The New Philosophy for Server Management in Windows Server 8 (Part 1)

by [Published on 8 March 2012 / Last Updated on 8 March 2012]

This article discusses the ways in which the very nature of server management will change in Windows Server 8.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introdution

Even though Windows Server 8 has not yet even entered public beta testing, Microsoft has revealed a lot of information about their vision for the future of server management both through the Windows Server 8 Developer Preview release and through live events such as the Build conference and the Windows Server 8 Reviewers Workshop. One thing is for sure, server management will be very different from what we have become accustom to. In this article, I want to talk about what we can expect for server management in Windows Server 8 based on what Microsoft has released so far.

Get Used to Using PowerShell

One of the most significant changes to the way that Microsoft envisions server management going forward is that Server Core is going to be the preferred type of Windows Server deployment. In case you're not familiar with Server Core, it is a type of Windows Server deployment that was first introduced in Windows Server 2008. Server Core is essentially a Windows Server deployment that lacks a true GUI.

In a Server Core environment management tasks are performed through a command prompt window, through PowerShell (Windows Server 2008 R2 or higher), or through remote management utilities. The administrative tools that you are used to using simply do not exist on Server Core deployments.

In case you're wondering, more has changed than just Microsoft's recommendations for how Windows Server should be deployed. In Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2, an administrator had to make a choice during the initial deployment process as to whether they wanted to perform a Server Core installation or a Full installation. In Windows Server 8 however, administrators are not committed to permanently using the deployment mode that was initially chosen.

If you look at Figure A, you can see that the Server Graphical Shell is now treated as a feature. This means that it is possible to perform a full server deployment, and then remove the graphical shell after you have finished configuring the server. Likewise, if you started out with a Server Core deployment and later decide that it does not meet your needs, you can enable the Server Graphical Shell feature without having to completely rebuild the server.


Figure A: The Server Graphical Shell is now treated as an optional feature that can be installed or removed at will.

Server Manager

As you might have already heard, Microsoft has rebuilt the Server Manager console from the ground up. In fact, if you look in the previous screen capture you might notice one of the changes that Microsoft has made in an effort to make using Server Manager more efficient.

In the Windows Server 2008 version of Server Manager, roles and features were handled separately. The Add Roles Wizard was used to deploy server roles while the Add Features Wizard was used to deploy features. This arrangement worked fine, but it meant that you had to know whether Microsoft defined the component that you were trying to install as a role or a feature so that you could pick the right Wizard. In Windows Server 8, we now have the Add Roles and Features Wizard as shown above. As you can see in the screen capture roles and features are still separated, but you can manage them through a common Wizard. This should prove to be helpful to anyone who isn't sure if the component that they need to install is a role or a feature. It should also help those who need to install both roles and features, because it will allow them to do so through a single operation.

The New Server Manager Philosophy

As you have probably already figured out, there is a lot more to the new Server Manager design than just aggregating roles and features into a common Wizard. In fact, the Server Manager console (at least in its current pre-release form) is almost unrecognizable. You can see the Server Manager's initial screen and Figure B.


Figure B: The new Server Manager console is almost unrecognizable.

The screen capture shown above shows Server Manager in Dashboard view. Dashboard view is designed to allow you to get a feel for the server’s configuration and health at a glance. For example, in this case you can see that the server has the DHCP Server, File Services, and Web Server (IIS) roles installed. The green arrows beneath the listing for each server role indicate that the individual roles are all healthy.

With that in mind, I want to show you what happens when a problem occurs. For the sake of demonstration, I manually shut down the DHCP Server Service. Upon doing so, the Server Manager Dashboard changed to the view shown in Figure C.


Figure C: Server Manager alerts you to problems with server roles.

Obviously all of the red that suddenly appears in the dashboard signals a problem. Before I show you how to interpret this information however, I need to point out something very important.

Unlike the version of Server Manager that came with Windows Server 2008, the Windows Server 8 Server Manager does not reflect system information in real time. The reason why Microsoft chose to do this will become apparent as I progressed through this article series. For now though, you need to know that the Server Manager is only updated once every 10 min. by default. You can however manually refresh the view any time you want by clicking the refresh icon.

If you prefer a more timely update, you can change the default refresh interval. To do so, click on the Manage link in the upper right corner of the console and then choose the Server Manager Properties command from the resulting menu. When you do, you will see a dialog box like the one shown in figure D that allows you to change the refresh interval.


Figure D: You can control how often Server Manager is refreshed.

With that said, I want to turn my attention to the diagnostic information that is displayed in Figure C. For right now, please ignore the bottom row of information. I am going to cover this in detail in Part two.

If you look at the listings for the server roles, you will notice that only the DHCP Server role is shown in red. The File Services and Web Server (IIS) roles still appear in green because they are unaffected by the service that I shut down. Essentially, the information shown in the figure indicates that there is a DHCP server problem.

If you look at the DHCP Server role in more detail you will notice that there is a red number one to the left of the word Services. This indicates that one related service has failed. If I click on Services, Windows will actually show me which service is causing the problem. As you can see in Figure E, I can even right click on the effected service and take corrective action without having to open the Service Control Manager.


Figure E: The Server Manager shows which service is causing the problem and even allows you to restart the service.

Conclusion

Now that you have seen some of the Server Manager’s diagnostic capabilities I want to turn my attention to the way that Server Manager is designed to manage large groups of servers. I will begin talking about this in Part two.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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