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The concept of the server is changing for Windows administrators. Ten or 15 years ago, we were still deploying third-party remote console software on all of our servers. Today the job is becoming more automated and centralized. Windows Server 2012 has pushed that even further, with Microsoft encouraging administrators to manage servers remotely without the need to log on to the console of the machine.
For those used to interacting with the desktop of the server, there are five ways admins can take advantage of Remote Server Management Tools for Windows 8.
1. Start with the Server Manager dashboard
The Server Manager console is no longer a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in; it has been completely rewritten to streamline the management of multiple servers from a single pane of glass. The tile-style interface takes its cues from Windows 8, but it's not necessarily touch-centric. The tiles, many of which are split into icons on the tree under the server object, provide a way to separate functional areas of the Dashboard.
Server Manager will automatically determine installed roles on servers so you can control print servers, DHCP servers and domain controllers side-by-side without having to open the right MMC snap-in. This also lets you consolidate views across roles by looking at the health of all your DNS servers. These are prominently featured in their own side-by-side tile setup.
You can get a quick view of your server's performance and trouble areas. When you click on a server, you will have instant access to the performance over the last 24 hours, entries in the event log and results of the Best Practice Analyzer. All roles and features as well as the state of services are immediately displayed. Compared to how you had to previously grab that information via the MMC, this is a much more convenient view.
The panes of information are also interactive, allowing you to set up a Best Practice Analyzer scan, an event query or a performance alarm, among other things.
2. Set up server groups
For those with more than a few servers, you'll want to get your Server Manager console organized with server groups to use Windows Server 2012 Remote Management. Many IT departments started organizing through Active Directory, but admins will often ignore that model because day-to-day management doesn't necessarily match the organizational model. Server groups can be created from the Manage menu and by clicking Create Server Group.
Organize how you look at the servers. This could be by functional group, by application, by location or even by days of the week. It really doesn't matter as long as it drives productivity.
3. Locate your tools
The typical administrative tools in Windows Server 2012 Remote Management have moved from the start menu to the Server Manager tools menu. Options like Active Directory Users and Computers, domain name system (DNS) and Internet Information Server (IIS) are now accessible from the top of the Server Manager options on the right of the window.
You can also simply right-click a server to access tools related to the machine. For example, if you right-click on a server running DNS, you'll get the option to open the DNS Manager. Is Hyper-V included? Yes. Active Directory is also fully stocked. If it's a Windows role, the tool should be there.
4. Configure your servers from afar
You don't just have to manage your existing roles; you can also use Server Manager to deploy servers and services. The ability to remotely add roles makes Server Manager not just a pretty way to look at your servers, but a functionally better way. There's no need to hit those Server Core boxes with command lines to get a role configured because you still have a GUI option. Server Manager can even perform this trick on an offline virtual hard disk showing how friendly it is to virtual machines.
There is one caveat with the new manager: You'll need to install roles and features to clustered servers locally instead of remotely.
5. Use a more powerful PowerShell
PowerShell v3 is designed with Windows Server 2012 in mind and can run full steam into remote automation. Unlike the original PowerShell, remote management is built-in and remote access is on by default. Using the command Install-WindowsFeature also allows you to perform the same functions as you could with Server Manager, such as adding a feature.
Even if you don't have the proper version of PowerShell deployed on all your workstations, you can set up PowerShell Web Access on one of your network servers and allow IIS to act as the gateway to manage remote computers. This gives you an independent PowerShell environment that runs in a browser.
No reason to wait for Remote Management
Remote management, deployment and quick access are hallmarks of today's server environments, and Microsoft has stepped up to make Windows Server 2012 and remote management meet the needs of this new world. In a time when many organizations are starting to turn their environments into private clouds, you'll want to know how to get to what you need quickly -- without having to remotely connect to RDP consoles using one-at-a-time tools. Plus, this is free with Windows, so there's no extra charge to get your remote mojo working.
About the author
Eric Beehler has been working in the IT industry since the mid-1990s and has been playing with computer technology well before that. His experience includes more than nine years with Hewlett-Packard's Managed Services division, working with Fortune 500 companies to deliver network and server solution, and most recently IT experience in the insurance industry, working on highly available solutions and disaster recovery. He currently provides consulting and training through his co-ownership in Consortio Services, LLC.