Taking a First Look at the Server Management Tools for Windows Server
One of the major trends that has been occurring within the world of IT over the last few years is the blurring of resource boundaries. It really wasn’t all that long ago that our datacenters were confined by four walls. Today, most companies still operate some resources in their own datacenters, but also have resources in the public cloud space. Although using a mixture of public cloud and private datacenter resources offers a number of benefits, the decentralization of computing resources also presents significant management challenges. This is where the new Server Management Tools from Microsoft come into play.
Before I delve into a discussion of the Server Management Tools, I need to take a moment and talk about what the Server Management Tools are not. First, these tools are not a be all, end all solution for hybrid cloud management. The Server Management Tools are designed to help administrators to manage some types of Microsoft resources, and that’s about it. Specifically, the current version of these tools (which are still in preview) can manage Windows Server 2016 running either in your own datacenter or on Azure.
The Server Management Tools are also not the same thing as Server Manager. Server Manager is the primary management console that is included with GUI based deployments of the Windows Server operating system. Although the Server Management Tools have some similarities to the Windows Server Manager, the Server Manager and the Server Management Tools are not the same thing.
So what are the Server Management Tools, and why should you care about them? The Server Management Tools are, as the name implies, a set of tools for managing Windows Server. These tools differ from the Windows Server Manager in a few important ways.
First, unlike Windows Server Manager, the Server Management Tools are not included with the Windows Server operating system. You can download and use the Server Management Tools for free, but they aren’t included with the operating system, nor are they automatically provisioned for you.
A second key difference between the Windows Server Manager and the Server Management Tools is that the Server Management Tools are Web based. In contrast, Windows Server Manager exists as a console within the Windows Server operating system. The advantage to having a Web based administrative tool is that the tool can be used from anywhere. More importantly however, because the Server Management Tools reside on the Web, the tools are able to communicate with an organization’s various Windows Server resources, regardless of whether those resources exist in the local datacenter or in the public cloud. In other words, the Server Management Tools are an attempt by Microsoft to give Windows Server administrators a single set of tools that can be used to manage Windows Servers residing both locally, and in the cloud.
There is one more reason why the Server Management Tools are important. For years, Microsoft has been pushing its customers to abandon the GUI and manage Windows Server through PowerShell. More recently, Microsoft has been encouraging customers to adopt the concept of headless server operations (where possible) through the deployment of Nano Server.
I’m sure that I’m not telling you anything new here. Microsoft has been quite vocal about wanting Windows Server admins to use PowerShell as their primary management tool. The problem however, is that many Windows Server admins have squarely rejected PowerShell based management.
Now please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am by no means anti-PowerShell. I have written a ton of PowerShell related content for TechGenix, and have even produced some full length PowerShell courses (http://brienposey.com/book-table/). Even so, as a tech journalist I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of IT professionals, as well as a lot of people at Microsoft. While there are admittedly some organizations that are using PowerShell as their primary management tool, most do not (at least that seems to be the case based on my own observations and on what others have told me).
On occasion I have actually asked Windows admins why they don’t use PowerShell more often. I didn’t do this in a judgmental way, and try not to come off as some kind of a PowerShell snob. I am genuinely curious as to why various organizations manage their systems in the way that they do.
The most common response that I have received to this question is something along the lines of PowerShell working well for really big administrative jobs, but not being practical for smaller jobs. Many administrators find that it is faster to open up a GUI tool and perform a management operation than to take the time to look up the syntax for a PowerShell cmdlet that would do the same thing.
One of the administrators that I spoke to about the choice between using the GUI and using PowerShell answered the question in a way that I will never forget. He said “I am a Windows administrator, and I want to use a Windows GUI. If I wanted to administer systems from the command line, I would become a Linux administrator”.
So what does all of this have to do with the Server Management Tools? Well, personally I view the Server Management Tools as being something of a compromise. As previously noted, Microsoft wants its customers using GUI-less (and where possible, headless) servers, and they would also prefer that some of these servers exist within Azure. On the other hand, a significant portion of Microsoft’s customers have told Microsoft that they have no desire to abandon the GUI. As such, the Server Management Tools could eventually be the thing that makes everyone happy. The tools will allow admins to operate servers without a GUI, locally and in the cloud, but without having to give up GUI based management.
In this article, I have explained some of the benefits to using the Server Management Tools. In the next article in this series, I will talk about the capabilities that currently exist within the tools, and I will show you how to deploy the tools.