Microsoft brings exclusive features to Windows Admin Center

Microsoft brings exclusive features to Windows Admin Center

Microsoft is providing user interfaces for some new Windows services only in its new server admin tooling.

It’s been just over a year since Microsoft launched its Windows Admin Center (WAC) tooling. Intended to support new ways of running and managing Windows Server, it’s a web-based administration tool that brings what used to be many different tools into one place.

With a year of regular roll-outs, WAC now supports much of what you need to manage for not only on-premises Windows Servers, but also Azure-hosted virtual infrastructures, and desktop Windows PCs. While some remote management scenarios still require the classic Remote Server Administration Tools, you’re likely only to turn to RSAT in extreme cases.

In fact, Microsoft launched Windows Server 2019 with some WAC-only management features, making it an essential tool for working with the latest Windows Server builds. Recent builds have added to that, with the 1904 release working with the upcoming semi-annual channel Windows Server 1903 release to manage new features like System Insights.

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Windows Admin Center supports servers running Windows Server 2012 or later, offering a comprehensive set of tools.

Image: Microsoft

Enter WAC 1904

Release 1904 is a big update for Windows Admin Center, with a mix of user interface improvements (including a dark mode) and lower-level system integrations with the Windows Server platform. WAC now offers features like power management, support for containers, and for managing Active Directory. With features like AD and DHCP in preview, Microsoft is starting to move core Windows service management into WAC, alongside newer features like software-defined networking and Storage Spaces Direct. It’s a release that’s putting WAC’s new exclusive management features to the fore, with support for System Insights and for Azure Storage Migration.

Windows Server System Insights

Delivered as a WAC extension, System Insights supports Windows Server’s built-in predictive analytics tooling. Using local logs and events, System Insights’ machine learning helps identify issues in server operations, with WAC providing a channel for adding new features to System Insights without requiring an OS update. Microsoft is planning to launch an update to the extension soon, and this will add a way of identifying disk anomalies, helping to predict failures and reduce the risk of unplanned downtime.

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Machine learning and analytics have a very different cadence to traditional server development and release cycles, and the delivery of new capabilities through WAC makes a lot of sense. You get the choice of what features to deploy and when you deploy them, and use the same tool to configure the analytics you want to use, without having to update the OS and reboot your systems. By surfacing results in WAC via the Windows Event log, you can see quickly whether predicted performance matches your application requirements or supports any SLAs you may have.

WAC and the hybrid cloud

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The upcoming Windows Server 1903 release, like most Windows Server releases, has focused on adding specific features for specific scenarios — mainly around the Windows application platform and on edge computing scenarios. Much of that development has required new WAC features, many of which ship with the 1904 release. One area that’s had a lot of attention is using WAC to manage hybrid cloud infrastructures, bringing Azure management and Windows management together.

A web-based, composable tool like WAC is a logical place for Microsoft to put its hybrid cloud management tooling, as it can bring together services into single dashboards. For example, when you start to use the Storage Migration Service, its WAC tooling links Windows Server’s storage features with Azure’s, supporting Windows Server migrations from Server 2008 to Server 2019 and then to using Azure File Sync. Similarly it can deliver migrations across multiple versions of Windows Server to Azure, bringing data from on-premises to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

This isn’t the only example of WAC offering hybrid cloud management from your PC. It supports Azure Site Recovery, Azure Backup, Azure Active Directory, among others. The ability to manage all these services, and existing server roles and features, in one place reduces the chance of error as you flip from one tool to another. Microsoft has made WAC a key tool for managing its new Azure Stack HCI, managing Windows Server’s hyperconverged storage features based on Storage Spaces Direct.

The future of WAC and Windows Server

If you’re using Storage Migration Service or System Insights, WAC is the only UI option. That doesn’t mean you can’t use PowerShell to manage them, as Microsoft provides a complete set of PowerShell tools for both services. You can still build your own automation, as WAC sits on top of the same PowerShell functionality, using PowerShell remoting to work across multiple servers and into Azure.

Microsoft is making one thing clear: these aren’t the only services to get WAC-only GUIs. Windows Admin Center is the future of Microsoft’s system administration tooling for Windows Server, and any new features introduced in the semi-annual channel or in the long-term servicing releases will be WAC-only. It’s better to think of this as the next step in the evolution of Windows system management rather than a special event for WAC users.

The use of WAC as a tool for adding new features to System Insights is an interesting development for Microsoft. We’ve grown used to Windows Server updates coming every couple of years, and with the new cadence for Server Core and Server Nano, every six months or so. Delivering new machine-learning models for System Insights out-of-band is a big change for Microsoft, and for how we expect to manage our server estates. Although it’s an optional update, it’s a very useful one, and it’s likely to be popular, encouraging the use of more WAC extensions from Microsoft and partners.

By putting something as useful as System Insights in WAC, Microsoft is gently nudging admins and other users away from their old admin tooling (even from RSAT!). Once you’re using WAC for one thing, Microsoft thinks, it’s easy to click another menu item and another, until it becomes your default administrative tooling. Microsoft is probably right, too. If you’re running a recent Windows Server release, WAC is a logical alternative to RSAT, and you’re probably using it alongside the rest of your regular tools. Now’s the time to get more familiar with it, and to start the process of switching to using WAC as your go-to administrative tooling: it won’t be too long before it’s your only option if you want to get the most from your Windows Server installs.



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