This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference coverage

Windows Admin Center unlocks Server 2019 features

Not just for troubleshooting, Windows Admin Center helps admins unlock the full potential of the latest Windows Server offering.

A free browser-based management tool that weaves Windows Server 2019 more closely with Azure might just find a spot as the next favorite toolkit for many administrators.

Windows Server 2019, available this week, offers refined software-defined features for networking and storage, such as encryption of traffic between virtualized workloads. It also boosts storage limits in Storage Spaces Direct from 1 petabyte (PB) in Windows Server 2016 to 4 PB in 2019. The Windows Admin Center management tool, however, is drawing attention for its ability to act as the connective tissue to extend Microsoft's Azure cloud within reach of on-premises servers running Windows Server 2019.

"[Windows Admin Center] has taken off like an absolute rocket ship for Microsoft," said Dave Kawula, principal consultant at TriCon Elite Consulting. "It's unreal as to how many people are actually interested in it."

What is Windows Admin Center?

Windows Admin Center is a graphical management utility developed to monitor and troubleshoot servers both on premises and in the cloud. Microsoft released it as a technical preview named Project Honolulu at last year's Ignite conference. The company renamed the utility, which complements Remote Server Administration Tools and System Center, when it was generally available in April.

As soon as my admins get in trouble, they want the GUI back.
Dave Kawulaprincipal consultant, TriCon Elite Consulting

Windows Admin Center houses many familiar applications, such as Event Viewer and Remote Desktop, but Microsoft also provides a software development kit to let IT develop and plug in its own extensions.

Windows Admin Center works with Windows Server versions starting with Server 2008 R2, but organizations must upgrade to Server 2019 to take advantage of the integration with Azure services such as Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery. Windows Admin Center gives administrators a way to build a hybrid setup with minimal effort. For example, if an organization wants to back up on-premises Windows Server 2019 workloads with Azure Site Recovery, all that's needed is an Azure account and Windows Admin Center.

"It's quite literally just a few clicks of setup to do it," Kawula said. "The whole point behind the tool is simplification of day-to-day administrative tasks and not needing to be the PowerShell expert to do it."

Microsoft also made certain new and updated features in Windows Server 2019 only available via Windows Admin Center. Those include the Storage Migration Service for migration server workloads and its data; Storage Replica for disaster recovery of clusters and servers; and System Insights, which uses predictive analytics to head off potential issues related to CPU, storage, networking and volume usage.

Microsoft released the latest Windows Admin Center last week and folded in numerous requested features via the company's UserVoice feedback system.

A tool for slimmed-down server deployments

Windows Server 2019 offers Essentials, Standard and Datacenter editions that differ in pricing and features. As part of the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC), Windows Server 2019 receives five years of mainstream support followed by five years of extended support. The LTSC features a full GUI edition called the Server with Desktop Experience and Server Core for certain infrastructure workloads that don't require much maintenance, such as domain controllers.

Microsoft recommends customers deploy Server Core for both physical and virtual workloads, but it has made little headway with administrators who lack the PowerShell skills to manage a GUI-less Server Core workload when it falters. That's where Windows Admin Center also helps.

"The problem that I have with the attitude Microsoft has with doing everything on Server Core is how do you troubleshoot stuff? All of our troubleshooting tools will typically have a GUI interface. As soon as my admins get in trouble, they want the GUI back," Kawula said. "I think Windows Admin Center is kind of Microsoft's answer to that."

Follow the bouncing support ball

Windows Admin Center and Windows Server 2019 arrive just as companies that still use Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 start to mull their options when those OSes go end of life (EOL) on Jan. 14, 2020.

Microsoft offers customers a way to shift those workloads to Azure through its Extended Security Updates plan. Users who migrate 2008 or 2008 R2 VMs to Azure get three years of security updates at no charge beyond the cost of the VMs after the EOL date.

Organizations that can't move to Azure or can't upgrade before the deadline can purchase Extended Security Updates, if they pay for Software Assurance or a Subscription license under an Enterprise Agreement. Microsoft allows those users to upgrade to Windows Server 2016.

Extended Security Updates replaces the short-lived Premium Assurance plan Microsoft debuted in early 2017 that had offered subscribers an additional six years of support when extended support expired.

These support shifts magnify the pace at which IT admins must plan Windows Server upgrades and deployments. Microsoft changed support terms for Windows Server and the Windows desktop OS at least five times in the last year and a half, said Jim Gaynor, analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"That really needs to stop and stabilize. It makes [Microsoft] look bad and hurts customer trust. And you need to trust your infrastructure server OS," Gaynor said.

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