Windows Server 2019 – Centralized management and monitoring

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Whether you are installing new roles, running backups and maintenance programs, or troubleshooting and repairing a server, it makes common sense that you would log into the specific server that you will be working on. Long ago this meant walking up to the server itself and logging on with the keyboard and mouse which were plugged right into that hardware. Then, quite a number of years ago, this became cumbersome and technology advanced to the point where we now had the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) available to us. We quickly transitioned over to log into our servers remotely using RDP. Even though it’s been around for many years, RDP is still an incredibly powerful and secure protocol, giving us the ability to quickly connect to servers from the comfort of our desk. And, as long as you have proper network topology and routing in place, you can work on a server halfway around the world just as quickly as one sitting in the cubicle next to you. In fact, I recently read that mining rights were being granted in outer space. Talk about a co-location for your datacenter! Maybe someday we will be using RDP to connect to servers in outer space. While this might be a stretch in our lifetimes, I do have the opportunity to work with dozens of new companies every year, and, while there are some other tools available for remotely managing your server infrastructure, RDP is the platform of choice for 99% of us out there.

Why talk about RDP? Because I will now tell you that Windows Server 2019 includes some tools which make it much less necessary to our day-to-day workflow. The idea of centralized management in the server world has been growing through the last few Windows Server operating system rollouts. Most of us have so many servers running that checking in with them all daily would consume way too much time. We need some tools that we can utilize to make our management and monitoring, and even configuration processes, more efficient in order to free up time for more important projects.

Server Manager

If you have worked on a Windows Server recently, you are familiar with the idea that logging into one of your servers automatically invokes this big window on top of the desktop. This auto-launching program is Server Manager. As the name implies, it’s here to help you manage your server. However, in my experience, the majority of server administrators do not utilize Server Manager. Instead, they close it as fast as they can and curse at it under their breath, because it’s been popping up and annoying them during every server login for the past 10 years.

Stop doing that! It’s here to help, I promise. The following screenshot is of the default view of Server Manager on my new Domain Controller:

What I like about this opening automatically is that it gives me a quick look into what is currently installed on the server. Looking at the column on the left side shows you the list of roles installed and available for management. Clicking on each of these roles brings you into some more particular configuration and options for the role itself. I often find myself hopping back and forth between many different servers while working on a project, and by leaving Server Manager open it gives me a quick way of double-checking that I am working on the correct server. The Roles and Server Groups section at the bottom is also very interesting. You might not be able to see the colors in the picture, but this gives you a very quick view into whether or not the services running on this server are functioning properly. Right now, both my AD DS and DHCP functions are running normally, I have a nice green bar running through them. But, if anything was amiss with either of these roles, it would be flagged bright red, and I could click on any of the links listed under those role headings in order to track down what the trouble is.

Up near the top-right corner you see a few menus, the most useful of which, to me, is the Tools menu. Click on that, and you see a list of all the available Administrative Tools to launch on this server. Yes, this is essentially the same Administrative Tools folder that has existed in each of the previous versions of Windows Server, now stored in a different location. Based on my experience, Server Manager is now the easiest way to access this myriad of tools all from a single location:

So far the functions inside Server Manager that we have discussed are available on any Windows Server 2019, whether it is standalone or part of a domain. Everything we have been doing is only dealing with the local server that we are logged into. Now, let’s explore what options are available to us in Server Manager for centralization of management across multiple servers. The new mentality of managing many servers from a single server is often referred to as managing from a single pane of glass. We will use Server Manager on one of our servers in the network in order to make connections to additional servers, and after doing that we should have much more information inside Server Manager that we can use to keep tabs on all of those servers.

Front and center inside the Server Manager console is the section entitled Welcome to Server Manager. Under that we have a series of steps or links that can be clicked on. The first one lets you configure settings that are specific only to this local server. We have already done some work with the second step when we added a new role to our server. Now we will test out the third step, Add other servers to manage.

By the way, this same function can also be called by clicking on the Manage menu at the top, and then choosing Add Servers. This is shown in the following screenshot:

Most of you will be working within a domain environment where the servers are all domain joined, which makes this next part really easy. Simply click on the Find Now button, and the machines available within your network will be displayed. From here, you can choose the servers that you want to manage, and move them over to the Selected column on the right, as shown in the following screenshot:

After clicking OK, you will see that Server Manager has transformed in order to give you more information about all of these servers and roles that are installed on them. Now, when you log into this single server, you immediately see critical maintenance information about all of the systems that you have chosen to add in here. You could even use a separate server, which is only intended for the purposes of this management. For example, I am currently logged into a brand new server called CA1. I do not have any roles installed onto this server, so, by default, Server Manager looks pretty basic. As soon as I add other servers (my Domain Controllers) to be managed, my Server Manager on the CA1 server now contains all of the detail about CA1 and my Domain Controllers, so I can view all facets of my infrastructure from this single pane. As you can see in the following screenshot, I even have some flags here indicating that some services are not running properly within my infrastructure:

Clicking on the All Servers link, or into one of the specific roles, gives you even more comprehensive information collected from these remote servers. Adding multiple servers into Server Manager is not only useful for monitoring, but for future configurations as well. You remember a few pages ago when we added a new role using the wizard? That process has now evolved to become more comprehensive, since we have now tapped this server into our other servers in the network.

If I now choose to add a new role, when I get to the screen asking me where I want to install that role, I see that I can choose to install a new role or feature onto one of my other servers, even though I am not working from the console of those servers, as shown in the following screenshot:

If I wanted to install the AD DS role onto DC2, a server I’m prepping as a second domain controller in my environment, I would not have to log into the DC2 server. Right here, from Server Manager that is running on CA1, I could run through the Add Roles wizard, define DC2 as the server that I want to manipulate, and could install the role directly from here.

Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT)

Using Server Manager in order to log into a single server and have access to manage and monitor all of your servers is pretty handy, but what if we could take one more step out of that process? What if I told you that you didn’t have to log into any of your servers, but could perform all of these tasks from the computer sitting on your desk?

This is possible by installing a toolset from Microsoft called the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT). I have a regular Windows 10 client computer online and running in our network, also domain joined. On this computer I want to download and install the RSAT tools from the following location: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=45520.

If you happen to be running Windows 10 1809 or newer, the RSAT toolset is now included within Windows, but is an optional feature that you must enable. This is accomplished from Windows Settings, inside the Apps category via a button called Manage optional features.

After running the installer on my Windows 10 client computer, I can’t seem to find any program that is called the Remote Server Administration Tool. That would be correct. Even though the name of this when downloading and installing is RSAT, after installation the program that is actually placed on your computer is called Server Manager. This makes sense, except that if you don’t realize the name discrepancy, it can take you a few minutes to figure out why you cannot find what you just installed.

So, go ahead and launch Server Manager by finding it in the Start menu, or by using the search bar, or even by saying Hey Cortana, open Server Manager. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But whatever your method, open up Server Manager on your desktop computer and you will see that it looks and feels just like Server Manager in Windows Server 2019. And, in the same way that you work with and manipulate it within the server operating system, you can take the same steps here in order to add your servers for management.

In the following screenshot, you can see that, within my Windows 10 Server Manager, I now have access to manage and monitor all of the servers in my lab, without even having to log into them:

Does this mean RDP is dead?

With these new and improved ways to manage the underlying components of your servers without having to log into them directly, does this mean that our age-old friend RDP is going away? Certainly not! We will still have the need for accessing our servers directly sometimes, even if we go all-in with using the newer management tools. And I also expect that many administrators out there will continue using RDP and full desktop-based access for all management and monitoring of their servers simply because that is what they are more comfortable with, even if newer, more efficient ways now exist to accomplish the same tasks.

Remote Desktop Connection Manager

Since most of us do still utilize RDP occasionally (or often) when bouncing around between our servers, let’s take a quick look at a tool that can at least make this task more manageable and centralized. I won’t spend a lot of time looking over individual features or capabilities of this tool, since it is a client-side tool and not something that is specific to Windows Server 2019. You can use this to handle RDP connections for any and all of your servers, or even all of the client computers in your network. However, the Remote Desktop Connection Manager is an incredibly useful platform for storing all of the different RDP connections that you make within your environment. You can save connections so that you don’t have to spend time trying to remember server names, sort servers into categories, and even store credentials so that you don’t have to type passwords when connecting to servers. Though a disclaimer should come with that one, your security folks may not be happy if you choose to employ the password storing feature. I will leave you with a link for downloading the application, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=44989, as well as the following screenshot, and then leave it up to you to decide whether or not this tool would be helpful in your daily tasks:

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