Lead Image © Dietmar Hoepfl, 123RF.com

Lead Image © Dietmar Hoepfl, 123RF.com

Windows Admin Center for managing servers and clients

Admin onthe Bridge

Article from ADMIN 56/2020
Windows Admin Center consolidates Windows Server admin tools into a browser-based remote management app for physical, virtual, and on-premises servers, although it does not yet fully replace Server Manager.

Windows Admin Center (WAC) is the new headquarters for administrators, where web-based servers and clients can be managed locally and in the cloud. Although WAC cannot yet fully replace Server Manager, Microsoft is constantly expanding the feature set. In this article, I show you how to launch and work with the new server control room.

WAC currently works with Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge; other browsers do not yet support the functions in the management solution sufficiently. Because WAC cannot be used with Internet Explorer, on a server, you can only open WAC directly if Chrome or Edge is installed, although it is not necessary for the gateway endpoint, because the browser is only needed on the client you use for access.

PowerShell sessions and remote desktop connections can also be accessed directly through WAC. Additionally, you will find functions for managing Windows 10 workstations, clusters, and hyper-converged clusters. Finally, virtual machines (VMs) can be managed in Azure and synchronized with local machines.

Continuous Improvements

Microsoft extends WAC's capabilities by providing a new version every six months. New versions are quickly integrated, because only the Microsoft installer (MSI) file of the latest version needs to be installed on the computer on which the WAC gateway is installed. The gateway can, of course, be reinstalled at any time with this MSI file.

In each new version, Microsoft adds new functions, which are usually first introduced in a beta version as a plugin and are only fully integrated in a later version. To use the new functions, just install the new version on the server that provides the WAC gateway. When Microsoft provides new functions in extensions, they can be updated within the WAC. All that is required is a connection to the Internet. After connecting, you can find out which WAC version is installed by clicking the question mark icon in the upper right corner.

Installing and Updating the WAC Gateway

The connection between WAC and a server relies on an intermediate hop through the gateway. Therefore, all servers communicate with the gateway, and administrators also communicate with the gateway in their web browsers. The gateway in turn communicates with the respective server over Windows Remote Management (WinRM), Remote PowerShell, or Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). For the remote connection between the servers to work, remote administrators must be enabled on the servers involved.

The gateway can be installed on servers with a graphical interface, but also on core servers. It runs on Windows Server 2012 R2 and newer and on workstations with Windows 10 version 1709 and newer. When a new WAC version is released, you can install it on the gateway, which updates the old version; you can then use the new functions. The WAC gateway cannot be installed on domain controllers.

During the install, you specify a port and the certificate that secures the connection by SSL (Figure 1). If you do not specify a certificate during installation, WAC uses a self-signed certificate. In this case, administrators receive a certificate warning when logging on to the gateway.

Figure 1: The WAC gateway can be installed with a self-signed or SSL certificate.

WAC can also be installed at the command line, which is useful, for example, if you want the gateway to run on a core server. The command is:

msiexec /i <InstallerName>.msi /qn /L*v log.txt SME_PORT=<Port> SSL_CERTIFICATE_OPTION=generate

For example, with a self-signed certificate, use:

msiexec /i WindowsAdminCenter1704.msi /qn /L*v log.txt SME_PORT=6516 SSL_CERTIFICATE_OPTION=generate

If WAC is running on the core server, access is also over the network in a web browser. To manage core servers with WAC, remote administration must be enabled on the corresponding server.

Connecting or Importing Servers

Once the gateway endpoint for WAC is installed, it can be accessed by https://<Gateway Endpoint>:<Port> . You need to enter your username (as the administrator) in the login window. WAC uses Active Directory for authentication. All current Windows servers from 2012 onward can be connected to the network, as can complete clusters and individual workstations.

If a connection does not work, it helps to enable remote administration on the corresponding server with winrm quickconfig. After a successful connection, the server can be managed by WAC. To add servers, click the Add link and then select the corresponding object (Figure 2).

Figure 2: New objects can be integrated into WAC with a simple click.

When WAC is called for the first time, various notes on its functionality appear. When the setup is complete, the browser displays the WAC startup window, and the server where the gateway endpoint is installed is automatically added. To connect additional servers, first establish a new server connection by clicking Add in the main WAC window. Then you can choose to add a legacy server (Add Server Connection ), a PC (Add Windows PC Connection ), a cluster (Add Failover Cluster Connection ), or a hyper-converged cluster (Add Hyper-Converged Cluster Connection ).

To connect additional servers to be managed by WAC, you can either enter the server fully qualified domain name (FQDN) in the window or import a list of servers from a comma-separated text file. Both are quick and easy and let you add tags. For example, all Hyper-V hosts can be marked with the Hyper-V Host tag. You still need to enter your account name and login data for the server to be connected. WAC lets you connect different servers with different authorizations.

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