Microsoft Unveils Homegrown Container Platform

After teaming with Docker to bring containers to Windows Server, Microsoft unveils its own Hyper-V container technology and container-friendly Nano Server operating system.


Nearly six months after Microsoft first announced a partnership with Docker Inc., the leading commercial backer of the increasingly popular open-source Docker container technology, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has announced its own container platform.

Enterprise IT organizations and developers are flocking to Docker because of the virtualization technology's lean and efficient approach to deploying applications and consolidating workloads. Unlike traditional hypervisors such as VMware ESX and Microsoft's own Hyper-V, which require that each virtual machine (VM) have its own guest operating system, Docker enables administrators to install applications in lightweight containers supported by a single host operating system.

In two short years, industry support for Docker has helped the platform stretch well beyond its roots. Now, Microsoft is rolling out a homegrown solution called Hyper-V Containers.

Mike Neil, general manager for Microsoft Windows Server, announced in an April 8 announcement that his company "will now offer containers with a new level of isolation previously reserved only for fully dedicated physical or virtual machines, while maintaining an agile and efficient experience with full Docker cross-platform integration." Like Docker, the "first-of-its-kind offering" will provide isolation from the host operating system and neighboring containers.

In support of the company's new containerized application vision, Microsoft also unveiled a new lightweight OS dubbed Nano Server.

The stripped-down offering is "a minimal footprint installation option of Windows Server that is highly optimized for the cloud, including containers," noted Neil. "Nano Server provides just the components you need—nothing else, meaning smaller server images, which reduces deployment times, decreases network bandwidth consumption, and improves uptime and security."

This minimalist take on a server OS "makes Nano Server an ideal complement for Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, as well as other cloud-optimized scenarios," he added. Microsoft will offer a more detailed look at both technologies during the Build developer conference at the end of this month and plans to release a Nano Server preview "in the coming weeks."

Microsoft Windows Server staffers Distinguished Engineer and Lead Architect Jeffrey Snover, Principal Program Manager Andrew Mason and Principal Software Engineering Manager Alan Back detailed how they trimmed down their container-friendly OS.

The company's coders "removed the GUI stack, 32 bit support (WOW64), MSI and a number of default Server Core components," they wrote in a related Windows Server Blog post. "There is no local logon or Remote Desktop support. All management is performed remotely via WMI [Windows Management Instrumentation] and PowerShell."

Developers will feel right at home, assured the team. "Visual Studio is fully supported with Nano Server, including remote debugging functionality and notifications when APIs reference unsupported Nano Server components."

Microsoft is also working with partners to ensure that Nano Server slots "seamlessly" into DevOps environments, including Chef (formerly Opscode). James Casey, vice president of engineering for Chef, said in a statement that the partnership between the companies "brings best-in-class automation for the container-optimized Nano Server. The Nano Server, provisioned and managed with Chef, provides a perfect platform for high velocity IT and a DevOps workflow."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...