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Server Management with Windows Admin Center

July 16, 2019 | Ken Leoni

Windows Admin Center (WAC) is fast becoming the preferred tool for server management. What is driving WAC and why should you care? Well, let’s first take a brief walk back into history. The management of Windows Server infrastructure has evolved over time.  As new functionality was added, new management capabilities were bolted into frameworks like the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). MMC was originally released as part of the Windows 98 – that’s an eternity ago!

Server Management with Windows Admin CenterFast forward to today.  If we consider what is necessary for effective server management across Windows, Hyper-V and Azure, it means having ready access to tools like the registry editor, task manager, server manager, and fail-over cluster manager – to name but a few. Things get even messier when the network is included into the equation.  There are simply too many disparate management tools and user interfaces. 

Enter WAC, this free software (~60MB kit)  is a self-contained installation that can be deployed in desktop mode on Windows 10 (https://localhost:6516) or in Gateway mode on Windows Server 2016/2019 (https://installed-server). The software can also be deployed across multiple sites and then used to centrally manage from a single browser console.

No agents are required as remote connections are made via PowerShell and WMI (Windows Management Interface) over WinRM (Windows Remote Management), all which are reliable stalwarts of the Windows OS. In fact, WAC is a well-designed UI that is running PowerShell scripts behind the scenes. At any time, users can export the PowerShell commands and embed them into their own scripts.

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Server Tools

 

WAC delivers centralized browser-based administration of Windows 10, Windows Servers 2008 R2, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2019, and Clusters that reside both on premises and in Azure.

The days of logging onto a GUI desktop to administer or diagnose are fast disappearing. MMC for all intents and purposes is dead, any future development of Windows management tools will likely be incorporated into WAC.

 

Windows Admin Center - Server Tools

Figure 1. Windows Admin Center's Server Tools

 

Windows Admin Center's - Server Tools
Overview (Figure 1) Network
* Azure Hybrid Services PowerShell
* Azure File Sync Processes
* Azure Backup Registry
Certificates Remote Desktop
* Containers Roles & Features
Devices Scheduled Tasks
Events Services
Files * Storage Migration Service
Firewalls Updates
Installed Apps Virtual Machines
Local Users & Group Virtual Switches

 

*  Server tools unique to WAC:

  • Azure hybrid services - consolidates all the integrated Azure services including Azure Backup. Azure Site Recovery, Azure file Sync, Azure Update Management, Azure Monitor, and Azure Network Adapter

  • The Containers extension delves into existing Windows Server container deployments and shows a high-level overview of running containers. The extension also helps with troubleshooting by providing diagnostics on containers.

  • In addition, user can migrate servers to newer platforms (both on premises and in Azure) via the Storage Migration Service.

These WAC additions are all examples of WAC delivering server and hybrid cloud management with a unified look and feel. Microsoft continues to develop more extensions to WAC (i.e. extensions for Active Directory, DNS, and DHCP), the list will undoubtedly continue to grow.



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Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager

 

Hyper-Converged infrastructures (HCI) are highly touted because of their promise to deliver a low cost, simple to manage, and scalable environment. A central tenant of HCI is the elimination of hardware silos by collapsing server, network, and storage into a single box. 

Windows Admin Center Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager

Figure 2. Windows Admin Center's Hyper-Converged Cluster Manager


Hyper-Converged infrastructures are constructed using commodity-based hardware, with the goal of increasing performance and reducing annual maintenance and hardware costs (i.e. no SAN devices mean no more hardware controllers). Of course, your mileage will vary depending on vendor choice, size/scope of your deployment, and age of your IT infrastructure. 

If you are considering a hardware refresh, leveraging WAC together with HCI has the real potential to save your organization quite a bit of money and simultaneously reduce some the headaches that can accompany working with multiple hardware silos/vendors. 

In addition to server virtualization, Windows Admin Center also virtualizes storage (Storage Spaces Direct), and the network (Software Defined Network).

Windows Admin Center - Storage Space DirectStorage Spaces Direct (S2D) – Creates highly available and scalable storage using the locally attached drives on the servers. It is software defined storage that is included in Windows Server Datacenter Edition.

S2D is a single tier infrastructure that scales out. When an organization needs more capacity, it is simply a matter of adding a server with locally attached storage and configuring within WAC.

S2D also delivers fault tolerance by distributing the data across servers. There are a number of configuration options including mirroring which keeps multiple copies of the data, and parity encoding - where data is broken into fragments, encoded and stored across storage media. If there is a corruption then the data can be reconstructed using information about the data that's stored elsewhere.

S2D also leverages server-side caching that maximizes I/O throughput via read and write caches. How the cache works is dependent on whether the drives are All-Flash or some combination of NVMe, SSD, and HDD. 

 

Windows Admin Center  - Software Defined NetworkSoftware Defined Network (SDN) – SDN is also included in Windows Server Datacenter Edition and provides for the configuration of virtual networks and sub-nets, as well as the connecting of virtual machines to the virtual networks. In addition, the SDN monitoring extension displays the state of the SDN services and infrastructure in real-time. 

A major upside to implementing SDN is enhanced security as it allows for a faster/easier isolation of VMs. A guiding security principle is to minimize the impact to an organization if a VM is compromised. Better to deal with a single VM or subset of VMs than expose the entire server infrastructure. SDN also offers a centralized view of an organizations network, making it easier to manage and provision.

SDN also promises to reduce complexity with simpler provisioning and management of the networked resources that reside on-premises and in Azure.

 

Conclusions

  • If your IT infrastructure is primarily on premises and private cloud, you’ll benefit from the additional efficiencies that come with the centralized browser-based administration that Windows Admin Center provides. 

  • Windows Admin Center is clearly designed to blur the lines between on-premises and public cloud deployments, making adoption of hybrid cloud quick and painless. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. You’ll want to perform due diligence when considering public cloud, making sure you understand all the costs.

  • Windows Admin Center is primarily an interactive tool. It does have some limited dashboarding and any historical displays are limited to Windows Server 2019 instances. As the name implies Windows Admin Center is Windows-centric, so no insights into applications.

  • If you’re looking for comprehensive monitoring of the IT infrastructure and applications with dashboards, alerting, historical reporting and capacity planning that’s where technologies like Longitude can help.

 

 


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