Windows Server is Moving to Rapid Release Model Too

Posted on June 16, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 16 Comments

Windows Server is Moving to Rapid Release Model Too

I was interested to see that Microsoft will move its on-premises Windows Server product line to Windows 10’s rapid release model. This is sure to be controversial. But it has big ramifications for all of Microsoft’s customers.

“Over the years, our conversations with customers about their application and datacenter needs have really evolved, but the one constant is the accelerating pace of change, Windows Server General Manager Erin Chapple explains. “Digital transformation is changing the way business is done and the most competitive organizations react quickly to new opportunities, which usually involves agile applications.”

In order to meet the needs of this new normal, Microsoft plans to deliver more frequent upgrades to Windows Server moving forward. In doing so, it will adopt the rapid release model that it currently uses with Windows 10 and Office 365.

Put simply, Microsoft will now update Windows Server with new features twice a year, in the spring and fall.

“This option provides opportunity for customers who are innovating quickly to take advantage of new operating system capabilities at a faster pace, both in applications—particularly those built on containers and microservices—as well as in the software-defined hybrid datacenter,” the Windows Server team revealed this week. “System Center will also be participating in [this schedule].”

Obviously, twice a year is a bit much—OK, more than a bit much—for those managed businesses which today often take years to deploy any feature update (e.g. major new version of Windows). So Microsoft is also offering a Long-term Servicing Channel that basically emulates today’s schedule, with a new major version of Windows Server released every two to three years. (Microsoft doesn’t offer exactly this schedule for Windows 10 on the client, but businesses can, of course, defer those updates for years when needed too.)

So here’s what I think this means.

Microsoft is serious about the rapid release model, which it calls “Windows as a service” in the Windows 10 world. But the name doesn’t really matter. What’s happening is that Microsoft is moving to a purely cloud-based servicing model across all its products. And that’s true whether you’re using a true cloud-based service or not. The firm’s on-premises and hybrid solutions are all moving forward in lockstep now.

For those stuck in the past—many businesses, of course, but also some individuals who continue using older Windows versions for reasons real or imagined—the clock is ticking. At some point, these older, increasingly out-of-date products will simply no longer be supported. And as that happens, Microsoft’s entire stable of offerings will eventually be on rapid release.

Businesses will continue to be able to defer updates or otherwise use product versions stuck in time for the foreseeable future, though I bet that timeline gets contracted as we move forward too. And they will continue to be offered hybrid and even on-premises products for some time to come.

But for individuals, the end is near.

I guess we could look at the end of support date for Windows 7—January 14, 2020, according to Microsoft’s product lifecycle FAQ—as the hard stop on this transition. After that I date, I bet, you’re going to be on rapid release whether you want it or not. It’s for the good of the broader user community, of course. But I know it’s going to go down hard for some users.

You have exactly two and a half years to ponder this.


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