Server Manager – Power of Many; Simplicity of One

Server Manager – Power of Many; Simplicity of One

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Introduction

Welcome to the Server Manager Blog, where we will discuss in depth the features and capabilities of Server Manager in Windows Server 2012. I am Wale Martins, a program manager and feature team lead on the Server Manager team. The team is super-excited about this release of Server Manager, and we will be using this blog to tell you all about the new and exciting scenarios it enables.

Erin Chapple, group program manager for the team that develops Server Manager, recently wrote a great overview of the investments we’ve made in managing Windows-based servers: Rocking the Windows Server “8” Administrative Experience. In this post, I’ll do a double-click on the Server Manager section of Erin’s blog post, and provide you a more in-depth view into the new Server Manager.

In the weeks ahead, and as we get ready to roll out the final release of Windows Server 2012, look for blog posts from me and other members of the Server Manager team to provide more detailed  “how-to” information. We want this to be a two-way conversation, and I encourage you to engage with us in the comments section. We will respond to questions, take note of comments and feedback, and also capture ideas for more topics you would like us to write about.

Let’s get started!

Server Manager Overview

When we released the first version of Server Manager in Windows Server 2008, it was an instant hit with server administrators, as they embraced the one-stop-shop console. We’d eased the pain they experienced launching individual management tools for the roles and features they manage. From that warm reception emerged the #1 feature request for the next release in Windows Server 2008 R2: the ability to target Server Manager at a remote server from a Windows client-based source computer. Administrators, like other information workers, tend to use a client-based computer for their daily work. In the Windows Server 2012 release of Server Manager, we maintain these legacy scenarios and add much more. Before I go into these, I’ll briefly discuss two relevant items.

Server Manager Conceptual Framework

The diagram in figure 1 below provides a conceptual framework of Server Manager. I don't intend to describe this in depth; instead I have placed it here as a reference point that you can go to at any time as we discuss the new scenarios enabled by Server Manager.

 
Figure 1 - Conceptual Framework

The Voice of the IT Professional

From a manageability perspective, if we were to tune in to the voice of the IT Professional after he’s had a chance to use Windows Server 2012, this is what we'd expect to hear:

“As an IT pro, I increasingly need to manage my estate more efficiently as the size, number, and complexity of my data centers increase. I need to manage workloads consisting of components that span multiple servers (physical/virtual), rather than managing individual servers. The in-box management tools and solutions in Windows Server 2012 better match the way I need to work—enabling me to manage change across computers, and respond with greater speed and agility to business-critical issues.

The management solutions in Windows Server 2012 provide me with comprehensive management capabilities from my desktop and home environments. I no longer need to visit the data center to resolve problems with individual computers because all my management tasks can be done remotely. A unified console helps me understand how workloads fit together, how they are deployed across computers, and their overall status.

Core Server Manager Scenarios

Now let’s discuss the core scenarios lit up in this release of Server Manager.

Managing from “my client”: As with WS08 R2, we expect most administrators are managing servers from a Windows client-based computer, so this release of Server Manager is included in the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) download package for the Windows 8 client operating system. Also, similar to earlier versions, Server Manager is available by default in Windows Server 2012 (except in the GUI-free Server Core installation option), and this availability makes a Windows Server 2012 installation a valid client from which to manage other servers, if needed.

Selecting “my servers” to manage: As an administrator’s personal tool, Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 allows you – the administrator – to select the servers for which you are responsible from among any number of servers in your organization. Whether those servers are physical or virtual, on-premise or off-premise, one or many, it does not matter as long as each one is running a release of Windows Server that’s no older than Windows Server 2003. How do I select these servers? In the Add Servers dialog box (Manage > Add Servers), you have three options to find servers to add to your server pool (see figure 2):

  1. Active Directory: If you are in a domain environment, you can use the default Active Directory (AD) tab and either specify an AD organizational unit (OU) in which to look for servers, or search for a particular server by specifying all or part of its name.
  2. DNS: If you prefer, or if you don’t have AD set up in your environment, search by using DNS properties: a computer name or IP address.
  3. Import: This option enables you to add many servers at once by importing a list of server names in a text file into the list of available servers in the Add Servers dialog box.

Figure 2 - Add Servers dialog

Understanding “my estate”: After you select all of the servers you want to add to your server pool and click OK, Server Manager opens connections to and starts inventory collection from those servers. Significant among the inventory it collects are the roles and features installed on each server. Server Manager creates a role group for each unique role found across all your servers (refer to figure 1) and displays the role group as a thumbnail on its dashboard. Server Manager also creates an All Servers group that contains all of the servers in your Server Manager pool; this group lets you manage any server in your pool that does not yet have a role installed. From the dashboard, you are immediately able to answer questions about your server estate: How many servers am I managing? What roles are installed across those servers? What is the number of servers I have running a specific role?

Determining issues and their priorities: Dashboard thumbnails indicate issues in your server environment that might require attention with red rows, and with numbers indicating the instance count for any issue type raised (refer to figure 3). By clicking the thumbnail rows, you can get more details about issues or problems, helping you to make faster, informed triage decisions. The at-a-glance thumbnail status is particularly useful when multiple issues occur at once (something many administrators will tell you is par for the course).

Figure 3 - Notice the red Services row and its instance number in the Fax Server thumbnail

Sometimes, I really do need more data: Yep, we thought so! Beyond the at-a-glance data shown on the dashboard, Server Manager remotely gathers detailed data about servers in your pool, and provides you views to these within the console. We’ve already discussed one type of data that’s represented on the dashboard (the installed roles inventory), but there are more, including inventories of services, events, Best Practices Analyzer results, and performance counters. Another inventory type includes properties for the server, such as IP address, installed memory, and product activation status. Navigating to a role or group page in the console enables you to view the full set of inventoried data about your servers.

Whoa – that’s a lot of data! How can I make sense of it?  Rich controls! As you select a single server in the Servers tile, the data displayed in other tiles (such as Events, Services, Best Practices Analyzer, Performance, and Roles and Features) changes scope to show only data for the selected server. To see and compare data across two or more servers, multi-select them; the remaining tiles’ scope changes to show data for only those servers you’ve selected. Cool, eh! Each tile includes controls that let you filter data, sort or group by various columns (as shown in figure 4), and create and save custom queries to help you perform analyses and comparisons. Lastly, you can resize a tile–and widen, add, remove or rearrange its columns –to bring more data into view or to organize the data in a way that makes sense to you.

Figure 4 - The user has grouped the data in the Events tile by Server Name and also filtered the events to only those containing string '1008'

Where do I find and perform administrative tasks? There are three ways to access tasks in Server Manager:

  1. Contextual Tasks
    1. We’ve learned that the first place that administrators typically look for tasks is in a right-click contextual menu for an object. Right-click on a server in the Servers tile, and tasks that affect the remote server, such as Restart, are exposed. Other management tools, such as a Windows PowerShell console targeted at the remote server, are also available on this menu. You can multi-select objects, and the tasks that apply to all objects in your selection are available to run against all selected servers.
    2. On each tile, a task menu provides tasks that you can run on the tile or the data that it’s displaying, such as tile-specific configurations or refreshes
  2. Non-contextual Tasks: At the console level, the menu bar provides actions you can take on the entire Server Manager console, such as change the console’s refresh interval by using the Server Manager Properties command, or start the Add Roles and Features Wizard.
  3. Non-contextual Tools: You can also access administrator tasks that are not integrated into the console by opening tools from the console’s Tools menu. Some pertinent points on tools:
    1. When File and Storage Services, Remote Desktop Services; or IP Address Management is installed on any server in your server pool, Server Manager offers more pages of management surfaces, in addition to generic role home pages. For roles and features that do not yet have these integrated management pages, you can open their management tools from the Tools menu

Figure 5 - Entry points for contextual tasks/tools (arrows 1 & 2), non-contextual tasks (3), and non-contextual tools (4)

Deployment! Deployment!! Deployment!!!  Because trends indicate that administrators will likely be performing more deployment tasks than before, in this release of Server Manager, we have made significant improvements to the deployment experience, including new deployment scenarios that enable you to perform deployment tasks faster and with more options. [Note: deployment refers here to installation of roles and features and not OS deployment.]

  1. Improvements:
    1. Consolidation of the role and feature deployment into a single wizard. In one wizard session, you can install both the roles and features that you want on a server. For example, you can install the File and Storage Services role on a new file server that you are provisioning, and in the same task flow, install the Failover Clustering feature to help you deliver File Services in your organization.
    2. Server Manager now enables you to perform role and feature deployments to a remote server by using the Server Manager GUI. In WS08 R2, you could only do remote deployments from the command line.
    3. The initial server configuration experience has been simplified and integrated with the Server Manager console. Gone is the Initial Configuration Tasks (ICT) window. Initial configuration tasks are available in the Properties tile of the Local Server page in Server Manager, when Server Manager is running directly on a Windows Server 2012 installation.
    4. The Server Manager installation wizard is no longer modal. This enables you to do other things within the console while you are performing an installation.
  2. New Deployment Scenarios:
    1. Deploy to an offline VHD: With the excitement around virtualization, we know administrators prefer not having to start up a VM to deploy roles and features to it. The Add Roles and Features Wizard in Server Manager lets you deploy to an offline VHD the same way you would deploy to an online server. No compromise!
    2. Reduce footprint by removing unwanted source files aka Features on Demand: If storage space is a concern – especially on virtual servers –a nifty option in Windows Server 2012 called Features on Demand helps you remove unwanted source files for any server in your environment. Imagine a scenario where I am running five print servers: I know that this is going to be their long-term purpose in my environment, so I don’t need source files on those servers for installing other roles or features. Server Manager’s Uninstall-WindowsFeature cmdlet lets me remove any source files I don’t need from managed servers, and reclaim the storage space they consume. To install roles or features whose source files have been removed, both the Add Roles and Features Wizard in Server Manager and the Windows PowerShell cmdlets for Server Manager let me specify an alternate source file path. You can have a central repository of source files, and never have duplicate source files across your server environment. Loving it yet? – There’s more! :)
    3. Deployment configuration templates: Imagine you are completing a deployment on one of your servers. At the end, you know that you’ll need to repeat the deployment, either on other servers, or on the current target server, if you need to re-provision it in the future. A command link on the Confirm installation options page of the Add Roles and Features Wizard lets you export configuration settings. This command saves the configurations you’ve chosen as you stepped through the wizard as an XML file that you can reuse repeatedly in Windows PowerShell deployment scripts. Because this can be done before you’ve clicked OK on the wizard’s confirmation page; you can export the XML configuration file without actually performing a deployment on the current target server.
      1. Batch deployment via automation: Assume you need to provision 10 new web servers for your company. You run once through the deployment wizard, selecting the options you want as you install the Web Server (IIS) role; and then you export the configuration settings. In a Windows PowerShell session, you are able to run this simple command in a loop (Windows PowerShell provides several loop options to choose from) to target each of the 10 servers, as well as specify the path to the configuration file you just saved. Install-WindowsFeature -ConfigurationFilePath <string> [-ComputerName <string>]
    4. Distributed deployment: The RDS team found that most of the issues customers experience with using and managing Remote Desktop Services stem from errors made during the deployment of the role. Deployment of RDS typically requires distributing multiple parts of the role across more than one server to deliver the end-user services that RDS offers. In the new Server Manager deployment wizards, RDS provides a deployment experience in this release that helps minimize deployment errors. You can now complete an RDS deployment with discrete parts of the role distributed across multiple servers in a single wizard session, rather than in the piecemeal fashion of past releases. The RDS scenario-based installation is one that I personally find very exciting especially when I consider that we have only just scratched that surface.
    5. GUI is now an installable/removable feature: In previous releases of Windows Server, you had to choose between Server Core (no GUI) and Server with a GUI; and you are locked into that choice throughout the existence of that server installation. In Windows Server 2012, you can dynamically convert a Server with a GUI to Server Core and vice versa, including a Minimal Server Interface option in between. Removing these two Windows features – Server Graphical Shell and Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure – takes you from Server with a GUI to a Minimal Server Interface and Server Core respectively. Ben Herila has a blog post related to this topic: Configuring the Minimal Server Interface.

Conclusion

In a world where server administrators require the power of multiple servers and technologies to deliver new services and enhance existing ones, we believe that they should not be limited by the complexities of their management tools. Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 steps up as a management tool to enable you to leverage the power of many servers with the simplicity of managing one.

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  • Nice article.

  • Very informative. Thanks for writing it.

  • You have shared great post on Server Manager. Keep posting in future, too.

  • Something that I find missing. Is the ability for server manager to automatically populate a server group based on OU, in case I install a new server which is a terminal server and it is located in a terminal server OU I would wish to automatically pop-up in Windows Server Manager

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  • Very useful article .

    Is it possible for 3rd party server management applications can integrate into server manager.

    It seems like a natural integration point for any server management app .

  • Customize Tools menu in Server Manager
    thank you

  • Impressive post about Server manager. I like Server Manager Conceptual Framework design. http;//www.yanzltd.co.uk/web-design-cms

  • Impressive post about Server manager. I like Server Manager Conceptual Framework design.

    http://www.yanzltd.co.uk/web-design-cms