How to manage Windows Server 2012

Article Ian Murphy Nov 16th 2012

Windows Server 2012 has a host of new features to improve the lot of the sysadmin; here's a quick run-through of the most prominent

Windows Server 2012 marks a major improvement in the way administrators can manage the server estate. For some organisations, this may well be the first opportunity they have had to get back control of the explosion of servers inside their datacentre caused by virtualisation. 

There are two key tools inside Windows Server 2012 for managing servers, Server Manager and PowerShell. This document looks at Server Manager and some PowerShell commands. For anyone wanting to go further and look at just how PowerShell makes it easy to manage large numbers of server, there are a number of hands-on-labs available from Microsoft Technet. For a full list of PowerShell commands that can be used by Server Manager, go here.

The labs will walk you through several key technologies inside Windows Server 2012. They are all designed to take around one hour at most although the labs will continue for up to two hours, providing time to play with a range of different scenarios. 

Server Manager
Server Manager has had a major overhaul from Microsoft. It is now able to support multiple servers, is integrated with PowerShell, supports active tiles which turn it into a dashboard and can manage all domain servers wherever they are located, including those in the cloud. 

The first thing to notice with Server Manager is that it is using the same tiled interface concept similar to those found in Windows Phone and Windows 8. One reason is that this homogenises the Windows interface and enables system administrators to engage technology using Microsoft's Natural User Interface (NUI). 

In this walk-through, we will introduce Server Manager, PowerShell and look at how easy it is to manage multiple servers. 

It might seem strange to start a walk-through with a discussion of the user interface. However, as Server Manager is a very different tool from before and many of the tool menus have moved, the quickest way to get a handle on where things are is to understand the UI.  

Looking at Server Manager in Fig 1 there are a number of things to take in. On the left is a very easy to use menu. The first item, dashboard, is the view in the main part of the window. Next is the option to view just the local server followed by an opportunity to list of all the servers that Server Manager knows about. The remaining choices are role-based and this makes management much easier. 

Top right is a series of menus and icons: 

The two arrows in a circle refresh the dashboard. 

The flag indicates if there are notifications, in this case as it is red, showing that there is a problem with at least one server. Manage allows roles and features to be added or removed, servers to be added, server groups (these will be dealt with later) to be created and the Server Manager properties to be configured. 

Tools is a superset of the previous Administrator Tools option that server administrators used. 

View allows zoom in/out and sets the size of the Server Manager window. 

Help is context sensitive and includes a new link to the Server Manager forums that Microsoft is hosting. 

On the left side of the main window is a menu showing all different server roles that are Server Manager knows are currently active. 

In the main part of the dashboard window there is the option to configure the local server or manage other servers. Of more importance, is that below that box there is a section headed Roles and Server Groups underneath which are some tiles. The legend says that there are six server roles being managed, one server group and thirteen servers. Three of those roles, AD DS, DHCP, DNS, File and Storage Services, Hyper-V and IIS are showing as the six tiles in the bottom part of Fig 1. On the top right of each tile is the number of servers involved in that role. 

Each tile is a Server Group. In fig 1 we can see some of the groups that are being managed by Server Manager. The title relates to the server role each group represents, there is the number of servers that hold that role and a menu to administer the group. On this screen, each tile is coloured red showing that there is a problem with these groups. Looking at the menu in the tile, the red boxes with a number show where there are issues that need to be addressed by the administrator. The number in the box shows how many servers in this group have problems. 

At the bottom of this screen, on the taskbar, there are two icons, administrators need to be familiar with. The left icon is Server Manager which has changed a little from Windows Server 2008 R2. The second is PowerShell which has not changed. 

Server groups change management 

Server groups are a new feature in Server Manager. They allow servers to be grouped together using common criteria and then managed as a single entity. That grouping may be by role, by server version (2008, 2012), by location (London, New York, Barcelona) or by any other criteria that is important to the server administration teams. 

In Fig 2 we see more groups from the domain. The bottom tile, entitled All Servers, shows that there is a total of 13 servers in the domain. Adding the three servers from the first image to the number of servers shown in the top right of the tiles in this image comes to 16 not 13. This is because servers are not limited to being in a single group. If a server has multiple roles then it will appear in the server group for each role. 

Create a server group 

  1. Creating a server group for management purposes is very simple: 
  2. Click on Manage  which opens a drop down menu.  
  3. Select Create Server Group. This opens a dialog box where you start by entering a Server Group Name, in this case London.   
  4. Give the Server Group a name
  5. Select the servers
  6. Click OK

The result is a new server group, London, containing three servers. A tile is created for London and in the menu to the left of the dashboard, a new entry called London has been inserted to make it quick and easy to find the group.

Finding the servers to go into the new group can be done in several ways.  

  1. Pick the servers from the entire server pool. 
  2. Go to the Active Directory tab and select the servers based on the directory in which they are located. 
  3. If you know the IP address range for the servers, you could enter that in the DNS box. 
  4. Import servers that are currently not listed in Server Manager. 
  5. Type a string in the Filter box and it will reduce the list of available options . 

Once you have reduced the pool of servers to a manageable number, you can select the servers, moved them to the selected box (fig 5) and click OK to create the Server Group. Once created there is a new active tile on the Server Manager dashboard. 

On the left side of the Server Manager dashboard, a new group called London is now showing. 

Managing a Server Group 

Managing a server group is where the real power of Server Manager can be seen. Selecting London from the Dashboard menu brings up a details screen for that group (Fig 3). 

The top pane lists all of the servers in the group, along with their IP addresses, any issues with their manageability, when they were last updated and whether their licence has been activated. One of the big advantages of the latter box is where there are a lot of temporary servers being used for test and development, unlicensed servers can be quickly identified and dealt with. This also prevents unlicensed servers from inadvertently being placed into a production environment. 

Scrolling down through the main pane reveals a number of smaller panes dealing with different management elements of a server. 

Events - This is extracted from event viewer. 

Services - What services are running on this computer 

Best Practices Analyzer - Does this server conform 

Performance - Data from Performance Analyser 

Roles and Features - What roles and features are installed on this server 

All of these panes are context-linked so changing the server in the top box, changes the information in the lower panes. This is a very fast, quick and efficient way of viewing server information. It is also possible to limit the information displayed by each of these panes using the filter option and building new queries. Where the group is small, less than five servers, this will provide just a small benefit. For larger groups, such as the All Servers group or a server group covering File and Print services, the ability to limit the number of displayed events will make life much easier. 

Management is more than simply being able to see what is happening on servers, it is about making changes and configuring the servers. This is where Server Groups demonstrate their effectiveness.  

Adding roles to additional server 

There are two ways to add additional roles to a server. The first is through the Server Manager interface and the second is through PowerShell. In this next example, we will see how to create a new domain controller using both techniques.  

Adding Domain Controller through Server Manager 

Start Server Manager and from the Manage menu, select Add Roles and Features to open the wizard. Clicking next twice, presents a list of servers that the role can be installed on. Selecting the server opens the Server Roles page. 

Select Active Directory Domain Services and the click Add Features. At this point, Server Manager goes away and checks what features  are required to support the selected role. If the features do not already exist on the server, they will be installed as part of this process. At the bottom of this dialog box is a check box to Include Management Tools (if applicable). This should always be checked. 

Continue through the wizard and select Install at the end. On the install page is a new feature allowing the administrator to decide if a server can be rebooted to complete installation. It might be that there are other configuration tasks to take place before a reboot or there may be a corporate policy that determines reboots can only happen after a backup. In both these cases, leave this box blank. 

Once the installation has completed, the next step is to complete any configuration tasks that are required. To so this, start Server Manager and then click on the notification flag at the top of the page. Select Task Details from the drop down box and it will show all the outstanding tasks for servers in the domain.  

Locate the Post-Deployment Configuration entry for the new AD Domain Controller Promote this server to a domain controller. This will open the Active Directory Domain Services Configuration Wizard. On this page there is an item that will be showing <No credentials provided>. Click on Change and enter a domain administrator name and password. Continue through the wizard entering a password for Directory Services Restore Mode recovery when prompted. 

On the Review Options page there is the opportunity to View Script. Clicking on this shows the PowerShell commands used to create a Domain Controller. Saved as NewDC.txt it can be used with PowerShell in the next example. 

Going back to the configuration wizard, click install, and then close the wizard. The server will be installed as a domain controller.