Revisiting Server Manager
In a recent editorial I wrote in Issue #1117 of our WServerNews newsletter which goes out each week to almost 100,000 IT pros around the world I examined the recent trend in web and software development to focus on style over usability, or as clothing designers and architects say, fashion over function. In my editorial I "dissed" the Server Manager tool of Windows Server 2012 as follows:
"When Server Manager was updated with snazzy new "tiles and an "anti-MMC" look in Windows Server 2012, I thought it was pretty cool at first. I realized however that it would *remain* cool only if Microsoft eventually went all the way and migrated *all* of their existing MMC snap-ins for server administration into the new Server Manager UI.But then after trying to use the new Server Manager for a while, I changed my mind and thought, OK so the old MMC console approach let to "property sheet hell" but really what's so hellish about clicking through a bunch of property sheets? Why is this new Server Manager better than the old Windows Server 2008 one? Or why is it better than creating a new MMC console and adding all the snap-ins you need into it? Sure, it *looks* nicer, but how is it more usable? Do I really want to scroll down to find the tile for a role when I want to view events relating to that role or collect performance data on it?"
While our newsletter readers generally agreed with my assessment of how fashion was overpowering function as the guiding principle these days for software development, one reader in particular took issue with my comments concerning Server Manager. That reader was Chuck Timon, Jr. who works as a Senior Premiere Field Engineer (PFE) at Microsoft and who I respect and admire from my work over the last dozen years writing books for Microsoft Press where I've often had contact with him on various product-related issues. I thought it would be worthwhile for those of you who feel similar disenchantment with Server Manager to hear what Chuck has to say on this subject, so I'm reproducing Chuck's feedback to me here along with the screenshots he sent me to accompany and elucidate his comments, so let's listen now to Chuck as he walks us through why Server Manager can still be a useful tool for server administration in your environment…
Why Server Manager still matters
Everyone has heard the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." This is the way many IT Professionals felt as they tried to master the Server Manager interface which first appeared in Windows Server 2008. The value proposition was supposed to be a 'single pane of glass' for managing Windows Server environments. The new interface proved to be challenging and, for many, it meant reverting back to the old ways -- customized Microsoft Management Consoles (MMC) on the desktop readily accessible at a moment notice.
I admit, I had the same feelings with respect to Server Manager and often found myself falling back to the 'old-tried-and-true' MMC. When I became a Beta engineer for Windows Server 2012, and noticed how Server Manager had change, I decided to give it another chance and I am glad I did. My intention here is not to convert the masses but to simply highlight how I use Server Manager day-to-day to make things easier for me.
Don't let Server Manager get in your face
First things first. As much as I like Server Manager, I do not want it in my face every time I logon, so I implement a Group Policy Object (GPO) to make sure that does not happen. The GPO settings are under Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Server Manager. I modify the Logon and Refresh Interval settings -
Then the work begins.
Working with Server Manager
Out of the box, Server Manager is not convincing as a 'single pane of glass' management interface and that is because it requires customizing or 'tweaking,' before it can take its rightful place in the tool belt. Before diving into Server Manager, I want to mention some tools available, by default, in Windows Server. For example, the Administrative Tools in Control Panel shows a listing of tools that many of us are very familiar with.
Taking this list and placing it side-by-side with the Tools drop-down listing in Server Manager, one notices quite a bit of parity.
As Roles and Features are added, the tools in the list grows as do other options in Server Manager. As an example, I added the Hyper-V Role and Failover Clustering Feature and both the Administrative Tools in Control Panel and the Tools drop-down in Server Manager reflected the additions.
Updates are also reflected in the Microsoft Management Console snap-in selection options as well. Besides having quick access to various tools in Server Manager, additional customization of the interface provides more powerful functionality.
Using Server Manager with "jump" servers
Let's take the scenario where one or more 'jump' servers are configured in an environment that are used by administrators to manage groups of servers. A default installation will not provide the interface needed to accomplish tasks administrators need to perform daily. Additional customization is needed. For starters, the 'All Servers' list should be expanded beyond the single server that is displayed by default. Consideration should be given to adding more servers in the display and even to grouping servers together by function or by location, or by whatever criteria seems to make sense. Adding servers to the 'All Servers' listing in the Navigation Pane is accomplished by right-clicking on 'All Servers' and choosing 'Add Servers' --
To create a server group, select 'Create Server Group' from the Manage option drop-down listing in the upper right corner of Server Manager display.
As an example, I created two Server Groups (2012R2 Clusters and Scale-Out File Servers) and added the appropriate servers to the groups. Installing some Roles, like the Hyper-V role, creates its own Server Group.
Working with server groups
Once server groups are created and populated, you have a good deal of power at your fingertips by way of actions that can be used to manage the servers or access information pertaining to those servers. As an example, if I right-click on one of the servers in the '2012R2 Clusters' server group, these actions are available:
- Add Roles and Features
- Restart Server
- Computer Management
- Remote Desktop Connection
- Windows PowerShell
- Configure NIC Teaming
- Add other servers in the cluster to the server pool
- Update Cluster
- Failover Cluster Manager
- Hyper-V Manager
- Manage As…
- Start Performance Counters
- Remove This Server and the Remote Servers in This Cluster
The Server Manager interface is also dynamic, meaning as Roles and Features are added to servers within a group, more items appear in the listing providing additional functionality. You may notice some items in the list may be 'greyed out' meaning it is not available. As an example, in the default listing for a freshly installed server, the below options are available.
Notice how 'Remote Desktop Connection' is not an available option. This is because Remote Desktop access is not enabled for that server. This can be corrected by using the Windows PowerShell option to enable it.
Also included in the Server Manager Dashboard is the 'Role and Server Group thumbnail' views which provides a quick 'health' snapshot for the servers in the group.
Clicking the group names in any of the thumbnails brings the group in focus and, you can quickly manage any of the servers, or access Event log, Services, Performance, and BPA information for the servers. You can create queries or set filters to look for specific pieces of information embedded in the data.
That about wraps it up for now. Here's hoping I was able to convince a few of you out there to give Server Manager another chance in your environment.
Still got questions about Server Manager?
If you have any questions about Server Manager the best place to ask them is in one of the Windows Server TechNet Forums. If you don't get help that you need there, you can try sending your question to [email protected] so we can publish it in the Ask Our Readers section of our newsletter and see whether any of the almost 100,000 IT pro subscribers of our newsletter have any suggestions concerning your problem.