it is
    • Core pricing: Priced by number of cores in your server, in two-core increments that the FAQ calls "two-core packs." 
    • Minimum price offered is 16 cores: No matter how many cores or sockets you have, Microsoft has a minimum license that covers any machine up to two sockets and eight cores per socket -- 16 cores.  In other words, with both Standard and Datacenter you're paying for two sockets with eight cores apiece -- that's the minimum offer, even if you had, say, two four-core Xeons.  Then, if you need more cores, you buy an additional two-core pack.  Thus, a system with 18 cores would purchase the baseline license and then add a single two-core package.
    • Baseline 16 Core prices:  The minimum license price for Standard is $882.  The minimum license price for Datacenter is $6155.  That works out to $110 for each two-core pack for Standard and $750 for Datacenter.  (Please note that Microsoft pages didn't actually say that the two-core packs would sell for $110 or $765, by the way -- I'm just guessing that will be their approximate price.)
    • "Core" means "physical core": In case you're wondering, that's physical cores, not the hyperthreaded ones, so if you had some baseline Xeon with four cores and thus eight hyperthreads, you get charged for four cores, not eight.
    • Nano Server licensing comes with the Server license, I think:  Nano Server licensing is a huge question, as you'll probably be deploying zillions of these nifty lightweight OS-lets and so the marginal cost for a Nano Server will, with hope, be pretty small.  On the one hand, the PDF says that Nano is "included as part of the licensing of DataCenter" (which is good), but adds that "further specifics on Nano licensing will be shared in the future," which sounds a bit ominous.

As far as I can see, the number of cores a Xeon holds varies from 4 to 24, and so some of us will do better than others.

For people buying Standard Edition, it's probably a wash..  I'm no expert on the panoply of SMB server hardware, but I'm pretty sure that a fair number of low-end servers hosted a one- or two- socket motherboard and four-core processors. 

For those buying Datacenter, again anything related to enterprise licensing is murky -- what exactly does a Windows 10 Enterprise CBB license, cost, anyway? -- but remember, Datacenter's list price was $4809 for two sockets, and now it's $6155 for 16 cores.  Good deal?  Well, let's see.  Basically,

  • The best deal is clearly for those with 16 cores across two sockets.  They're paying about $385 per core.  And even then, how many of us had the money to get a few extra cores that we almost never need?  That could be costly, although Microsoft says that if you've disabled a core then you needn't get a license for it.
  • A baseline two-core server -- I'm pretty sure that you won't find any server CPUs with one core and truthfully doubt that you'd find any two-core server CPUs, but I could be wrong -- that needs the new features (why else upgrade to 2016?) will pay a little over $3000 per core.  Ow.  And there certainly are one-socket motherboards, and assuming a four-core Xeon, that's a mite steep as well -- roughly $1500 per core.
  • The folks with the big Xeons will also see a bigger ticket.  As you've already read, they can buy two-core packs above the minimum 16, so someone with an 18-core system should have to only pay for 18 cores, rather than 32.  It still won't be cheap for some, though.  A two-Xeon system with 24 cores/chip would have cost about $5,000 before.  Now it'd be about $18,000.  I hope the Microsoft sales people deliver the news with at least dinner, a movie and flowers, if you know what I mean.

One Reason to Upgrade, or Not:  You Can Buy a "Forever" License, the CBB

I haven't mentioned another factor that may just convince some people that "hang the cost, it's worth it" is the way to think of it -- the license.

2016 will be licensed like Windows 10 along a method called the Common Branch for Business (CBB).  This is a long story and I'll cover it in a future newsletter (or my Server class when I get it done), but here's the short version.

By default, when you buy or upgrade to Windows Server 2016, you will be on the CBB.  That means that roughly twice a year, Microsoft will roll out nifty new features and capabilities.  Instead of having to wait two to four years for new Server features -- and having to pay for them -- you get them free in Windows Update.  Thus, if those of us who bought Server 2012R2 could have bought it on the CBB, we'd be sitting back waiting for September and the arrival of a free new version of Server.  Not only that, CBB owners never have to buy a copy of server again on an existing system.  If you don't decommission that server for 12 years, no problem -- you're licensed and legal, and you get security updates as long as you like.  For some folks, I'm sure that would sound pretty nice.

The down-side is that you don't get the option whether or not to upgrade.  At least once a year, you've got to upgrade your servers to the new build, and if you don't, you stop getting security updates -- just as if you had a Server 2003 system running today and weren't paying for the special extended patch support.   

I'm sorry... is that your hair on fire?  Apologies... let me stress that there is an alternative.  You can purchase 2016 with the Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB).  The LTSB version (I'm simplifying) does not get the semi-annual new features, but it does get security patches for ten years.  In other words, a $6155 purchase of the LTSB version of Datacenter (assuming that the CBB costs are the same as the LTSB costs... can't guarantee it yet as they've not yet said) buys you a copy of Windows Server 2016 and ten years of patch support.

What Should I Do?

Well, first of all, you don't have do anything.  Server 2012 and 2012R2 are going to be supported for several more years... there's no rush.

Personally I like the "always moving forward" aspect of 2016 CBB, but I also depend on non-Microsoft software and third party vendors are understandably cautious and conservative in supporting new versions, so I'd hate to be in a position where on the one hand I must upgrade my server OS while knowing at the same time that I would be losing some important backup tool or the like.

On the other hand, I suppose I could go with an LTSB Datacenter buy. But I'd be committing to a "1.0" version of Nano Server, containers, Storage Replica and Storage Spaces Direct.  I'm sure they're all good, but most of us are happier with a buy of a 1.1 version of a feature than a 1.0.  LTSB would require me, as far as I know, to have to re-buy Datacenter. 

(Along those lines, there's an interesting note in Microsoft's discussion of CBB versus LTSB for Server.  It appears that no matter how you buy Server 2016, your Nano Server instances will have to upgraded.  Here I'm going to applaud Microsoft, as it is still so new and the team that's working on it is feverishly creating new scenarios for it.  No matter how you slice it, Nano is going to be a fast moving target.  I'd hate to get locked into the September 2016 Nano Server for the next ten years, and it sounds like no one needs to worry about that.)

This CBB/LTSB stuff first appeared in Windows 10.  I bought Windows 10 as soon as I could and found the July 2015 release a bit wobbly, and in fact Microsoft was quite open about warning us to that effect.  The November 2015 release really worked out many of the kinks, and the upcoming August 2016 build will offer a lot of nice tweaks and some real improvements in the Edge browser.

It's my job to live with the latest OS, so I'll probably go CBB, and as soon as I can.  But I imagine that many folks will wait at least one CBB cycle.  Meanwhile, I really do hope that Microsoft decides to drop this "you must upgrade every 12 months" policy and stretch it out a bit to at least two years. 

As always, I'd love to hear your opinion and what you're planning.  Thanks for reading, see you again soon!

 

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All contents copyright 2016 Mark Minasi.  I encourage you to quote this material, so long as you include this entire document. Thanks very much for reading, and see you next time.