During a Twitter-hosted tweet jam today, Microsoft’s lead architect for Windows Server, Jeffrey Snover, acknowledged what he called “crazy innovation” happening with his key product. In response to a question from CMSWire, Snover told the crowd that his team was “working on a dramatic refactoring of the server.”

Though Snover declined to provide many further details, the question involved a specific evolutionary path which both Snover and the jam’s co-host, Azure technical fellow Mark Russinovich, skillfully refrained from denying.

Microsoft may be steering Windows Server away from its traditional role as a provider of monolithic applications on a desktop — toward a radically different scheme much more similar to what’s being done in recent months with Linux and Docker.

Brave New World

In this new architecture, applications are divided into discrete microservices, which communicate with other services using an API and HTTP protocol.

Each of these services may be written in the developers’ choice of language, enabling a scenario where different departments of an organization construct the services they need using whatever languages they happen to be skilled with at the time. The standard API ensures they can still communicate.

Docker, as we discussed on CMSWire last week, enables applications of all sizes, including monolithic and microservices, to be easily deployed through containers onto cloud-based platforms, both on-premise and on PaaS systems such as Amazon and ActiveState Stackato.

Last October, Microsoft signed on as a Docker partner, with the immediate benefit being the ability for hybrid cloud organizations to deploy Docker containers on Azure.

The long-term benefit, as many expect, is an entirely new concept of a Microsoft server, which may or may not be Windows. Documents leaked to the press this week describe a concept called “Nano Server,” which appear to describe a minimalistic operating system kernel geared exclusively for use in Docker containers.

Under such a system, theoretically, a microservices-oriented application originally intended to be run by a Linux system in Docker containers, could be run in a “Nano Server” system instead without alteration.

There would be no difference between Windows Server and Linux from the point of view of the application being run, because all the necessary dependencies would be provided in the background through what developers call an abstraction layer.

Put another way, a Linux app could be geared to run on Windows Server with trivial adjustments made in minutes by developers. The evolutionary paths of Linux and Windows Server would intersect with one another, and the only differences that would matter would be measured in terms of performance and cost.

The Mark and Jeff Show

Hinting that Azure and a new Windows Server development may be intertwined, Snover told Twitter participants, “There’s a reason why Mark [Russinovich] is presenting at my session.”

Russinovich said to expect further details about the use of containers in Windows, during sessions scheduled throughout the Microsoft Ignite conference at McCormick Place in Chicago May 4 through May 8. Also, he said, expect new details about Azure components that can be deployed on-premise in hybrid environments.

Snover and Russinovich both declined to reveal which third-party partners will be joining them on stage. It’s a very safe bet that members of the Docker organization will be present, as well as of Xamarin, an organization producing an open source version of Microsoft’s .NET Framework for all platforms, including iOS, Android and Mac OS.

That was about as much news as could be squeezed from the tweet jam, before the discussion drifted into whether Snover would appear on-stage (apparently once again) to wipe the sweat from Russinovich’s brow, and would afterwards sell those towels to attendees.  

Over the years, the two of them have helped transform Microsoft’s many conferences into informal gatherings, and their sessions have often attracted thousands, packing conference halls way beyond their legal limits.

Discussions of post-conference gatherings also touched on the subject of legal limits.