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How Windows Admin Center stacks up to other management tools

Microsoft is putting a lot of resources into this relatively new tool to manage Windows systems, but is it ready for prime time when compared with more seasoned offerings?

Microsoft took a lot of administrators by surprise when it released Windows Admin Center, a new GUI-based management tool, last year. But is it mature enough to replace third-party offerings that handle some of the same tasks?

Windows Admin Center is a web-based management environment for Windows Server 2012 and up that exposes roughly 50% of the capabilities of the traditional Microsoft Management Console-based GUI environment. Most common services -- DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, Event Viewer, file sharing and even Hyper-V -- are available within the Windows Admin Center, which can be installed on a workstation with a self-hosted web server built in, or on a traditional Windows Server machine using IIS.

It also covers several Azure management scenarios, as well, including managing Azure virtual machines when you link your cloud subscription to the Windows Admin Center instance you use.

Windows Admin Center dashboard
Among its many features, the Windows Admin Center dashboard provides an overview of the selected Windows machine, including the current state of the CPU and memory.

There are a number of draws for Windows Admin Center. It's free and designed to be developed out of band, or shipped as a web download, rather than included in the Windows Server product. So, Microsoft can update it more frequently than the core OS.

Microsoft said, over time, most of the Windows administrative GUI tools will move to Windows Admin Center. It makes sense to spin up an instance of it on a management workstation, an old server or even a lightweight VM on your virtualization infrastructure. Windows Admin Center is a tool you will need to get familiar with even if you have a larger, third-party OS management tool.

How does Windows Admin Center compare with similar products on the market? Here's a look at the pros and cons of each.

Goverlan Reach

Goverlan Reach is a remote systems management and administration suite for remote administration of virtually any aspect of a Windows system that is configurable via Windows Management Instrumentation. Goverlan is a fat client, normal Windows application, not a web app, so it runs on a regular workstation. Goverlan provides one-stop shopping for Windows administration in a reasonably well-laid-out interface. There is no Azure support.

For the extra money, you get a decent engine that allows you to automate certain IT processes and create a runbook of typical actions you would take on a system. You also get built-in session capturing and control without needing to connect to each desktop separately, as well as more visibility into software updates and patch management for not only Windows, but also major third-party software such as Chrome, Firefox and Adobe Reader.

Goverlan Reach has three editions. The Standard version is $29 per month and offers remote control functions. The Professional version costs $69 per month and includes Active Directory management and software deployment. The Enterprise version with all the advanced features costs $129 per month and includes compliance and more advanced automation abilities.

Editor's note: Goverlan paid the writer to develop content marketing materials for its product in 2012 and 2013, but there is no ongoing relationship.

PRTG Network Monitor

Paessler's PRTG Network Monitor tracks the uptime, health, disk space, and performance of servers and devices on your network, so you proactively respond to issues and prevent downtime.


Managing Windows Server 2019 with Windows Admin Center.

PRTG monitors mail servers, web servers, database servers, file servers and others. It has sensors built in for the attendant protocols of each kind of server. You can build your own sensors to monitor key aspects of homegrown applications. PRTG logs all this monitoring information for analysis to build a baseline performance profile to develop ways to improve stability and performance on your network.

When looking at how PRTG stacks up against Windows Admin Center, it's only really comparable from a monitoring perspective. The Network Monitor product offers little from a configuration standpoint. While you could install the alerting software and associated agents on Azure virtual machines in the cloud, there's no real native cloud support; it treats the cloud virtual machines simply as another endpoint. 

It's also a paid-for product, starting at $1,600 for 500 sensors and going all the way up to $60,000 for unlimited sensors. It does offer value and is perhaps the best monitoring suite out there from an ease-of-use standpoint, but most shops would most likely choose it in addition to Windows Admin Center, not in lieu of it.

SolarWinds

Windows Admin Center is a tool you will need to get familiar with even if you have a larger, third-party OS management tool.

SolarWinds has quite a few products under its systems management umbrella, including server and application monitoring; virtualization administration; storage resource monitoring; configuration and performance monitoring; log analysis; access right auditing; and up/down monitoring for networks, servers and applications. While there is some ability to administer various portions of Windows, with the Access Rights Manager or Virtualization Manager, these SolarWinds products are very heavily tilted toward monitoring, not administration.

The SolarWinds modules all start with list prices anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500, so you quickly start incurring a substantial expense to purchase the modules needed to administer all the different detailed areas of your Windows infrastructure. While these products are surely more full-featured than Windows Admin Center, the delta might not be worth $3,000 to your organization. For my money, PRTG becomes a better value for the money if monitoring is your goal.

Nagios

Nagios has a suite of tools to monitor infrastructure, from individual systems to protocols and applications, along with database monitoring, log monitoring and, perhaps important in today's cloud world, bandwidth monitoring.

Nagios has long been available as an open source tool that's very powerful, and the free version, Nagios Core, certainly has a place in any moderately complex infrastructure. The commercial versions of Nagios XI -- $1,995 for standard and $3,495 for enterprise -- have lots of shine and polish, but lack any sort of interface to administer systems.

The price is right, but its features still lag behind

There is clearly a place for Windows Admin Center in every Windows installation, given it is free, very functional -- although there are some bugs that will get worked out over time -- and gives you a vendor-supported way of both monitoring and administering Windows.

However, Windows Admin Center lacks quite a bit of monitoring prowess and also doesn't address all potential areas of Windows administration. There is no clear-cut winner out of all the profiled tools in this article. If anything, Windows Admin Center should be thought of as an additional tool to use in conjunction with some of these other products.

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