Microsoft To Shrink Nano Server to Focus on Containers

Microsoft last week unveiled plans to bring Windows Server into its semi-annual update release cycle, starting this fall, alongside a new Nano Server image configuration with a 50 percent reduced footprint. The company is stripping the infrastructure roles from Nano Server to optimize the headless configuration option for deployment of container-based environments. While Microsoft revealed the Nano Server changes during last month’s Build conference in Seattle, along with other features coming to Windows Server including Linux container support and plans to offer the server OS into its new semi-annual cycle, the company on Thursday made its plans official and provided some additional details.

Only those opting for the newly minted semi-annual channel can implement any of the new technical features planned for Windows Server, which include the pending stripping down of Nano Server. In addition, organizations will be required to have Software Assurance coverage to access the semi-annual channel releases. The revamp of Nano Server is noteworthy because leading up to its release last year, Microsoft had touted the minimal-footprint deployment option for Windows Server 2016 for its suitability for large clusters in Web-scale application and data center environments. However, Microsoft has since found that the “vast majority” of Nano Server deployments from a workload perspective are running container-based applications based on Docker, Kubernetes, and others. Since container-based workloads do not require the infrastructure components, Microsoft determined that removing them would result in a more efficient server environment and advance the move toward containers.

“Nano Server will be optimized as a container runtime image and we will deprecate the infrastructure roles,” said Chris Van Wesep, Microsoft’s director of enterprise cloud product marketing, “so for anybody who had wanted to do smaller footprint compute and storage clusters, Server Core will be the right implementation to do that.” By deprecating the infrastructure features in the Nano Server option, the removal of that code will make way for Microsoft’s new .NET Core 2.0, “which enables customers to use more of their code in more places [and] make Nano Server the best option for new container-based development,” said Erin Chapple, general manager for Windows Server, in a blog post announcing the new release options.

Microsoft is recommending Server Core for hosting virtual machines as well as containers, which Chapple said can run a Nano Server or Linux container images. The Windows Server update this fall will support Linux workloads via extended Hyper-V isolation, which will allow Linux containers to run without having to deploy two separate container infrastructures to run both Linux and Windows-based applications. As previously announced, Microsoft is also bringing the Windows Subsystem for Linux, (a.k.a. Windows Bash component), allowing application administrators and developers to use common scripts and container images for both Linux and Windows Server container hosts, according to Chapple.

Collectively, these technical changes to Windows Server and the continuous release cycle option associated with it are part of Microsoft’s strategy to bring more consistency to the server OS and Azure. The changes also promote the development of modern cloud apps and migration of legacy apps and systems to these environments using container images. “Many customers don’t realize that Server Core is the base image that runs Azure and Azure Stack,” Chapple noted. “This means the investments we make in Windows Server for Azure can be made available to customers to use in their own data centers. This makes Server Core a great choice for Azure customers who like the idea of consistent technologies between their datacenter and the cloud. One example of this in the upcoming feature update is the cluster sets functionality for increased scale of hyper-converged deployments. We’re also continuing to add security investments such as the ability to quickly encrypt network segments on their software-defined networking infrastructure per their security and compliance needs. You can expect new features to continue to optimize efficiency, performance, and security for software-defined datacenters.”

Server Core will also play a key role in the modernization of applications, Van Wesep emphasized. “One of our big pushes for next year is going to be around getting folks that have traditional .NET applications to drop those into containers running on Windows Server 2016, potentially even moving them into Azure,” he said. The new features will only be available to those opting for the new semi-annual channel, which will require Microsoft Software Assurance or Azure cloud subscriptions.

Microsoft explained how the new semi-annual channel release update will work. The company will offer new feature updates every spring and fall, the same model it recently moved to for Windows 10, Office 365 ProPlus and System Center. Microsoft will offer Windows Server previews shortly before the final release via its Windows Insiders for Business program, which is now open to those who want to sign up. Each semi-annual release will come with a pilot availability period of three to four months, and once the software is deemed stable, Microsoft will lock it down into a “Broad” release. Those releases will carry the Windows Server name with no year attached to it, instead of using the Windows 10 versioning model. The first release, scheduled for September, will be called Windows Server 1709. Chapple noted that the semi-annual channel feature updates are cumulative, containing previous updates. The semi-annual channel feature updates will get combined for Microsoft’s long-term servicing channel releases, a servicing model conceived for environments that can’t tolerate change.

The long-term servicing channel will include five years of mainstream support, five years of extended support and the option for six years of Premium Assurance. Van Wesep acknowledged that the long-term channel will be the most common in the near term. “I don’t imagine that the vast majority of the people will come out of the gates and say this is our new model and we will wholeheartedly switch to this — that would be naïve,” he said. “I think there has been enough demand and feedback from customers that they want a more active way of consuming our software that there will certainly be a meaningful size of the installed base that will start looking at this and working to adopt it. I can see a scenario where every customer would find both channels compelling for different parts of their organization.”

Indeed, many organizations may be resistant to such a model, and Van Wesep acknowledged that many existing applications and systems don’t lend themselves to a continuous release update model. But as many organizations look to transform their business processes or models over time, that can change. “This is on us to do the education process,” Van Wesep said. “People need to start thinking about the layers of abstraction between the app, the OS, and the underlying hypervisor/fabric. It all can be thought of independently and should be.”

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AI is the Next Big Disruption

A major part of the “digital revolution” revolves around the consumerization and digitization of our lives. This includes a variety of industries like healthcare, education, government, and corporate. Now, there are numbers and trends that clearly indicate growth around cloud, virtualization, user mobility, and much more.

However, at the core of our digital world is the heart of this discussion: data. Driven by the Internet of Things, the total amount of data created (and not necessarily stored) by any device will reach 600 ZB per year by 2020, up from 145 ZB per year in 2015, according to the Cisco Cloud Index. Data created is two orders of magnitude higher than data stored.

This data that’s being created isn’t benign. It carries vary valuable pieces of information around users, products, services, and even the business. The big question becomes – how do you actually mine this data and get value out of it?

Before we dive further into the topic, it’s very critical to understand that many organizations and partners are already looking at ways to bring artificial intelligence (AI) further into the market.

“Intelligent applications based on cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, and deep learning are the next wave of technology transforming how consumers and enterprises work, learn, and play,” said David Schubmehl, research director, Cognitive Systems and Content Analytics at IDC. “These applications are being developed and implemented on cognitive/AI software platforms that offer the tools and capabilities to provide predictions, recommendations, and intelligent assistance through the use of cognitive systems, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Cognitive/AI systems are quickly becoming a key part of IT infrastructure and all enterprises need to understand and plan for the adoption and use of these technologies in their organizations.”

IDC said that widespread adoption of cognitive systems and artificial intelligence (AI) across a broad range of industries will drive worldwide revenues from nearly $8.0 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020.

Here’s the big point to understand – deploying and implementing intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously will become the primary battleground for technology vendors and services partners through at least 2020. These technologies will aim to specifically replace legacy IT and business processes where functions were simply executed as predefined instructions. These machines will contextually adapt and help make powerful business as well as IT decisions

To that extent – here are some big AI disruptions to be aware of:

  • Applied Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Think of these technologies as AI platforms which process data and help make decisions way beyond simple, rule-based, data processing algorithms. Rather, they can learn, adapt, predict, and – in some cases – operate without any human interaction at al. Applied AI revolves around everything from self-driving cars to consumer electronics. For example, an AI company called IPSoft has an engine called “Amelia” who can basically be considered your very own digital employee. IPSoft acts as a learning engine which learns your business leverages key data points and can understand processes. From there, you can deploy Amelia as a cognitive agent capable of taking on the role of a service desk assistant, customer service associate, and even patient entry assistant.
  • Smart Apps Interacting with Data. What if your apps could help prioritize specific functions for you based on conditions of the market, the customer, and even your business? What if, based on a conversation, your app could go back and find the important tasks which need to be accomplished based on that conversation? Smarter applications will leverage data to help transform the way we conduct day-to-day business. Moving forward, almost every application dealing with data will have a machine learning aspect to it.
  • Intelligence and User Augmentation. AI and smart systems will allow users to “double” up on what they’re trying to accomplish. Most of all, we’ll be able to integrate with wearable technologies, various business functions, and even create and orchestrated the flow of information based on very specific use-cases. Leveraging AI and machine learning will allow users to function at a much higher level, bringing, even more, value to their business. This is NOT user replacement… rather it’s augmenting their capabilities and improving all of the processes surrounding their digital work (and home) life.
  • AI-Driven Security. This part is really cool. AI-driven security architectures will mesh together IoT, virtual technologies, user behavior, cloud analytics, and so much more. There will be a major need for smarter security systems as we merge into a much more complex, and interconnected, the world. These types of systems will be able to monitor contextual points around users, devices, the flow of information, and much more to create intelligent security architectures.

Data-driven solutions will continue to bring value to users, the services they consume, and how business perform various functions. It’s important to remember that these systems aren’t here to “replace” us. Rather, if you embrace AI technology right it will help you bring so much more value to your job and even your organization.

Machine learning and AI systems will help augment functions, help us make better, well-informed decisions, and allow us to focus on growing the business and creating better services. Working with data will absolutely be in our future. Take the time to understand where your data plays a role with your business, users, and the solutions you bring to market. AI may very well be in your future to help you break out of a legacy shell and transform into a digital entity.

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Securing your Windows systems from WannaCry Ransomware

It was on May 12th, 2017 that the World saw the biggest ever cyber attack, the WannaCry, in the history of Internet.


What is Ransomware?

A cyber attack that involves hackers gaining control of a computer system, tablet or smartphone and then demands a ransom to unlock it.

To gain access to the system, the cyber criminal needs to download a type of malicious software onto a device within the network, which is often done by getting a victim to click on a link or download it by mistake. Once the software evades the computer, it encrypts the files and shows a pop up with a countdown and instructions on how to pay the ransom to decrypt and get back the original files.

Payment is only accepted in Bitcoin. The hacker demands a payment of around $300 in Bitcoin within three days or $600 within seven days. If not paid, the hacker threatens the user of the system to wipe off all his data forever.

The Classes

Encryptors, making use of advanced encryption algorithms, block system files and demand payment for the decryption key for decrypting the blocked content, namely Crypto Locker, Locky, CrytpoWall.

Lockers, in turn locks the operating environment of the victim thus making it impossible to access the desktop and any apps or files, The files are actually not encrypted in this case but the invaders demand ransoms for unblocking of the compromised system, namely Winlocker.

How do ransomware infections happen?

Though the infection phases differs on each ransomware attack, the important stages are of the following:

The victim may receive an email containing a malicious URL. It is also possible for the infection to originate from a defamatory website. When the victims click/download the link and open the attachment, a downloader gets placed on the system. This employs a list of domains or C&C servers, administered by cyber criminals to download the ransomware bug on to the machine. This malware encrypts the entire hard drive contents, personal documents as well as any sensitive information that includes data stored in Cloud accounts synced on your system. It also encrypts data on other machines within the local network.

A warning then pops up with the necessary information on how to decrypt the files.


The Wannacry Attack

On Friday, May 12, 2017, a Ransomware attack was initiated spreading WannaCry around the world. It took the advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows that allowed it to infect system’s without the victims taking any action. It was estimated that until May 24, 2017, the infection has affected over 200,000 systems in over 150 countries and it keeps on going.

The program which was deployed naming “WannaCry”, which asks for a minimum price about $300 but the more late you are to pay, the more the price increases. This took advantage of a loophole in Windows, which was unearthed by the U.S. National Security Agency(NSA) & later exposed to the world by hackers.

Who’s most vulnerable?

WannaCry ransomware targets Microsoft’s widely used Windows operating systems. PC’s with Windows OS that are not running updated software are the most at risk. All versions of Windows before Windows 10 are vulnerable to this attack if not patched for MS-17-010.

Ransomware gets into your computer, either by clicking or downloading malicious files. The malware then spreads quickly through file-sharing systems. It is also able to spread itself in a network by making use of a vulnerability in the Windows Server Message Block(SMB).

How does WannaCry work?

Wannacry makes use of ETERNALBLUE exploit, that takes advantage of the loophole in Microsoft’s Server Message Block protocol, it will spread onto any connected systems that has not been updated to guard against ETERNALBLUE. Once it gets infected, it encrypts image, database, office, email files and movies, and demands a ransom. It also installs DoublePulsar, a backdoor implant tool.

How to be safe?

The first and foremost thing is to make your Windows system up-to-date. For that, go to Start menu > type “Windows update” into the text prompt > select Windows Update from the results. Then, follow the instructions provided on the screen to get the system updated.

For disinfection, Microsoft has already released patches for Windows XP and Windows 8 operating systems. You just need to choose the correct link for your version of Windows XP or Windows 8. If you are unsure about this, go to Start menu >> Control Panel >> System. Then page will appear showing the details of your machine and its Operating System.

Preventive Steps

Steps to get secured from upcoming Ransomware attacks:

Locally, on the PC:

1. Do not store important data only on your PC.

2. Having 2 backups of data: one on an external hard drive and one in the Cloud.

3. Do not turn on applications like OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive etc on your system by default. Open them only once a day for data syncing and close as soon as this is done.

4. Update the operating system and the software, including the latest security updates.

5. Do not use the administrator account on the computer, instead use a guest account with limited privileges.

6. SMB will be enabled by default on Windows systems. Disable this service on the system from Settings >> uncheck the settings >> Click OK

7. Install a good anti-ransomware software on your machine for better security.

The Wannacry attack was put to cease by an information-security professional while analyzing the web address in the code. It was unearthed that the address used to send the message was unregistered which upon registering suddenly stopped infecting machines.

Online behavior

– Ignore open spam emails or emails from unknown senders.

– Do not download attachments from spam or suspicious emails.

– Do not click on the links in spam emails.

Anti-ransomware security tools

  • Making use of a reliable, antivirus program that features an automatic update module and a real-time scanner.
  • Understand the importance of having a traffic-filtering solution that provides proactive anti-ransomware protection.

Now we know that there is a handful of easy to do things that we can do to avoid Wannacry ransomware.


Cyber criminals have a strong impact over your data and security as you give them. So stay safe and don’t forget, the best preventive measure is always a backup!!


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