The Server Manager Revolution

A couple of weeks ago I taught a Windows Server 2012 deep dive in Copenhagen. One of the first things I asked attendees was what tool they would use to install a feature on 50 new servers running Windows Server 2012.

After thinking about it, everyone answered that they’d turn on Remote Desktop and use RDP to remotely connect to each server to perform their admin tasks.

This isn't a bad answer. It's exactly how you'd do it if you were running Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008. However, if your first step when setting up a server running Windows Server 2012 is to turn on Remote Desktop, then you don’t "get" the Windows Server 2012 Server Manager.

Sysadmins have a mental toolkit. This toolkit hosts the tools and techniques we use for solving particular problems. One reason that experienced admins are paid more than those new to the industry is that we have a larger toolkit. We know how to solve more problems and perform more tasks because we've built a mental solutions toolkit after dealing with these things over the course of our career.

It's part of human nature that if we come up with a technique that works reliably, we'll stick with it. Because we're happy that the tool works, we might not notice that a new tool has come along that makes the task easier and faster.

This is especially true with problem solving tools. When you are under pressure dealing with a critical problem, you don't want to faff about trying something new. You go with a tool you know works. It isn't so much "if you have a hammer all problems look like nails", it's more "last time I had to deal with a nail, the hammer did the trick, so I'll do that again".

When it comes to Windows Server 2012, all administrators are going to notice that the Server Manager console is substantially different to what it was in Windows Server 2008. Even though you notice that change, like my students in Copenhagen, most of you are going to keep doing things the way that you've always done them. Why change if the tools still work? You have noticed that the console changed but have you spent time wondering why the console changed?

Microsoft is many things, but it's rarely whimsical. They changed the console for a reason. They are giving us better tools for our toolkit.

Consider the following task. You want to install the Windows Server Backup feature on 50 servers. How would you go about it?

Many admins will simply use remote desktop to connect to each server and then manually install the feature. That gets the job done.

People who have kept up to date with PowerShell might use a specially configured PowerShell command to accomplish this task. However, as awesome as PowerShell is, for many administrators it's quicker to RDP into each server and add the Windows Server Backup feature than it is to figure out the correct PowerShell syntax for this specific task.

Windows Server 2012 allows you to perform this task, and many others, across many servers, from the one console. You can do all this without having to use PowerShell and you don't need to open a single Remote Desktop session. A task that might have taken an hour (connect to server using RDP, open Server Manager, install feature, repeat 50 times) might only take a few minutes.

In Windows Server 2008 - Server Manager, descended from the Computer Management Console, is a tool for managing one server. In Windows Server 2012, Server Manager is a tool for managing many servers. With Server Manager in Windows Server 2012, you are able to perform administrative task against many servers by group selecting them and running the task.

Server Manager reflects how the role of systems administrator has changed. When I started out in the 90's, I was responsible for managing two servers. Today some systems administrators are responsible for managing hundreds of servers. The new Server Manager console in Windows Server 2012 allows you to do your job in a way that the tools in your existing sysadmin toolkit do not. Server Manager changed not for the sake of whimsy, but because it needed to evolve with job.

In future blog posts I'll talk about this new toolkit some more - and talk about some of the changes in Windows PowerShell ISE that make using PowerShell to perform remote management tasks an order of magnitude easier.

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