The New Philosophy for Server Management in Windows Server 8 (Part 2)

by [Published on 12 April 2012 / Last Updated on 12 April 2012]

This article continues the discussion of server management in Windows Server 8 by looking at Server Manager’s multi-server management capabilities.

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

Introduction

In the first article in this series, I showed how the new Windows Server 8 version of Server Manager could be used as a diagnostic tool. In this article, I want to show you some of the other ways in which Server Manager has evolved.

Roles and Features

This might seem trivial to some, but before I get started I just had to mention one of my favorite things about Server Manager. Microsoft has changes Server Manager so that you use the same wizard for adding both roles and features. The reason why I like this so much is because no matter how many Windows 2008 servers I configure, I can never seem to remember which components are roles and which are features. I usually end up guessing wrong and wasting time using the wrong wizard. Being able to use the same wizard for installing both roles and features is certain to make life easier.

Server Groups

The Windows Server 2008 / Windows Server 2008 R2 version of Server Manager was fine for a first generation tool, but it had at least one major shortcoming. Although this version of Server Manager was perfectly adequate for managing a single server, it was not conducive to managing multiple servers. If an administrator needed to perform the same task on multiple servers then they usually had to manually perform the task on each individual server. Some tasks can obviously be automated through the use of PowerShell scripts, but not every aspect of Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 can be managed through PowerShell.

The Windows Server 8 version of Server Manager is specifically designed to facilitate the management of multiple servers. One of the things that makes this possible is a new architectural element called Server Groups.

A server group is simply a collection of servers. Typically the servers within a server group have something in common. For example, you might create a server group containing all of your domain controllers.

You can easily create a server group by opening Server Manager, clicking on the Manage menu, and then choosing the Create Server Group command. When you do, you will see a dialog box like the one that is shown in Figure A. As you can see in the figure, this dialog box shows you all of the servers in the server pool. Initially (at least in the current build), the server pool only shows you the local server. However, you can add additional servers to the server pool (and to the server group that you are creating) by using either the Active Directory or the DNS tab to search for the server that you are interested in.


Figure A: Server Manager allows you to create groups of servers.

Creating a server group involves specifying a name for the group and then picking the servers that you want to include. Incidentally, it is possible to create a server group containing both Windows Server 8 and legacy Windows servers. If you look at Figure B for example, you can see that I have created a server group called Lab. This server group contains both a Windows Server 8 machine and a server that is running Windows Server 2008 R2.


Figure B: Server groups are basically just a collection of servers.

So now that I have shown you how to create a server group, you might be wondering what you can do with it. As I mentioned earlier, server groups make it possible to manage servers in bulk.

In this pre-beta release of Windows Server 8 the interface is a bit non-intuitive. When I first started playing with server groups I had assumed that I would be able to right click on a server group to manage the servers within the group. However, right clicking on a server group only gives you the option of editing the group’s membership or deleting the group. Hopefully this is something that Microsoft will change in a later build.

For right now, if you want to manage the servers within a server group, you have to select the server group, select the servers within the server group, and then right click on the servers. As you can see in Figure C, you can collectively do things such as adding roles and features, rebooting the servers (all of them), or configuring NIC teaming.


Figure C: Select the servers that you want to manage and then right click.

One thing that is worth noting is that even though it is possible to include legacy servers in a management group, it is not currently possible to perform all management actions against legacy servers. For example, when I tried to add a role to the servers in my server group, only the Windows Server 8 machine was eligible for the role. Likewise, when I attempted to establish a PowerShell session with the machines in the server group, the session failed even though I do have PowerShell installed on the legacy server.

Events and Services

If you look back at Figure B, you will notice that the lower portion of the Server Manager console contains an Events section and a Services section. As you would probably expect, the Events section displays events from the server’s event logs, while the Services section displays status information from the Service Control Manager.

While there is no denying that it is handy to have access to such information directly through the Server Manager, the usefulness is taken to another level when you factor in multi-server management. Suppose for instance that you wanted to assess the health of all the servers in a particular server group. Selecting all of the servers in the group causes the Events section to display event log entries from all the selected servers. I will be the first to admit that this could be a bit overwhelming, but Server Manager lets you filter the information. For example, you could configure Server Manager to show you critical events that have occurred within the last hour.

I have heard rumors that the Services section will behave similarly. For instance, you might be able to restart a service on all of the servers within a server group simultaneously. However, I have thus far been able to get service management for multiple servers to work correctly in this pre-beta build.

The Server Manager actually displays quite a bit more information than what can fit on the screen. If you scroll down, the lower portion of the interface displays Best Practices Analyzer, Performance Monitor, and role and feature information for all of the servers in the server group. Again, this information can be viewed on a per server basis or collectively for a group of servers.

Conclusion

As you can see, Microsoft has done a lot of work to make Server Manager more useful for managing large environments. In Part 3 of this series, I want to turn my attention to Windows PowerShell and talk about some of the ways that PowerShell is changing in Windows Server 8.

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

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