Microsoft today has three versions of Windows 10 that they offer to consumers: Windows 10 Home, for home users who don’t need power user features; Windows 10 S, for home and professional users who need power user features, but also prefer or are only able to acquire their applications from the Windows Store; and Windows 10 Pro, for the people who need all the bells and whistles. Well, there’ll soon be a fourth version of Windows 10 for professionals and businesses to buy, but this time the move actually makes more sense. Hit the jump for more.
The new version is called Windows 10 Pro for Workstation PCs. Inventive, I know, but there’s some logic to it. Windows 10 Pro currently has some restrictions that prevent its adoption in the workplace or home office for users who need more computing power than the current desktop platforms can muster, namely that it can only support up to 2TB of system memory, with a limit of two physical processors in a dual-socket motherboard. Windows 10 Pro also has limitations when it comes to its software architecture. It’s more bloated in terms of running services than Windows 10 Enterprise, and it doesn’t support some server-side features that could be useful for workloads like machine learning.
Well, that’s where Windows 10 Pro for Workstation PCs comes in (that’s a working title, it’s entirely too long for my tastes).
This would be a version of Windows 10 Pro that integrates features from Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows Server 2016. It has all of the regular features of Pro including Domain Join and Azure Active Directory support, but it’ll supposedly come with a few new things. Workstation mode, as described in the slide above, doesn’t seem to tell us much, but perhaps it picks up the Game Mode feature and turns it into an enterprise benefit – instead of designating cores for workloads, Game Mode reserves cores and their associated caches entirely for software to have full, uncontended access to the hardware. I’ve mentioned before on this site that Game Mode could have professional applications if Microsoft switched a few things around, and I bet that this is what it has turned into. We’ll have to wait until October, I think, to know anything more because Microsoft typically has a press event during that month to update the Windows ecosystem in one go.
The second benefit is the arrival of ReFS, or Resiliant file system storage. ReFS is a bit like BTRFS or ZFS found on Linux operating systems, and it’s set to be the successor to NTFS on Windows platforms. ReFS is a storage protocol that bundles in high levels of redundancy and comes with new methods of handling petabyte-level volumes of data, complete with data recovery mechanisms that work down to the kilobyte level. ReFS has only been implemented in Server 2016 networks with large storage requirements that go beyond what a fibre-optic NAS or SAN can provide, and only the Enterprise versions of Windows have ever worked with it properly. Microsoft included it in Windows 8.1 as an optional disk format, but it was far from being usable in a typical environment outside of a secure network.
With ReFS support, Windows 10 Pro for Workstations can handle network-attached storage formatted with ReFS, and it’ll help a lot for the buzzword industry of 2017 – machine learning.
The other two are SMBDirect and extended hardware support. SMBDirect is a new service that runs in the background and helps alleviate CPU load when transferring large data sets between your workstation and the server. For years Windows has had issues dealing with large volumes of data, and when you’re on a ten-gigabit network using fibre there’s a lot of work that the CPU needs to do to keep track of the data coming in. When things go pear-shaped, performance drops and you lose valuable time working with that data. SMBDirect promises to fix that, but it will be expensive to implement. Not only do you need a decently powerful server to handle all the data requests from multiple clients, you also need network cards with RDMA support on both the client and the server. Again, this is a machine learning thing – an industry that is growing as quickly as the volumes of data these AIs are sifting through.
Lastly, extended hardware support allows you to now install Windows 10 Pro on machines that have more than two CPU sockets, and addresses up to 6TB of RAM. This is more than the RAM currently addressable in Server 2016 or Windows 10 Enterprise (2TB for both), so we can expect that Microsoft will make similar changes to the memory configurations of those two products in the future. At the very least, Windows 10 Pro for Workstations will sit in between Pro and Enterprise in terms of cost. Though I can see the benefits of this being available to consumers, it’ll likely be a business-only type of product available through volume licensing.
Which is funny in retrospect – most of the machine learning projects running today are on Linux. Microsoft will take a long time to play catch-up with this release.