Windows Server 2019 – Windows Admin Center (WAC)

How to Activate Windows Server 2019

Now forget everything I just told you about remote server management, and focus here instead. I’m just kidding, sort of. All of the tools we have already discussed are still stable, relevant, and great ways to interact with and manage your bunches of Windows Servers. However, there’s a new kid in town, and Microsoft expects him to be very popular.

Windows Admin Center (WAC) is a server and client management platform that is designed to help you administer your machines in a more efficient manner. This is a browser-based tool, meaning that, once installed, you access WAC from a web browser, which is great. No need to install a management tool or application onto your workstation, simply sit down and tap into it with a URL.

WAC can manage your servers (all the way back to Server 2008 R2), your server clusters, and even has some special functionality for managing hyper-converged infrastructure clusters. You can also manage client machines in the Windows 10 flavor.

What’s the cost for such an amazing, powerful tool? FREE! And chances are that if you have been following Microsoft activity over the past year, you may have even seen it already in one form or another. Do the words Project Honolulu sound familiar? Yes, Windows Admin Center is a renamed Project Honolulu, finally ready for production use.

Windows Admin Center even has support for third-party vendors to be able to create extensions for the WAC interface, so this tool is going to continue growing. If you have been following along with the test lab configuration in the book so far, you will recognize Windows Admin Center from a pop-up window that displays itself every time that Server Manager is opened. Microsoft wants administrators to know about WAC so badly that they are reminding you that you should start using it every time that you log into a Server 2019 box, as shown in the following screenshot:

Installing Windows Admin Center

Enough talk, let’s try it out! First we need to choose a location to install the components of WAC. True, I did say that one of the benefits was that we didn’t need to install it, but what I meant was that once WAC is implemented, then tapping into it is as easy as opening up a browser. That website needs to be installed and running somewhere, right? While you could throw the whole WAC system onto a Windows 10 client, let’s take the approach that will be more commonly utilized in the field and install it onto a server in our network. I have a system running called WEB3 which is not yet hosting any websites, sounds like a good place for something like this.

Download WAC from here:

Once downloaded, simply run the installer on the host machine. There are a few simple decisions you need to make during the wizard, the most noticeable is the screen where you define port and certificate settings. In a production environment, it would be best to run port 443 and provide a valid SSL certificate here so that traffic to and from this website is properly protected via HTTPS, but, for my little test lab, I am going to run 443 with a self-signed certificate, just for testing purposes. Don’t use self-signed certificates in production!

Once the installer is finished, you will now be hosting the Windows Admin Center website on this server. For my particular installation, that web address is: https://WEB3.contoso.local.

Launching Windows Admin Center

Now for the fun part, checking this thing out. To tap into Windows Admin Center, you simply open up a supported browser from any machine in your network, and browse to the WAC URL. Once again, mine is https://WEB3.contoso.local. Interestingly, Internet Explorer is not a supported browser, Microsoft recommends Edge but also works with Chrome. I am logged into my Windows 10 workstation, and will simply open up the Edge browser and try to hit my new site, as shown in the following screenshot:

As you can see, I am dealing with a certificate warning. This is to be expected because I am using a self-signed certificate, which, once again, is a bad idea. I only justify it because I’m running in a test lab. But the more interesting part of the earlier screenshot is that I am being presented with a credentials prompt. Even though I am logged into a Windows 10 computer that is domain-joined and I am logged in with domain credentials, the WAC website does not automatically try to inject those credentials for its own use, but rather pauses to ask who you are. If I simply input my domain credentials here, I am now presented with the Windows Admin Center interface, as shown in the following screenshot:

Adding more servers to Windows Admin Center

Logging into WAC is great, but not very useful until you add a bunch of machines that you want to manage. To do that, simply click the +Add button that is shown in the previous screenshot. You will be presented with choices to add a new server, a new PC, a failover cluster, or even a hyper-converged cluster. Make your selection and input the required information. I don’t have any clusters in my test lab, not yet anyway, so I am going to add in connections to the standard servers that I have been running in the environment, as shown in the following screenshot:

Managing a server with Windows Admin Center

Beginning management of a server from within WAC is as simple as clicking on the server name. As you can see in the following screenshot, I have selected my DC1 server, as it is currently the only machine with some real roles installed and running:

From this interface, I can manage many different aspects of my DC1 server’s operating system. There are power control functions, the ability to run backups on my server, I can even install certificates from here! You can monitor performance of the server, view its event logs, manipulate the local Windows Firewall, and launch a remote PowerShell connection to the server. The goal with Windows Admin Center is for it to be your one-stop shop for remotely managing your servers, and I would say it is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.

I don’t yet have any Server Core instances running in my lab, but rest assured that WAC can be used to manage Server Core instances just as well as servers running Desktop Experience. This makes Windows Admin Center even more potent and intriguing to server administrators.

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