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Five system administrator skills Windows admins should hone

IT workers need to learn how to ride the wave of innovation and master these five technologies related to Windows Server that can ease their workload and help the business.

Just like data center infrastructure, system administrator skills require regular maintenance and upgrades to improve...

overall performance.

For Windows admins, the IT landscape shifted dramatically with the introduction of virtualization and the cloud. Now, the rise of containers has some in IT uncertain about their role as general server administrators.

Resistance is futile. The key to success is to embrace the changes that roll out in rapid fashion or risk being swept away.

There are five foundational changes to what Windows Server is and how to use it in the data center and the cloud. Invest the time to build your proficiency with these system administrator skills that will only grow in importance over time.

Scale out your PowerShell skills

PowerShell is much more than a simple scripting language. It's a task automation framework that is a foundational piece of Windows. It's the underlying technology in the Azure Stack appliance and the Project Honolulu remote server management tool. It might be the only interface to manage Windows Server at some point.

Many third-party vendors also have snap-ins designed to work with this tool. This makes PowerShell the single command interface for both Windows and many enterprise applications, and even hardware infrastructure. With that common connection, there are few limits that would prevent an administrator from a large-scale automation effort.

Focus on ways to automate

The days of clicking through menus to complete tasks have vanished. The mantra in IT is to automate any task an administrator does more than once.

Today, IT should automate everything. It's not just about saving time -- it's about bringing services and applications to clients in a fast and flawless manner. No matter how good a traditional admin might be, an automated routine simply does it better.

The mantra in IT is to automate any task an administrator does more than once.

The automated procedure might be simple -- such as a PowerShell script -- or more involved, with tools such as Ansible or Puppet. The scale of business demands in the age of self-service portals requires a way to deploy, manage and monitor one or many servers in a controlled setting without the need for manual intervention from an admin. These automation tools help make that happen.

Deploy Server Core when possible

When Microsoft introduced Server Core with Windows Server 2008, many admins wondered why there was no GUI management for this operating system. Fast forward a few years, and Server Core now comes up as the default installation option in Windows Server 2016.

Microsoft said Server Core's reduced footprint lowers its attack surface, which means fewer patches. Administrators can enlist Server Core for a number of general purpose roles in the data center, such as Active Directory certificate services and Hyper-V servers. These workloads then require little hands-on involvement once the IT department sets them up.

Microsoft added more PowerShell cmdlets to control Server Core with the Windows Server 2016 release. It's a cost-effective move for Microsoft to develop a cmdlet rather than a new or modified GUI interface.

Administrators should understand how to manage remote servers that have no graphical interface because point-and-click management is one of those system administrator skills that holds less relevance today.

Keep monitoring capabilities updated

Even with self-healing software, automation and machine learning for logs, administrators rely on monitoring to spot trends and curb potential problems. Companies hit by extended outages lose revenue and take a hit to their reputation. It's not possible to prevent every outage, but an experienced administrator who keeps an eye on historical data can spot troubling developments and make an informed decision to reduce the likelihood of service disruptions.

Monitoring is more complicated today. It's no longer a matter of looking at resource usage, bits and bytes -- it's about what the client sees. IT departments need to stay on top of both the health of the infrastructure and the application experience of the customer.

The ability to monitor the application experience usually comes from the vendor; oftentimes, it's an extra charge for that additional dashboard. The admin has to compare what they see in the customer experience to the infrastructure monitoring for that complete picture.

Find ways to implement distributed application design

It might not appear to fall under the administrator's purview, but application design drastically affects how the business uses Windows infrastructure. Enterprise applications that use a single install point are on the decline. No business that depends on the reliability of a particular workload wants a single hardware failure to paralyze the company.

Many vendors now produce distributed applications that run across many Windows nodes rather than just a few critical ones. Through virtualization, the IT department can create a more fault-tolerant application by distributing the workload on multiple hosts.

The successful deployment of a distributed application hinges on a comprehensive plan. It is crucial to ensure there is a balance of host assignments, resource usage and monitoring.

Application design is a complex arrangement with many moving parts, but an IT worker with advanced system administrator skills in Server Core, PowerShell, automation and monitoring will have sufficient expertise to bring it under control.

This was last published in February 2018

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