Microsoft Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers

Effective October 1, 2023, Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers is available.


What is Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers?

The Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers is a new operating system option for customers who want to run containers on Windows Server and have a need for faster innovation. This will be a completely optional upgrade to suit the needs of customers requiring increased innovation cycles. This option is available to customers who have Windows Server Datacenter Core licenses with either Software Assurance or Software Subscriptions. The new Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers will ship every year and be available as an opt-in, creating added choices to the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) releases Microsoft offers today. With this release, Windows on Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) customers will be able to take advantage of this through a new Windows Operating System (OS) Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) with versioning aligned to Kubernetes versions, creating a parallel to the Linux upgrade process.


The Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers offers the following benefits:

  • It is optimized for container workloads, with a smaller footprint and faster updates.
  • It follows the annual release cadence of the Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel, with a new version every 12 months and support for 24 months.
  • It is compatible with the latest features and innovations of Windows Server, such as Windows Admin Center, Azure Arc, and Azure Stack Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI).


What are the differences between Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers and other Windows Server editions?

Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers is a special edition of Windows Server that is optimized for hosting Windows Server containers. It has the following differences from other Windows Server editions:

  • It is released every year and supported for 24 months, while other editions are released every 2-3 years and supported for 10 years.
  • It can only be installed with the Server Core installation option, while other editions can also be installed with the Server with Desktop Experience option.
  • It supports portability of container images across different host versions, while other editions require matching container image versions.
  • It is available to volume-licensed customers with Software Assurance and loyalty programs such as Visual Studio Subscriptions, while other editions are also available to other customers.


How to get started with Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers

You can deploy the Windows Server Annual Channel for Containers on any supported hardware platform, such as physical servers, virtual machines, or Azure Stack HCI clusters. You can also use the Windows Admin Center to manage your servers and containers from a single web-based interface.


New feature: Portability

Portability is a highly requested feature that Microsoft introduced in the first annual channel release of Windows Server. It solves a major challenge for Windows containers, which previously needed to have the same container image version as the host OS. For instance, Windows Server 2019 containers could not run on Windows Server 2022 hosts.

With portability, Windows Server 2022 containers can run on newer host OS versions, such as the annual channel release. This allows customers and container services like AKS to update their host OS more frequently without affecting their containers, similar to how Linux containers work.


More information

For the announcement article, please visit:

For an overview of Windows Server servicing channels, please visit:

For software licensing information on Microsoft licensing programs, please visit:

Please contact us for free expert consultancy on your specific Microsoft agreements, more information and to request a quote.

Share article


Get Free Expert Software Licensing Consultancy For Your Organization