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Getting the Most Out of Windows PowerShell

July 08, 2015
Mike Hammond


PowerShell is the perfect tool for capturing the best practices that your IT staff already implements manually, and transforms that with scripting. It provides the ability to cross-reference information from a variety of different sources, and apply custom solutions that marshal your unique resources to solve the problems you face. The tool is easy to learn, included for free with all your Windows OSs, and provides enormously rich possibilities to grow skills over time.


Windows PowerShell represents a dramatic change in the way Microsoft thinks about administering Windows and other products-and indeed administering an organization's entire IT infrastructure. Conversational use of PowerShell has rapidly become a must-have skill for the Windows Server administrator, while mastery of PowerShell is becoming a key to advancement for IT professionals. As a recent PowerShell student of mine put it, "The team's scripting guy is the one person we can't live without."

Microsoft has layered PowerShell functionality under the surface of many of its most well-used graphical interfaces. (See Fig. 1, below) Every task you initiate in the Microsoft Exchange GUI is translated into PowerShell. The same is true for System Center Virtual Machine Manager. If you've used the Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC) interface to reset a user's password, you've again been using PowerShell without even realizing it. ADAC in Windows Server 2012 and later now has a PowerShell History area at the bottom of the GUI to actually show you the PowerShell statements that the tool executed on your behalf.

As the pace of Microsoft's development efforts increases, their engineers are increasingly developing innovative improvements to their products faster than Microsoft's own GUI development teams can build GUI interfaces for those features. These new features are, in many cases, being made available first through PowerShell, and then GUI functionality is being added in later releases, if at all! Being savvy with PowerShell provides technology advantages that just aren't available to those who can only administer through pointing and clicking.

While many organizations have begun investing in PowerShell skill development in their IT professionals, one important question you should consider is this: am I getting the most I can out of PowerShell? Are there capabilities of the shell that have gone unexploited by my organization? Efficiencies that have not yet been taken advantage of? The purpose of this white paper is to survey the areas of untapped potential that many organizations are failing to capitalize upon, and point the way to maximizing the capability of this trail-blazing automation technology.

Why PowerShell?

So what makes PowerShell so valuable? PowerShell made a quiet entrance in 2006, as a downloadable add-on feature for Windows Server 2003 and clients running XP or Vista. It went largely unnoticed except by existing scripting/automation enthusiasts until its inclusion as a built-in feature of Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7. So what is PowerShell? PowerShell is, at its root, an engine for processing commands-all sorts of commands. The PowerShell engine has been embedded in a command-line interface, bringing extraordinary richness to administrators already familiar with older command prompts like CMD.EXE. It has been embedded in a number of script editor tools, and inside the Windows OS itself to support remote administration through the WinRM service. It lives under the hood of an increasing number of server administration GUIs used by Microsoft products, but also underneath unaffiliated companies' offerings (like NetApp's 'Data ONTAP') and even in competitors' products (like VMWare's 'PowerCLI' and Cisco 'UCS').

What makes PowerShell such a remarkable enabler of IT technologies is the way that it reduces all information and systems that it can manage to a single common denominator: objects. PowerShell thinks in the same object-oriented way that high-end developers do, but it brings that technology effortlessly to the command prompt for day-to-day operations. Extracting information from a computer system produces a standard package of information that can be utilized the same way whether the data is coming from a VMware server or a Windows 8.1 client.

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