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Windows Server

How to Install and Use Windows Admin Center

Back on September 14, 2017, at Microsoft’s ‘Ignite’ tech conference in Orlando, FL, I was fortunate to witness history, in-person. I was in the session where Microsoft’s Server team announced ‘Project Honolulu’, a brand new, written from-the-ground-up management tool for Windows Servers, Windows 10, and Azure resources. When the product officially went live on April 12, 2018, they christened it ‘Windows Admin Center.’

Background

The premise they sought to accomplish was to create a new, modern, flexible management tool that was browser-based and robust. Microsoft wanted to replace the need to Remote Desktop into every server you manage, use antiquated, potentially inefficient tools, and consolidate it all into one. They succeeded! Traditionally, IT Pros and server engineers use Computer Management, Disk Management, Services, Device Manager, Windows Update, PowerShell, Event Viewer, File Explorer, the plethora of Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT), Registry Editor, really, the list goes on, and on, and on. Not anymore. This tool definitely wasn’t as beautiful, robust, and productive at 1.0. They’ve come a long way. Let’s first start with installing Windows Admin Center.

Windows Admin Center Installation

You can install the Windows Admin Center MSI on Windows Server, Windows 10, basically any modern Windows operating system. It only needs network access, of some kind, to the servers and computers you wish to manage. For the purposes of this guide, I am installing the tool on a bare Windows Server 2019 server. When I get to the actual use of the tool, I will switch over to my ‘Windows Server 2022 Upgrade’ lab with various servers and clients of Windows. Don’t worry, you’ll see soon enough.

Copy the MSI file (today, you use WinAdminCenter2103.msi) to the Desktop and do the ol’ double-click.

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Windows Admin Center Install

You can choose if you want to send optional diagnostic data to Microsoft or not.

The default options here are typically fine.

You can use a different port than the standard for HTTPS traffic and optionally use a CA-based SSL certificate for web browsing. Plus, force browsers to secure traffic only with the last checkbox.

After you click Install on the last screen, Setup will complete the installation.

You’re done! It will let you know what URL to use to access Windows Admin Center. You can browse this site for supported browsers.

Let’s Use Windows Admin Center

When you launch Windows Admin Center, you’ll come to this screen, mostly.

Viewing Windows Admin Center

If you were installing this from scratch, the only difference is that you wouldn’t see any connections…yet. Let me show you that. Click the ‘+ Add’ button on the left, and you’ll see this:

Under the Servers category, click Add. Type in the server hostname, and discovery magic should do the rest.

You can add individual servers, import from a .txt or .csv file, or search your Active Directory. I typed in my server name, it found it, and I clicked Add. The server showed up in my list. Let’s click on it and see what we get! (At the first login per session, it will ask for credentials to gain access to the server)


Look at all that info on one screen. This is a Hyper-V VM, but if it were physical, WAC would also show you the URL/hyperlink for an iDrac or CIMC web-based remote access page, very handy. This Overview page alone is showing you info from the About page on My Computer, Task Manager performance info, the Windows build number, Up Time, computer name, domain, Azure backup status, disk space. Slick. If you click ‘Enable disk metrics’, it will start to gather all local disk performance info for you. Bear in mind, this will cause a slight performance hit on said I/O. You can even Restart or Shutdown the server right from this dashboard!

Windows Admin Center Modules

I’m going to go back to my Windows Server 2016 DC from my lab – WS16-DC1 – to show you most of the views and modules available in WAC.

Devices (Device Manager)
Events (Event Viewer)

Here, I’ve clicked the Filter icon to show only Critical, Error, and Warning events, in addition to choosing a specific time range.

Files & file sharing

If you hover over each module on the left, you can click the ‘open in new window’ icon and have several different tools on screen, and on different monitors if you wish!

Networks
Performance Monitor
PowerShell (Yes, you can run a remote PowerShell console right from WAC!)
Processes (from Task Manager)
Registry (Registry Editor)
Remote Desktop (Well, yes, you can still Remote Desktop to the server, but, it’s all in the same tool!) ;)
Roles & Features
Services
Update (Windows Update)

Conclusion

I just scratched the surface to give you an overview of what Windows Admin Center has to offer. Each of these modules is interactive and allows the server administrator to handle ALL aspects of managing these servers. From adding the ‘Active Directory Domain Services’ role in Roles & Features to starting to monitor Memory and CPU metrics with Performance Monitor and restarting a Windows service in Services, everything is at your fingertips in one plane of glass. And being able to launch several tools in separate windows is already a boon to your productivity.

I will be using Windows Admin Center in my lab when I perform the upgrade of my Windows Server 2016/2019 AD lab environment to Windows Server 2022 later this summer. There will definitely be more good WAC content then. I will also show how you can access some Azure resources and even create new Windows virtual machines in your Azure tenant right from the Windows Admin Center webpage.

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