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Windows Admin Center brings server management under one roof

Microsoft built Windows Admin Center to make administrators' jobs easier, but the tool has many facets to learn to expertly manage Windows servers.

Like a Swiss Army knife became the iconic tool for soldiers, Windows Admin Center could become the essential multiuse management tool for systems administrators.

Windows Admin Center, formerly called Project Honolulu, is a web-based management tool that can run almost anywhere, including on a server, remotely from an endpoint or directly on a workstation.

"It's the next-generation management tool for IT pros," said Andy Syrewicze, in a webinar titled "How to Manage Windows Server Like a Boss with Windows Admin Center," sponsored by Altaro.

Windows Admin Center is a big change from Microsoft Management Console (MMC), which has been used to manage servers since Windows 2000 and hasn't changed much since its release. Microsoft will continue to support MMC, but new developments will only be for Windows Admin Center. It also complements existing tools, such as MMC and Virtual Machine Manager (VMM).

In the webinar, Syrewicze and Eric Siron, a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP, demonstrate how to use Windows Admin Center features to simplify daily operations. They cover managing stand-alone Windows servers, Hyper-V and failover clusters, storage and extensions in the insider preview release of Windows Admin Center 1903.

How to set up Windows Admin Center and add servers

To take advantage of the features in Windows Admin Center, start by completing the initial setup and configuring the tool to your preferences, such as enabling dark mode.

The installer requires you to select a self-signed certificate or a locally installed certificate. Pick the self-signed certificate for the initial setup to get through the process faster, but stop using it after install because it presents a security risk. To prevent the frustration of repeated login prompts, enable delegation, and try to have all your machines in the same domain.

Next, search for and add servers to Windows Admin Center. The tool will add the machine even if it cannot find it, and you can address the issue later. You can use a new feature in version 1903 to search Active Directory (AD) for all three domain controllers to add at the same time.

Windows Admin Center can manage any server version back to Windows Server 2008 R2, but older servers have access to fewer features and less support. The new Storage Migration Service in Windows Server 2019 supports storage migrations from any server back to 2003. The latest server introduced forecasting with System Insights in Windows Admin Center version 1809. The feature tells you whether or not you will remain within your capacity and saves you from purchasing more CPU, networking, volume usage and storage when you don't need it.

Manage and migrate VMs with ease

The Hyper-V box depends on the locally installed PowerShell module to control Hyper-V machines, but if you haven't installed it, you can use Windows Admin Center to do so. The roles and features still work in the admin center.

In the console, you can sort your machine list to only see clusters or see old validation reports instead of looking through log files. The summary view saves time sorting through metrics logs by displaying how much CPU and memory the host uses versus a guest. In the Windows Admin Center interface, you can create a brand new VM with nested virtualization enabled or add a disk.

You can now manage Storage Spaces Direct with Windows Admin Center, which previously required PowerShell skills to manage.

When you want to migrate a VM to another server, Windows Admin Center picks between a quick migration and live migration for you. In Failover Clustering Manager you have to tell it which migration you want. Windows Admin Center is not a VMM replacement but manages one machine at a time.

How to manage clusters in Storage Spaces Direct

You can now manage Storage Spaces Direct with Windows Admin Center, which previously required PowerShell skills. Microsoft designed the hyper-converged cluster manager section specifically to manage Storage Spaces Direct clusters.

After you install Storage Spaces Direct with PowerShell, set up nodes and configure your cluster, you will be able to enable and use Storage Spaces Direct. Some management functions, such as storage repair jobs, do not work in Windows Admin Center yet. In the summary view, you can see cluster performance metrics, health of drives, cluster events and how much CPU memory the host consumes compared with how much the guest VMs use. With Windows Admin Center, you can connect to a VM or control and create virtual switches without using other tools.

Storage Spaces Direct requires a mirror with a two-node cluster. More nodes add flexibility and resilience. You can enable cluster-aware updating in Windows Admin Center to automatically manage Windows updates by taking one clustered node down at a time to keep the VM online at all times. If you experience a problem, a Windows Admin Center diagnostics extension that you can install can collect some performance metrics to help troubleshoot.

Software extensions add functionality

Third-party vendors, such as Fujitsu, Lenovo, Squared Up and DataON, have third-party extensions for Windows Admin Center. Extensions add to the goal of having a single pane of glass for server management. Build your own extension repositories to control what extensions can get installed in your organization's admin center. The web-based management tool notifies you when an extension has an update available.

"[Domain name system] and AD were specifically very popular asks for Windows Admin Center, so it's good to see that [Microsoft is] starting to go through and address some of those requests," Syrewicze said. "To install an extension and extend the functionality of Windows admins are very simple."

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