Windows Server Versioning

Author by Mitchell Grande

With the release of Windows Server 2016 version 1709, Microsoft has changed the way the server operating system is versioned and upgraded.  Similar to Windows 10, there are now multiple, distinct servicing channels available for Windows Server.  The two options, the long-term servicing channel and the semi-annual channel, are explained below.
Long-Term Servicing Channel
The long-term servicing channel (LTSC) is nearly the same as the traditional Windows Server release cycle where a new major version is released every 2-3 years.  The current LTSC version is Windows Server 2016.  It is not currently known what the next version will be named, but it will be released in another 1-2 years.  This channel is similar to the Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB channel.  New versions are released less frequently than the semi-annual channel, and they are supported for 10 years after release.
Semi-Annual Channel
The semi-annual channel is similar to Windows 10 desktops on the standard upgrade cycle.  A new version of server is released twice a year, and the version numbers follow a YYMM format.  The latest semi-annual channel version is Windows Server version 1709.   However, the semi-annual channel is for Windows Server Core only, and is only supported for 18 months after release.  Features introduced in the semi-annual channel will be rolled up into the long-term channel during a future release.
Which is Right for Me?
For traditional servers running standard workloads, the long-term servicing channel (LTSC) is the correct channel to deploy.  Servers deployed in this channel will get 10 years of support on a stable, predictable operating system.  Also, if the server requires the full GUI installation, the long-term channel is the only option.  On the other hand, if the workload supports Server Core, and the server can be redeployed as new OS versions are released, the semi-annual channel might be a better choice.  The semi-annual channel is geared towards DevOps practices, Hyper-V fabrics, etc. where servers can be easily recycled and redeployed.  It is not suitable for traditional servers running applications such as Exchange.
Windows Server 1709 New Features
The newly released Windows Server version 1709 is part of the semi-annual channel.  To deploy it, you have to install it in server core mode.  Some of the changed and new features of version 1709 include:
  • Improved container support
  • Improved VM load balancing for Hyper-V
  • Storage-class memory support for VMs  on Hyper-V
  • Network encryption for software-defined networks
  • Data deduplication support for ReFS volumes
  • Improvements to the core network stack
As you can see, most of the new features focus on DevOps, Hyper-V, and private cloud scenarios.  Traditional workloads won't generally benefit from the new features of this release.
Overall, you're likely to continue deploying Windows Server with the long-term servicing channel.  This won't be a change from the past.  However, if you want to take advantage of the absolute latest features, and can deal with the restraints of it, the semi-annual channel is worth a look.
For more information about Windows Server Versioning, see the official documentation.

Mitchell Grande

Systems Engineer

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