Rocking the Windows Server “8” Administrative Experience

Rocking the Windows Server “8” Administrative Experience

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Howdy! My name is Jeffrey Snover. I am the Distinguished Engineer for Windows Server where I help drive the architectural direction and technical strategy of the product. It’s possible you know me as the inventor of Windows PowerShell. As we continue to use this blog to introduce and explain the new capabilities in Windows Server “8,” I will be introducing the team members and their posts. I’ll also be writing some of the posts myself. Think of me as your host and guide as we help you explore Windows Server “8” with this blog. We’ll start with something near and dear to my heart: Admins.

Windows Server has always distinguished and prided itself on its Administrative Experience. Our mission for Windows Server “8” was to deliver the best cloud-optimized OS. This required us to reimagine the experience, focusing on scenario-based multi-machine management from a client machine implemented on top of PowerShell and WMI. When you see and use it, I think you’ll agree that it is clean, powerful, intuitive and just plain fun. The architecture ensures that everything you can do from the GUI, can also be automated from the command line. Automation drives up your server-to-admin ratio, increases the quality and repeatability of your IT operations and lets you schedule operations on the weekend while you are enjoying your time off. Ultimately the Administrative Experience is all about making people successful. This blog highlights a few of the many changes we made in Windows Server “8.” Read about them here and then download the beta of Windows Server “8” and the Remote Administration Tools and try them for yourself. I think you are going to have some fun.

Erin Chapple, a Partner Group Program Manager on our Windows Server Manageability team, authored this post.

--Cheers! Jeffrey

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One of Windows Server’s key differentiators has always been our focus on providing an Administrative Experience that leads the industry in enabling administrators to manage their servers. Windows Server “8” takes this to a whole new level with substantial improvements in simplicity, richness and the power it provides to administrators.

Redesigned Server Manager and Integrated Experiences

Two releases ago, we introduced Server Manager. Server Manager provided a cohesive role-centric view of a single server, exposing the common management tasks administrators performed on a daily basis. When we looked at challenges facing our customers, it was clear that Server Manager was a good start, but that with Windows Server “8” we needed to reimagine the experience. And so we took on the task of redesigning Server Manager to deliver the experience needed for a cloud-optimized OS.

Multi-Server

As we move to the cloud, one of the key shifts needed in Server Manager was from the single role-centric view to a multi-sever view of the environment. Server Manager delivers a multi-server experience enabling administrators to add the servers they are responsible for, view information (such as events, services, performance) across their servers and take action. In addition, the Administrative Experience is consistent across servers whether they are physical or virtual. Server Manager accomplishes this by leveraging the multi-machine management capabilities of WMI, Windows PowerShell and Windows PowerShell’s new workflow capabilities. Virtually every operation done using Server Manager can also be done via Windows PowerShell. This allows admins to automate operations thereby saving time, increasing quality and consistency and improving server-to-admin ratios.

Fresh Yet Familiar Experience

With the design movement across Microsoft to Metro style, it was clear we had an opportunity to modernize the Administrative Experience. The battleship grey that server can be identified with needed to be refreshed and brought forward. And yet, we know that any new experience needed to be connected with how administrators get things done today, so as not to disrupt their work patterns. As a result, we looked at the Metro Style Design Principals and centered on three areas of focus for the new Server Manager:

· Glance-able – The administrator can understand through a quick glance the state of their environment and where they need to focus their attention.

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The Server Manager dashboard provides a glance-able view of the server environment, drawing attention to the key issues needing attention.

· Actionable – The administrator can take action directly based upon the information presented to them. No need to open another tool, just a simple click resolves the issue.

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From the Server Manager dashboard, the user can view the Services that are not stopped and start the service across multiple machines.

· Relevant – The administrator can to tailor the experience to their needs. The information presented should be customizable based upon their environment and responsibility to provide just what they need.

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From the Manage menu in Server Manager the administrator can add a custom group to display on the dashboard.

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The custom server group will appear as a tile on the dashboard and the administrator can then understand the state of this group.

Integrated Scenario-based Experiences

Server Manager provides a set of consistent tasks across servers, allowing the administrator to drill-into server-specific views to understand the state of their environment and take action. Server-centric views are only one pivot necessary for effective management. Role-centric views are equally important, and with the newly redesigned Server Manager there are several server roles that extend Server Manger to provide scenario-based experiences for managing their role.

File Services, Remote Desktop Services and IP Address Management have all delivered new Administrative Experiences that follow the Server Manger design principles outlined above. The result is a combined experience that is contextual to what the administrator is managing and both guides the user through specific tasks while also providing connected information that is helpful in troubleshooting problems.

The combination of the above scenarios and the shift to multi-machine management means a significant increase in the data exposed within Server Manager. Consuming this information requires enhanced capabilities. Throughout the new Server Manger experience you will see rich filtering and pivoting capabilities for the administrator to find, organize and act on the data provided.

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Consistent through Server Manager is the ability to filter lists to easily find information, organize and take action.

Support for Previous Version of Windows Server

Our administrators live in a world where they manage multiple versions of Windows Server. To support providing one view of their server environment we have created a set of new WMI providers that allow Server Manager to collect information from Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008 machines. The providers are available in the Windows Management Framework 3.0 and when installed on a Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2008 machine, Server Manager then collects details such as the events and services from these machines and aggregates into the dashboard.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear – we believe in delivering rich GUI experiences that are tailored to administrators and help them accomplish their work easily and efficiently. GUIs are here to stay. The reimagined Server Manger and integrated tools for Windows Server “8” are best of breed for the tasks they expose.

AND the Administrative Experience isn’t just about GUIs.

AND servers should be used for server-related tasks, not as an administrative desktop.

Let’s dig into each of these in some detail.

Command-line Interface (CLI) is part of the Administrative Experience

A number of people have misinterpreted our investment in Windows PowerShell to indicate a transition to a CLI world. They present this is a GUI VERSES CLI issue. We’ve never thought in those terms. We have always viewed Windows PowerShell as additive, so we’ve always viewed this as a GUI AND CLI issue.

There will always be administrators who prefer to use the GUI. That said, there are tasks made more effective through the use of automation and we provide as rich a CLI experience as we do a GUI experience for these customers. More importantly, there are advantages of using an automation solution that are becoming more and more important with the move to cloud and the corresponding scale that we expect from administrators. Namely, automation removes the human factor, increasing reliability, auditability and predictability in the environment. Automation is a whole post unto itself (watch for it!) so we’ll focus on the CLI experience improvements for now, namely the investments we’ve made in making Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) a great onboarding tool for Windows PowerShell.

Here are three of my favorite new features in Windows PowerShell ISE that are targeted at helping you discover, learn and simplify the automation of your servers.

Show Command

With over 2,300 cmdlets in Windows Server “8”, the first question on your mind might be – how do I discover the cmdlet I need to get my job done? The new Show Command windows in Widows PowerShell ISE lets you easily search for cmdlets, discover the parameters and then either run the command or insert it into a script. Show Command takes advantage of the unique architecture of Windows PowerShell where each cmdlet declares its parameters and their metadata and Windows PowerShell provides a single common parser for every cmdlet. This architecture allows Show Command to search cmdlets and use the parameter metadata to generate a GUI interface for the cmdlet. You can have some fun exploring this part of the architecture by typing the following command into Windows PowerShell: (Get-Command Get-Process).ParameterSets

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The Show Command window allows the administrator to search the cmdlets available, learn the syntax and either run, insert or copy the command.

Intellisense

Now that I’m familiar with the new cmdlets, the next question is – how do I remember the cmdlets when I’m working? The promise of Windows PowerShell has always been that the consistency of implementation allows you to Think, Type and Get what you need. Intellisense lets you take this to the next level, by exposing the syntax of the cmdlet as you type. As you build up the command, it only shows you those parameters that are consistent with the parameters that you have already selected. Intellisense can almost seem like magic. It can do this because Windows PowerShell V3 uses the .NET Dynamic Language Runtime (DRL) and exposes a public Abstract Syntax Tree (AST) which allows Intellisense to reason about the command line and the context that it is executing in.

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The new Intellisense functionality in the Windows Powershell ISE helps administrators discover cmdlets and their syntax.

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Intellisense doesn’t just work on the syntax of cmdlets it understands the input needed, here providing insight into the file system so the administrator doesn’t need to remember the path!

Snippets

Now that I’m ready to put my newfound knowledge of the cmdlets into action in a script – how do I remember the syntax for common scripting tasks? Turning on snippets gives me access to common scripting patterns with the click of a mouse! Snippets are also fully extensible which means I can add my own common scripting patterns to avoid have to remember (and type) the pattern each time I write a new script.

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After turning on Snippets (Ctrl + J) the administrator can choose from a set of built-in scripting patterns.

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In this case the administrator chose the if-else scripting pattern and it is populated for the administrator in the script window.

Through these improvements we’ve significantly increased the approachability of scripting thereby exposing the power of automation to a much broader audience.

Server Core is the Preferred Deployment Option

While we love GUIs, we believe the primary place they should exist is on the administrator’s desktop – not on the Server! Server resources are much more expensive than client resources and running GUIs on servers requires additional software components. Every component increases the security and serviceability exposure of that server so you should only install those components that are necessary to that server workload. Fewer things running on the server means fewer patches and more resources available to the server workload. In this release we’ve made several investments to help administrators succeed in choosing Server Core as the primary deployment option for Windows Server. The traditional “Server with a GUI” is still provided as a backwards compatibility option.

The number of server roles that run on Server Core has increased to 13 with support for SQL 2012, eliminating the most common reason administrators cited for not being able to run in the Server Core configuration. Firewall-friendly remote management (WinRM) and Windows PowerShell are now enabled and installed by default on all servers, removing any configuration needed before being able to manage the server remotely. Windows PowerShell’s 2300+ cmdlets provide the command line coverage necessary for most admin scenarios. For the first time ever, we released a Beta version of the Remote Server Administrative Tools at the same time as the Server Beta providing a rich GUI experience to manage all Servers, including Server Core, from a Windows Client.

Perhaps most significantly however, we’ve added the ability to move between Server Core and “Server with a GUI” without the need to reinstall the server! This means administrators can safely start with their server deployed in the Server Core configuration and if they find they need the GUI they can add it, and also remove it as needed using the SCONFIG CLI tool, Windows PowerShell or the Add/Remove Roles and Features Wizard. Stay tuned for a future blog dedicated to Server Core that will provide you with all the benefits and details of this deployment option.

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The default experience for Server Core.

And if that wasn’t enough, introduced in a blog post from earlier this year, we’ve added a Minimal User Experience option which allows GUI tools to run on Server Core but does not install the desktop shell or Internet Explorer. Server Manager and cmd.exe launch by default when you log in and you can use these to launch the other GUI tools. This in-between option provides many of the benefits of Server Core while still having the safety-factor of being able to run GUIs should the administrator need to log into the Server directly.

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From the Manage menu in Server Manager the administrator can select Remove Roles and Features to move between Server with a GUI and the Minimal User Experience or Server Core.

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The Minimal User Interface provides many of the benefits of Server Core but lets administrators run GUI tools like Server Manager and MMC-based tools like Computer Manager.

Oh, heads up – Server Core is the default (and recommended) selection during installation!

Metro Style and the Local Server Experience

We can’t finish a blog post on the Administrative Experience without discussing how Windows Server shares the new design language and capabilities of the Metro style interface. Early in the design of Windows Server “8” we talked to lots of administrators to understand what direction they wanted us to pursue. The feedback we received was that most administrators manage both server and client machines. As a result, consistency was extremely important. Consistency doesn’t just apply to our administrators. In order to support end-users having the same desktop experience whether local, or using Remote Desktop Services, it was important to share the shell experience and adopt the new Start Screen. We have customized the default experience on the server to optimize for administrative tasks. To this end, we default to the desktop on logon. We bring up Server Manager by default. Server Manager exposes the full set of administrative tools via its Tools menu. We pin common applications like Server Manager and Windows PowerShell to the Task Bar. When you go to the Start Screen you’ll similarly see common applications exposed.

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By default, when logging onto the Server, Server Manager starts. Additional Administrative Tools are available from the Tools menu in Server Manager and common tasks like Windows PowerShell and Explorer are pinned to the Task Bar.

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The Start Screen in Server has common administrative tools pinned by default.

Given the recommended deployment option of Server Core, and the introduction of the Minimal GUI Interface, we hope that most administrators will rarely find themselves using the Start Screen on the server, but when they do it will be easy for them to find what they need to do in a manner consistent with the client experience. As mentioned earlier, stay tuned for a future blog detailing Server Core and the Minimal GUI Interface.

In conclusion, we have invested significantly in the Administrative Experience for Windows Server “8” to ensure administrators have choices for how they complete their work and that each choice is simple and efficient. Windows Server “8” will provide the fastest, most scalable and flexible solutions for customers large and small.

Give it a try and enjoy the next generation server management experience!

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  • Server now has Metro UI and Client now has Hyper-V.  Should we be expecting more cross-over in the future?  

  • Wow, this is quite possible the UI with the most confused look and feel I've ever seen.

  • While I appreciate the work that has been done to make administrating Server Core easier I haven't seen if the biggest hurdle of Server Core has been addressed; managing networks.

    In a Hyper-V server - a popular role for a Core server - you have a lot of NICs, even more so if you're using iSCSI based storage. Managing these through NETSH is very cumbersome.

    Perhaps new POSH cmdlets can help to some extent but more than once I've had to install third party tools in order to be able to manage NICs on server core, especially with Hyper-V and it's virtual switches.

  • It would be great if START orbit is restored (on clicking, it should launch Metro UI) on Taskbar. It is irritating to move the mouse to the corners, especially working on remote systems. On average, I had hit ServerMgr button twice every time I attempted for START screen. My problem aggravated because of VNC which can't transmit the WIN + keys.

  • Thanks for this great post. Regards from Switzerland

  • @Martin Edelius… Reply from Jeffrey Snover:

    Install it and type:  Get-Command –Module NET*

    I think you’ll see what you are looking for.  The networking team did an awesome job with PowerShell coverage.

  • @Usman Masood

    It is hard to tell whether a UI is going to work for without using it.  Our usability studies tell is people are able to pick it up easily and are able to accomplish tasks easily.  You should download the beta and try it out for yourself.  

  • while it's nice to have a rich guiexperience wha's most important is a rock solid clean and simple engine that's not going to crash. i am surprised that MS hasn't invested in this area ( which has always been a problem area for ( MS products). I can see why you are touting powershell and more stuff coming out from there since you have a pasion for it.

    however as admins we need a rock solid engine that's not going to crash and can withstand various types of attacks etc. Please think about it.

    Nalin.

  • @Kevin "It is hard to tell whether a UI is going to work for without using it."

    But we do know that the old one work well, that it wasn't broken, that it didn't have to be replaced, that Metro doesn't have added value and that surely the old start menu didn't have to be removed alltogether.

    In previous Windows versions there was a way to revert to the UI (start menu, task bar ...) of previous versions, this is no longer the case with Windows 8.

    In addition to forcing the Metro-style Windows 8 start "menu", the Metro-style is also (needlessly) applied to management tools. Metro was obviously developed for tablet use, but someone in upper management apparently figured it had to be forced on every Windows user/administrator/developer (most of whom will not be using a Windows 8 tablet anyway... let's be realistic). I'd rather see development resources being spent on essential things, not window dressing.

    Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if the Metro-UI is dropped for the next best thing in Windows 9 ...

  • Played with Windows Server 8 for a while, same conclusion as Windows 8 Client: One of the best operating systems to ever come out of Microsoft, dressed in the most moronic user interface (Metro UI).

    Are you guys seriously thinking that the tablets should share the same interface with desktops and...servers?

    What can I say, your marketing department is the only one governing Microsoft nowadays and it is “infecting” everything with their incompetence.

  • Howdy Nalin!  

    If we had to choose between a rock solid OS and a great GUI, I would agree with you but that is not the situation.  We invested in an engineering system for this release which allowed us to take a very rigorous approach to quality and performance at each and every stage of the release.  I’m going to have an entire post dedicated to the performance and scalability work that we did in this release.  That said, you just have to look at our published numbers to know that we put the pedal to the metal:  support for 640 logical processors, 4 TB of ram, 64TB Vhdx files!  Trust me, you don’t get these results without a lot if individual and institutional passion for performance and scale.  

    At the end of the day Nalin, your experience is what matters so I strongly encourage you to pick up the beta and find out for yourself.  It still just a beta but I think it will be immediately clear that Windows Server 8 is the release you are looking for.

    --Jeffrey

  • I work for a company managing 417 windows servers and i'm telling you for sure, we will not be upgrading to this.  Server 2008R2/Server 8 is going to be your XP to Vista moment.  Powershell is great but the changes you have made to the UI especially server manager should never of been made, you should of improved R2 and nothing more.  I will not be installing a tablet OS onto production servers.  The only positive from this is that Microsoft have saved us many thousands in software licences.  Make the client as flash as you like, i applaud it, but not the server OS.  Make it boring, high performance and just an improvement over the original.  This one will require complete retraining of my staff and that won't happen either.  I'm guessing my view is not unique either

  • Andrew - We understand your thinking about retraining and we take such issues very seriously.  We know that your hair is probably on fire and the last thing you want to do is to learn a new way to do something.  We spent a lot of time over the years talking to people about they do and what problems they have and doing qualitative and quantitative studies of what helped them succeed.  The new Server Manager is a multi-machine tool designed to make it quick and easy to understand where you need to focus your attention and optimized for you to get things done.  Server Manager’s design spot as a day-to-day tool is 25-30 servers. We have optimized the views and task flow for this target number of servers. We are testing Server Manager in larger-scale environments (like your environment with 417 servers) and we do know that the performance with the Beta at this scale is challenging. This is an area where we continue to improve and I believe you’ll be excited with the progress when it is released. Ultimately we do believe that administrators will be using this tool from their desktop, and not the server, so the performance isn’t just for the local scenario but in environment. This enables customer to remove the UI from the server, either through Server Core or Minimal User Experience. In the end, the mission to deliver a multi-machine tool required us to break from the past and ask you to relearn a few things.  As you use Server Manager, what you will find is that the interface is both fresh and familiar and that we really did minimize the number of things  you had to learn and leveraged the things you already know how to do.  So Andrew, I hear you and totally respect where you are coming from.  That said, I encourage you to carve out some time and kick the tires.  I think you come to wonder why it took us so long to deliver this tool.

  • There were numerous studies to back up "Bob" as well. We all know how that turned out. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    It is not how easily they "re-learn," It's how easy and intuitive it is the first time. That's where some changes to Windows 8 fall down. For example, the start orb is a useful visual indicator. The charm or whatever it is in the corner of the screen is anything but. And the interface seems to suffer from split personalities. The task bar changing when in different applications or areas of the OS is another usability issue. I shouldn't have to "think" about how to get back to the start page. Due some brain mapping studies and you'll come to the same conclusion.

    I've read some comments about Windows 8 being Vista 2.0 or ME 2.0. I'm inclined to agree.

  • I learn how to do a task on Unix 20 years ago, and it is pretty much the same thing today. I learn how to do a task on Windows Server and I have to relearn how to do it every couple of years. Same with programming environments. First VB6/C++, then .NET, and now HTML5 and JavaScript (to create an application). I know it's well intentioned, but you guys are killing us out here!