Microsoft unveiled a new tool that is set to change the way Windows Server engineers interface, configure, interact with, and administer Windows Servers, Windows Failover Clusters, and Hyperconverged clusters.

Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall with new versions of Windows Server as well as the shift to the cloud, administrators need a better tool to be able to take care of the tasks at hand with modern infrastructure that stretches between on-premises and public cloud environments. They have delivered with a new tool that is set to become the de facto GUI administration tool for Windows Server versions to come – Windows Admin Center.

In this Windows Admin Center overview and installation post, we will take a closer look at the tool as well as features and functionality included giving administrators an all-compassing utility to manage Windows Server infrastructure both on-premises and in the cloud.

Windows Admin Center Overview

Windows Admin Center provides tremendous value to administrators.

It started life as Project Honolulu before it was properly named Windows Admin Center and is what Microsoft calls the “evolution” of Windows Server in-box management tools.

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It is a free utility available from Microsoft that is available to download at the official Windows Admin Center page here. At the time of this writing, it is available in version 1809.51 in GA form and also version 1902 in Preview.

While Windows Admin Center is not included by default in current Windows Server versions, you can tell that Microsoft is pushing the use of Windows Admin Center. When you launch the legacy “Server Manager” in Windows Server 2019, you will see a message box pop up recommending you try the new Windows Admin Center for server management.

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Message in Windows Server 2019 when launching Server Manager recommends trying Windows Admin Center

It provides a single pane of glass management interface that helps administrators to consolidate their view of the Windows Server landscape in their environments. The look and feel of Windows Admin Center are very modern, clean, and intuitive with a very comfortable layout of modules and available actions. This stands in contrast to Server Manager which can be clumsy to maneuver and navigate.

Windows Admin Center is a departure from the standard “fat” application that is loaded on a Windows Server system. It is a browser-based tool that can be loaded not only on Windows Servers but also Windows 10 clients as well.

Additionally, it can also run on Server Core systems as well. It, however, does not require Internet connectivity or an Azure account.

Windows Admin Center can be installed on the following operating systems (***Note*** Installation on Domain Controllers is not supported)

Windows 10, version 1709 or newer Desktop mode
Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel Gateway mode
Windows Server 2016 Gateway mode
Windows Server 2019 Gateway mode

The following operating systems are compatible for management of Windows Admin Center:

Version Manage node via Server Manager Manage cluster via Failover Cluster Manager Manage HCI via HCI Cluster Manager
Windows 10, version Yes (via Computer Management) N/A N/A
1709 or newer
Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel Yes Yes N/A
Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel Yes Yes N/A
Windows Server 2019 Yes Yes Yes
Windows Server 2016 Yes Yes Yes, with latest cumulative update
Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2016 Yes Yes N/A
Windows Server 2012 R2 Yes Yes N/A
Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 Yes Yes N/A
Windows Server 2012 Yes Yes N/A
Windows Server 2008 R2 Yes, limited functionality Yes N/A

Refer this Microsoft article to prepare your environment for Windows Admin Center as some server versions need additional preparation

Windows Admin Center Access and Permissions Model

The two modes that are supported for Windows Admin Center as detailed for the respective operating systems in the above table are:

  • Desktop Mode
  • Gateway Mode

Desktop Mode

In Desktop Mode, the Windows Admin Center is locally installed on the same computer from which you are accessing it.

An example of a URL to access WAC in this mode is: https://localhost:6516

Gateway Mode

In Gateway Mode, Windows Admin Center is installed on a supported Windows Server version and can be accessed remotely from a client browser on a different machine.

An example of a URL to access WAC in this mode is: https://servername.contoso.com

Access roles can be assigned in the Gateway mode for appropriate permissions. There are two roles for access to the gateway service: gateway users and gateway administrators.

  • Gateway users can connect to the WAC gateway service to manage servers through the gateway but cannot change access permissions nor the authentication mechanism used to authenticate to the gateway
  • Gateway administrators can configure who gets access as well as how users will authenticate to the gateway

Additionally, role-based access control or RBAC can be used in WAC to provide users with limited access to the machine instead of making them full local administrators. This works in conjunction with configured each managed server with a JEA or “Just Enough Administration” endpoint.

Installing Windows Admin Center on Windows 10

By default, when installed on Windows 10, Windows Admin Center uses port 6516 by default. However, this can be changed. When installed on supported Windows Server operating systems, Windows Admin Center is installed as a network service. A port will need to be specified for listening as well as an HTTPS certificate is required. Self-signed certificates can be used for this purpose, however, all the same certificate best practices apply here and are required including subject name matching the server name, etc.

Installation on Server Core versions is possible as well from the command line. Copy the Windows Admin Center installation MSI over to the Server Core machine and run the following command:

  • msiexec /i .msi /qn /L*v log.txt SME_PORT= SSL_CERTIFICATE_OPTION=generate

Installation using the GUI MSI installer is very straightforward. It is very much a “next, next, finish” process.

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Beginning the Windows Admin Center installation with EULA

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Windows Update settings

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Installation options – Gateway Mode for Servers

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Allow Windows Admin Center to modify the Trusted Hosts file

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Select the Server port and Certificate options

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Installation of Windows Admin Center in Gateway mode finishes successfully

After the installation is complete, browse to the URL listed for the new Windows Admin Center installation and login:

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Login with credentials to access WAC

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After adding servers and even a Hyper-Converged S2D cluster to Windows Admin Center

Windows Admin Center provides a wide range of tools for single servers and clusters:

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A look at some of the available tools for a single server

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Dashboard metrics for S2D cluster showing issues and pertinent information about the S2D cluster

Final Thoughts

Windows Admin Center is the next step forward for Microsoft and server administration. It provides a clean, modern look and feels for Windows Server and cluster administration. It is a huge step forward when compared to Server Manager and other more legacy tools that we have grown accustomed to. Third-party vendors are also able to extend its capabilities which has already led to some pretty incredible extensions available from various vendors for WAC.

Considering this is a free download from Microsoft and it is able to manage many different types of servers, it is a great tool to start today in managing Windows Servers from in various environments. With the single pane of glass view of the Windows Server and cluster landscape, it allows a centralized management plane for configuring, managing and troubleshooting Windows Server moving forward.

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Windows Admin Center Part 1 : Overview and Installation
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