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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Comments (18)

18 responses to “Windows Server is Moving to Rapid Release Model Too”

  1. rmlounsbury

    I still feel a rapidly release cycle for Windows Server isn't a great plan. This may not be as big of a deal for larger companies that have teams of IT staff to handle change processing and testing of new version. For small and even mid-sized companies the resources just are not there to keep up with a rapid release cycle. At my company we have gone to Windows 10 primarily for the security gains the new platform brings and we where in a good position for the update. But, on the server side I suspect we'll hang onto 2012 as long as we can.

    I'd like to think I'm pretty progressive in that we have embraced and largely moved to Office 365, moved up to Windows 10, and have a general strategy overall to continue to go cloud. However, the reason for on premise servers is largely legacy software and that doesn't play nice with the rapid release cycle. I'm all for upgrading to some fancy new cloud system but that takes a lot of resources and dollars that many companies can't just arbitrarily throw out there.

    • Stokkolm

      In reply to rmlounsbury:

      Legacy software is a reason, but it's not the primary reason for on-premises Server. In my opinion, the primary reason for on-premises Server is the cost of cloud hosting. Up front it's great because you don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more, but the month-to-month costs are pretty staggering to me. For instance, we looked at several cloud DR/COOP (one of the cheapest things you can do in the cloud) offerings and it would have cost us something like $18,000 a month! Instead, we bought about $130,000 worth of servers, storage, and software licensing and are now good for the next 5 years. Until that cost comes down, cloud isn't viable for a lot of organizations.

      • DaveHelps

        In reply to Stokkolm:


        It's not just about hardware though: it's people, training, power, space... and that's with the mindset of "Let's run our current stuff in the cloud".


        Whereas really the decision should be along the lines of "Do we need to run anything at all?"


        In 2007 I was The IT Guy in small business. We bought hardware to run our own AD and  Exchange Server, and it took the lion's share of my time to figure out, deploy and maintain. I remember telling them that we couldn't have SharePoint because I simply didn't have the capacity to learn/plan/deploy/operate it.


        In the same position today, my boss could buy Office 365, fire me and come out ahead. Sure, he might need a techie on hand sometimes... but not all the time.


        Obviously I don't know your situation. If your organisation could slash its IT team to one guy who's job is to mend the printer and reset passwords, would the save on electricity and re-use of the datacentre space for sales desks shift the equation at all?


        Not in all cases. But I think it would in most.


        Any other readers got a view on this?

  2. Locust Infested Orchard Inc.

    In 2017, it's high time managers within businesses who still hold so dearly to their Amish tendencies, embrace agile IT administration.

    • jr.flynn

      In reply to Locust Infested Orchard Inc.:

      It isn't the admins that are opposed to change (in most cases), it is that organizations themselves have arcane processes and security requirements that don't align with rapid release.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to jr.flynn:

        Microsoft hasn't proven that they can rapidly deploy updates to systems reliably.


        I actually think it's smart that Google has stuck to strictly cloud-based enterprise offerings. Doing maintenance once, for all customers, is the way to go IMO. The issue with Windows is that it will always be prone to failure due to differences in the system hardware on which it runs, and that leads to software compatibility problems. The other thing I credit Google for is to go open-source for client-facing technologies. At least then, it's easy to audit and hold accountability for code errors. Microsoft's closed-source client and server platforms don't allow for the same level of accountability because it's difficult for auditors to track bugs down. Yes, I really believe that open-source software does have this benefit. It's not like the constant Windows 10 update bugs have benefited from only Microsoft having access to the source code. Telemetry and public beta testing only goes so far too, since Microsoft seems to have the same troubles over and over again when updates happen.

  3. tboggs13

    It used to be that Shadow IT was the occasional computer literate user that installed a non sanctioned app and it spread to other users because it brought a feature or ease of use that traditional IT wasn't offering. Today, Shadow IT is a complete stack of solutions in the cloud that can be implemented by almost anyone with a few mouse clicks. Ease of use has reached a point where novices can do a lot more without traditional IT. They don't have to wait for new features, they can go get it in the cloud.


    Users expect continuous update. You can't wait three years to deploy new technology, because your competitors have been using it in the cloud for three years already. Your users may have already circumvented you because you move too slow. To me, what MS is doing is giving on-prem IT a chance to keep up. Technology is not going to slow down folks. If you don't have an IT team that can keep up and IT is critical to your business, you probably need to make a change.


    Microsoft can't afford to stand still, their competitors are chipping away at their market share on all sides. They are already at a technology deficit to Google, Apple and Amazon. They have to get faster a faster just to keep up, forget taking the lead.

  4. mikefarinha

    As the wise Hansel once said: "The results are in amigo. What's left to ponder? ... Nice Comeback!"

  5. BoItmanLives

    Because that's what a platform like Server needs where stability is paramount - a constant state of flux. Facepalm.

  6. chrisrut

    The burning need for improved security response-time and reduced innovation-lead-time fuels this engine of change. MS will continue to improve the updating procedure - making it faster, cleaner, more certain, etc. The agility they gain pays big dividends both in security and in responsiveness to innovation and emergent user needs.

    One thought: I'm surprised MS, masters of virtualization that they are, haven't tried snapshotting a running system image over a duplicate being updated. Blink of an eye updating from the user's perspective, coupled with easy roll-back if there's a problem.

    • warren

      In reply to chrisrut:

      Microsoft has spent 15 years trying to come up with an update method that doesn't require rebooting. The fact that they -- nor has Linux or MacOS for that matter -- haven't delivered something like this yet should give you a clue as to the intrinsic complexity of the problem.


  7. Waethorn

    Microsoft is pulling an Intuit here: make their on-premise product garbage to lure people to their cloud-hosted option that's more stable.

  8. waverunning.geek

    Once a year OS releases is plenty. Anything more is excessive.

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