It is no secret that Microsoft has been working hard and heavy on the new Windows Admin Center. In fact, the Windows Admin Center is central to the new hybrid management platform that Microsoft has enabled to manage both Azure as well as on-premises resources. It helps organizations bridge the gap between on-premise and cloud.

Windows Admin Center is the primary tool that can be used to manage the new Windows Server 2019 operating system as well as many of the new technologies that Microsoft has released. This includes Hyper-V, software-defined technologies, as well as other platform features that are included in the Windows Server operating system. It has certainly shown Microsoft is dedicated to delivering on a simple and unified management platform that empowers customers.

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the overview and how to install Windows Admin Center. In the second part, let’s take a closer look at the features and functionality of Windows Admin Center along with server management.

Server Management with Windows Admin Center

Before Windows Admin Center, Server management consisted of a wide range of tools including but not limited to registry editor, task manager, server manager, failover cluster manager, and probably the server management.

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Additionally, when thinking about one of the biggest blockers to the adoption of Server Core installations, Windows Server administrators have not really had access to centralized tools needed to manage the Server Core installations. Windows Server Admin provides the tools needed to manage all of the Windows Server operating systems including Server Core installation and can do so from a single-pane-of-glass interface.

Features included in Windows Admin Center includes the ability to “tag” servers – roles, location, etc. Using the filtering feature, it is easy to drill down and see the list of features that you want to see. Dashboards will become mobile responsive. Notifications are easy to drill down and extremely easy to see what needs attention for a particular server.

Windows Server 2019 Hyper-V server

A view of Windows Admin Center for a Windows Server 2019 Hyper-V server

How is Windows Admin Center deployed in your environment?

Windows Admin Center is a free software download and is included in the license for Windows Server or Windows 10. It is a simple installer that contains all the components in a single package.

There are no dependencies for Internet connectivity as well. The connections to the managed servers are made with PowerShell and WMI over WinRM. No agents need to be installed to manage the servers. Connections are made over a secure HTTPS connection. It can manage Windows Server instances wherever they are – physical, virtual, etc. It can be installed on Windows Server (Semi-Annual Channel), Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, Windows 10. It can manage servers from Windows 2019 and Semi-Annual releases all the way back to Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 10.

Connections to the Windows Admin Center management environment can be made through a Three-tier canonical gateway, managed node, or it can be installed on a cluster for high-availability. It is easy to deploy across multiple environments and centrally manage those environments from a single browser console.

Organizations with multiple sites or even MSPs can greatly benefit from the capabilities provided by Windows Admin Center.

Let’s take a look at the following areas and how they are facilitated by Windows Admin Center:

  • Core Tools
  • HCI Management
  • Security
  • Hybrid
  • Partner Ecosystem

Core Tools

Windows Admin Center provides the core tools needed to effectively manage Windows Server environments and allows administrators to consolidate all the legacy tools that were traditionally used for server management into the clean, modern new UI that is enabled by Windows Admin Center. At the moment, Windows Admin Center is NOT a replacement for the RSAT or Remote Server Administration Tools that are used for managing:

  • Active Directory
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • IIS and others

Administrators will still need to utilize the RSAT tools for administering these components for now.

A few examples of the core tools included with Windows Admin Center include the Apps and Features tool, Scheduled Tasks (task scheduler, modify triggers, actions, conditions, settings, etc), virtual machines, etc. You can also see the PowerShell code that is running in the Windows Admin Center interface. You can manage file shares.

The Storage Migration service is a new Windows Server Platform feature that allows you to retire your older file servers and migrate data over to new Windows Server platforms. Storage replica isn’t new in Windows Server 2019 but new experience has been added in Windows Admin Center. System Insights brings predictive analytics to Windows Server. It forecasts the usage of these resources to help you proactively manage your resources before a problem arises.

The containers tool is the latest addition to the extension feed that gives greater visibility into existing Windows Server container deployments. It is not meant to be a full lifecycle management tool, but rather a process list of types that allows you to see a high-level overview of containers running. This includes resources, docker logs, perform actions or get data from inside the container using PowerShell. You can also perform troubleshooting and diagnostics on containers. You can see the list of container images on the host, how much disk space each image takes up on the host.

Hyper-Converged Management

Hyper-Converged infrastructure is a hot topic that is on the minds of organizations today. It provides for lower cost, better efficiency, flexibility, and moving away from specialized hardware to a software-defined approach. Windows Admin Center provides a powerful interface allows effectively managing Hyper-Converged Infrastructure from the Windows Admin Center including Storage Spaces Direct management.

WSSD provides pre-validated solutions for running Microsoft’s software-defined solutions for the enterprise data center. The purpose-built graphical solution enables managing HCI solutions from a GUI. The HCI solution in Windows Server 2016 HCI was difficult to manage with a PowerShell only approach. Windows Admin Center changes that.

Security

Security was a major investment with Windows Server 2019. Windows Admin Center improves the security of managing your environment. Windows Admin Center security utilizes:

  • HTTPS communication
  • Active Directory and local users
  • Multi-factor authentication & conditional access with Azure Active Directory

With AD and local groups, you can add a user and define a role.

How does Windows Admin Center secure access to the servers you are managing?

  • Role-based access control – allows you to restrict the actions those users can perform
  • Windows Admin Center logs all actions performed on servers in the event log

As is clearly seen, Windows Admin Center uses a variety of measures to secure Windows Server administration, helping to ensure security as a top priority even in the management of Windows Server infrastructure resources.

Hybrid

Windows Admin Center is built for hybrid. It is a bridge to the cloud. It helps to discover Azure services in the context of your management tools, onboard from on-premises machines easily, and connect to the Azure portal using contextual hyperlinks.

The following are hybrid tools that help to bridge the gap between the on-premises server environments and the Azure public cloud.

Azure update management is a solution from Azure that allows easily on-boarding servers that are managed by Windows Admin Center so you get the easy centralized update management experience.

Azure Site Recovery allows replicating business-critical workloads from on-premises to Azure so your data can be failed over to in the Azure environment. Again, the intelligent linking from the Windows Admin Center allows easily on-boarding the servers into the Site Recovery service.

Azure backup protects environments from ransomware, malicious attacks and accidental deletion of data. It has the same experience as the other two solutions along with an easy to read dashboard. You can also easily kick off backups on selected workloads.

Azure File Sync allows you to free up space on on-premises servers by placing cold data up in the cloud and keeping the hot data on-premises for low-latency access.

Azure network adapter is a point-to-site VPN into an Azure vNet with a few simple clicks.

Managing Azure VMs is made easy with the Azure network adapter which makes it easy to connect from your gateway to the Azure cloud to manage your Azure VMs.

Azure Active Directory Authentication can bring Azure features into Windows Admin Center such as multi-factor authentication. Azure Monitor is another Azure service that interacts with Windows Admin Center.

Partner Ecosystem

The extensibility of Windows Admin Center means that Microsoft allows Partners to easily extend the capabilities and features of Windows Admin Center to include their vendor specific software and functionality for customers. The Extension manager allows adding available extensions. By making it easy to extend the Windows Admin Center, there will no doubt be a major influx of third-party vendors who want to add features and functionality to the new Windows Server management platform.

Concluding Thoughts

Windows Admin Center is certainly the way forward for managing Windows Server environments. It helps to blur the lines between on-premises environments and the public cloud. This makes it truly easy for businesses to embrace the hybrid cloud as the way forward. Windows Admin Center enables platform features to be managed by the GUI now that had no corresponding tool previously. This is truly seen in Windows Server 2019 as there are many features and functionality that are manageable from Windows Admin Center that previously was only configurable with PowerShell.

It will be exciting to see with each new preview of Windows Admin Center what new features and functionality are coming to the platform. However, this is the future of server management from Microsoft’s perspective. Be sure to download and check out the latest release of Windows Admin Center.

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