The Future of Windows Server Management

Say hello to what will very likely be the Server Manager replacement in Windows Server 2019: Windows Admin Center (WAC). Formerly Project Honolulu, WAC has officially gone GA with build 1804. Microsoft clearly has big plans for this tool which has the potential to replace everything and anything currently based on the well aged Microsoft Management Console (MMC). It will probably be the release that follows Server 2019 before we see any possible real deprecation of MMC.


Installation

Because WAC is a web service that manages individual servers, it must be installed on every node you intend to manage, for Server 2016/ 2012R2. Installation is a pain-free affair requiring only permission to modify a particular server’s trusted hosts settings, a designated web port for management and either a 60-day self-signed or other generated SSL cert.


 


If managing a cluster or larger environment, whichever node you intend to use as a gateway for management access must have visibility to all other nodes in the cluster or environment. Here I’m using S2D1 as my gateway and have manually added all relevant hosts and cluster objects. You can optionally use any Server 2016 or Win10 PC as a gateway to provide management access to all other servers in your environment. From what I can tell, the only thing that truly designates a node as a “gateway” is by adding other objects to it, per below.


The designated gateway itself can then authenticate assigned users or administrators based on local or Azure AD.



Upon installation, WAC will enable a few additional solutions depending on the features installed on your server. For my scenario WAC provided 4 distinct management panes: Server Manager, Computer Mgmt, Failover Cluster Manager and a brand new Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager.



Additional modules and configuration pages will be installable as extensions within WAC. All of the configuration pages in the sections that follow are essentially extensions so the extensibility of this tool is really only limited by the extensions available. Read: this tool has been designed for big things!




Computer Management

A notable change possibly coming here is that Computer Management will be for Win10 PCs only at some point. Right now you can use Server or Computer Management on servers, as neither tool is capable of completely replacing the other. “Computer” in this context will soon mean “PC”.



Server Manager

This is where the majority of new functionality exists currently. To a large extent, this is a combination of the legacy Server Manager tool with a few of the MMC-based tools and a nice coat of webby modern polish. Not all functionality is present here and for many things you will still need to access the MMC tool counterpart. A lot the items available are self explanatory but I’ll showcase a few of the interesting additions below.

Real-time system performance charts are visible on the Overview page with an option to enable disk metrics separately. The warning that follows suggests that these metrics consume a great deal of overhead so to only use when you must and then disable when you are finished. Notice that only my C drive is visible here, no Cluster Shared Volumes in use by S2D running on this same host. This appears to be a Server 2019 feature only.



Some areas are surprisingly good with new concise takes on existing models, such as the Firewall configuration. I can very simply see all incoming/ outgoing rules and easily create a new rule without having to use a series of wizard-driven questionnaires or multi-tab MMC dialogs. This is a fantastic example of what this tool should endeavor to change in future versions of Windows. If more granular manipulation is required, the settings dialog of any rule can be accessed to change things further.



A largely-functional network management stack is a welcomed addition here, no longer requiring ncpa.cpl to alter IP or DNS settings.



Another nice addition here is a fully functional and integrated Shell window. I can do whatever I need to within PowerShell right from WAC.



The registry editor makes an appearance here, no longer requiring regedit.exe to make any needed changes.



The Remote Desktop page provides an embedded frame for direct RDP connection to the server you are connected to. No need to launch a separate RDP client.



The Updates page in WAC appears to be a bit better than the Windows Update tool in the newer Settings UI. Windows Update says I only need a SQL SP2 update:


 


WAC shows me this same SQL update but a slew of others too, including Intel hardware driver updates. Awesome!



Hyper-V can be managed from WAC as well providing useful event and resource usage data including the ability to manipulate the VMs directly. One thing I don’t like about the current toolset is that when attempting to connect to a VM I am greeted with a popup to save a .rdp file, no direct/ protocol-less console. Hopefully this will get better.



Virtual Machine Inventory shows a summary view of all VMs on this particular host along with real-time resource utilization and clustered status. Important to note that VMs running as clustered on other nodes are not shown here.



The new VM dialog is simple and consolidated enabling quick deployment via minimal hoop jumping.



The full VM settings dialog is also available here for granular settings changes. This may actually be good enough to almost completely deprecate Hyper-V Manager for day-to-day use. Awesome!



Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager

To fully manage S2D clusters with Admin Center you need to be running a preview build of Server 2019, which I don’t have yet. Even though the error dialog below says an April patch is required for Server 2016, per this article, that’s not accurate. This gives a sense of the things the UI will let you do here however. It’s unclear if Admin Center will facilitate S2D setup or not, or if PowerShell will still be required for this in Server 2019.

 



Failover Cluster Manager

While Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager does not work for Server 2016, Failover Cluster Manager does, to some extent. If you have a S2D cluster some of this will not work, namely the details section on the Disks page. Anything touching S2D directly will likely fail and as a result may require a restart of the WAC service if the UI becomes unresponsive.


The dashboard page shows general status of the clustered components including options to start, stop, remove and simulate failures.



Many of the page tabs are fairly basic at the moment, so WAC doesn’t yet replace any MMC counterpart for full functionality.



Similar to the Virtual Machine page in the new Server Manager, the dialog here should be familiar although now we see which host server is running a particular VM in a clustered state. There is still this split brain problem in Hyper-V clusters where VMs are ‘optionally’ clustered or left local if you want. If you are running a cluster your VMs should be part of the cluster, storage resiliency is only possible if the VM lives on clustered storage. In the split brain model I now have 2 classifications of VMs, clustered or not and still require 2 distinct tools to manage each: Failover Cluster Manager for clustered VMs, Server Manager for non clustered VMs. I doubt this will change any time soon.





Other Items of Note

No love for IE. I got this somewhat hilarious error suggesting that I install Chrome or Edge to use Admin Center on the server itself, considering Server 2016 ships with IE only by default. Most will manage remotely but it would sure be nice to be able to do SOMETHING locally if I needed to without having to install another browser! Just another nail in the coffin. RIP IE.


The need to re-authenticate is definitely excessive, over and over and over again. Every piece part that you connect to, even sub-elements on particular pages sometimes prompted additional challenges for authentication. Even after entering explicitly defined admin credentials for “all connections” I was still prompted continuously to authenticate. In a large environment I would be tearing my hair out. This must be resolved!



Watch this space, managing Windows Server is about to change in a big way!

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