Updates and Improvements to Server Manager in Windows Server 2012

Windows updates often bring major changes to the user interface. While Windows Server 2012’s look-and-feel matches Windows 8’s emphasis on rectangular “tiles,” for my money the more interesting changes in the administrative tools fall into the realm of functionality rather than cosmetics. In fact, I’m not at all sure how valuable any of the GUI cosmetic changes since Windows Server 2003 have been, and I still haven’t gotten used to Server 2012’s jarring Start menu. I doubt too many of us are ever going to be running Server 2012 on a tablet.  

In this two part series the two administrative tools we’re going to look at are Server Manager, which underwent a fairly radical (and practical) design shift from its initial server-centric incarnation in Server 2008, and the Active Directory Administrative Center, which eases two tasks that were a bit of a pain in Server 2008 R2 and guides us into the world of Dynamic Access Control.  

Server Manager

Server Manager is no longer an MMC console; it’s an executable (servermanager.exe) with the “Metro” look and feel. When you start it, you see the Dashboard. The orange-and-yellow “Welcome tile” lets you take care of a few common tasks immediately without having to navigate Server Manager’s new GUI. Once you learn the GUI, you’ll probably prefer to hide the Welcome tile and just view the roles and server groups.  

Within each tile are up to five clickable categories:

  • Manageability (is the server online, accessible, and providing WMI data; is PowerShell installed; is the Best Practices Analyzer [BPA] installed, etc.)
  • Events (not the full Event Viewer but rather a configurable alerts area in which you specify display criteria)
  • Services (a configurable alerts area)
  • Performance (ditto, although you must enable performance monitoring manually first)
  • BPA (configurable alerts)

You’ll notice right away that the navigation pane to the left is no longer organized by roles and features. You can still access roles and features quickly using the Manage menu at the upper right.

Server Manager started life in Server 2008 as a server-centric tool that you could use to manage the local server, and that was it. Who among us only manages one server? I have a one-person consulting company, and I manage five! The new version has been redesigned to accommodate managing multiple servers, which is a welcome change. You can add servers, create server groups of your own design, perform many tasks on remote servers, and perform certain tasks across multiple servers at once (using shift-click and ctrl-click in the usual fashion). For destination servers running Server 2012, you can install or remove roles and features remotely, too. In fact, you can install and remove roles and features to an offline VHD running Server 2012! Microsoft advises that if you plan to manage more than about 100 servers with Server Manager, you should either reduce the event data that the tool collects (Configure Event Data) or think about using System Center instead. 

When you have added groups and servers, they will appear in the Dashboard tiles along with role-based groups such as AD DS and DNS, which populate automatically. The Local Server view looks a lot like Server 2008’s Server Manager with sections for properties, events, services, Best Practices Analyzer, performance, and roles-and-features.

If you choose one of the groups of servers in the navigation pane, the servers will be listed in the details pane, and you can perform a variety of tasks via the server context menu: restart, run the Computer

Management console (compmgmt.msc), connect via RDP, run a variety of command-line tools such as DCDIAG, and so forth. The available tasks depend on the roles installed on the selected server; for example if you select a domain controller, you’ll see the Active Directory (AD) administration tools. 

However, the context menu for the server doesn’t show you all the tools that are available. For that, you can go to Server Manager’s upper right area and click the Tools menu which has many of the tools available in the old Computer Management console. However – and to me this seems counterintuitive – no matter what server you may have selected in the details pane, the consoles that you open via the Tools menu still focus on the local server. For example, if you want to open just the Event Viewer console for a remote server, you can click that server in the details pane and then start Event Viewer from Server Manager’s Tools menu, but then you must refocus Event Viewer to the desired remote server using the Connect to another Computer command. 

Personally I would have designed things so that you just highlight the server in Server Manager and the tools under Tools would autofocus to that server, but if you don’t mind opening up the whole Computer Management console, you can do that from the individual server’s context menu, then navigate to the event logs within Computer Management. 

Managing remote servers is probably not something you’ll be able to do right away. On any server that you want to manage with the new Server Manager, you’ll have to install the .NET Framework version 4, followed by the Windows Management Framework 3 (to update the WMI provider). Then you should install KB2682011 for the ability to gather performance data remotely. After you do all that, you should run winrm quickconfig on the server to open the firewall’s inbound WinRM rules and set up a listener. (Although you can do these last tasks in other ways, the quickconfig option is nice and fast).

Excerpted and available for download from Global Knowledge Under the Hood: Updates and Improvements in Active Directory Tools for Windows Server 2012

Related Courses
Administering Windows Server 2012 (M20411)
Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services (M20412)
Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 (M20410)

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