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Microsoft Highlights Windows Server 2019 Support for Hybrid, Hyperconverged Scenarios

On Tuesday, Microsoft's online Windows Server Summit event indicated what's to come with Windows Server 2019.

Windows Server 2019 is currently available as a preview for Windows Insider Program participants. It's expected to arrive as a product sometime in the second half of this calendar year, according to Arpan Shah, general manager of Azure infrastructure marketing, during the keynote part of the event. He noted that Windows Server 2008 R2 will be reaching the end of support in January 2020 and advised IT organizations to start planning their infrastructure updates.

To that end, Windows Server 2016 is ready for use today and modernization can be further enhanced with the coming Windows Server 2019 product, said Erin Chapple, corporate vice president of Windows Server at Microsoft, during the keynote.

The keynote was a general overview, and is available on demand at this Windows Server Summit landing page. The event also had several breakout sessions covering specific Windows Server aspects, which are also available on demand.

Investment Areas
Chapple said that Microsoft has four main investment areas in Windows Server 2019, encompassing hybrid support, security, application support with containers and hyperconverged infrastructure. She also noted that Windows Server 2019 will be bringing things like Shielded Virtual Machines support for Linux, integration with Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, support for Exploit Guard and support for encrypted subnets. In addition, Microsoft plans to continue to improve Windows Server container support, not just for developers but for IT pros, too, Chapple said.

Chapple described the use of containers, an operating system virtualization technology that makes it easier to host applications without conflicts, as being an "easy on ramp to modernizing applications." Containers bring consistency between development environments and production, she added.

Containers can be hosted on Windows Server via the Server Core or Nano Server install options, and Microsoft plans to continue to invest in both technologies, Chapple said. There's still a lot of customer interest in Nano Server, she said, although Microsoft now only recommends using it for hosting containers. Nano Server is no longer recommended for running workloads.

Windows Server 2019 continues from the software defined networking improvements that were made with Windows Server 2016. Software isn't replacing hardware as a result of those efforts. Microsoft has found from internal testing that the right firmware, network storage card and other hardware is needed, and so it has collaborated with its hardware partners on Windows Server to create the easiest solutions for deployment. Microsoft's partners have to meet the requirements of a robust test suite to support Windows Server, Chapple said.

Windows Server integration with Azure in so-called "hybrid" scenarios was one of the themes during the talk. In that regard, Microsoft showed a demo of Azure File Sync, which is a file share management service delivered from Microsoft's datacenters. It can be used now with Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2016, and it will be available with Windows Server 2019. The idea is to boost performance by storing more frequently accessed files locally while keeping other, less used files in Microsoft's datacenters.

Will Gries, a program manager for Microsoft Azure, said during the Azure File Sync demo that Azure File Sync can be used to centralize file services in Azure and transform Windows file servers into fast caches for data. It offers the ability to recover from disasters fast and it decreases the pains associated with backup and restore, he said. With Azure File Sync, the files are tiered, and the entire file isn't stored on disk. Instead, end users get a "real-time file download." The tiering features of Azure File Sync will be shown off at Microsoft's Ignite event in September, he added.

Windows Admin Center
There was quite a lot of talk during the Window Server Summit about Windows Admin Center. It's Microsoft's browser-based replacement for traditional "in-box tools" such as Server Manager and Microsoft Management Console. Windows Admin Center hit general availability status back in April. Microsoft developed it because it had received feedback that its tooling was too fragmented and people wanted a modern UI. Windows Admin Center, in addition to having features for managing Windows, can manage hyperconverged infrastructures, in which the compute and storage functions are combined in a cluster. Microsoft currently estimates that over one million nodes are managed using Windows Admin Center.

In the second segment of the Windows Server Summit event, "Windows Server Management Reimagined," Samuel Li, a principal program manager lead at Microsoft, explained that managing Server Core remotely was previously done via a command line interface, without a graphical user interface (GUI), but Windows Admin Center offers an alternative.

Jeff Woolsey, a principal program manager for Windows Server, said during the event that while people differ on wanting a GUI for managing Windows Server, "we have to provide both, and it's about using the right tool for the right job." Organizations managing a single server may need a GUI, but organizations managing a datacenter could do better without it.

Customers similarly told Microsoft that PowerShell was necessary, but in some cases, it was not considered to be sufficient, as in smaller IT shops, and that some management tasks are easier to perform with a GUI tool. "We want to fill the gap," Li said, adding that Microsoft sees GUI and non-GUI tools as being needed.

With the development of Windows Admin Center, Microsoft saw that it was time to consolidate its various management tools. Microsoft took note that some people don't want to have a hard dependency on the Internet to use the tooling. Microsoft also took the position that it needed to support the existing Windows Server install base, while providing a consistent management experience.

Windows Admin Center is viewed as complementing the current suite of in-box tools for managing Windows Server. Some of Microsoft's older tools, such as Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT), will continue to get shipped "because we may not be able to replicate some of its features," Li explained.

Integration with Azure
Woolsey suggested that Windows Admin Center also will facilitate managing Microsoft Azure services. He said that Microsoft isn't planning to replicate Azure tools in Windows Admin Center, but that when IT pros "want to hook these things up, you'll have a clean environment."

Woolsey also alluded to a new capability, a "free Azure management update service," that will work with the Windows Admin Center.

"If you want to just manage one server and that's all you care about, the tool is there," Woolsey said. "Windows Admin Center has the ability to update and you can manage that -- that single server the way you do it or a couple of servers the way you want to do it and manage it through Windows Admin Center. Or, if you'd like to take advantage of the free Azure management update service that can manage and update all of these servers, and by the way give you additional metrics and give you additional overview and scheduling and all of this -- and by the way it's a free service -- we're just lighting it up here for you. You're just a click away now from taking advantage of update services through Azure."

Li suggested Microsoft is planning to add a simple UI within the Windows Admin Center to hook organizations up to their Azure subscriptions. There also are plans to deep link from Windows Admin Center to the appropriate Azure service page. Examples include Azure Update Management and Azure Backup, but Microsoft is looking to integrate with other Azure services over time. Azure Site Recovery support is already in the product, allowing IT pros to replicate an Azure virtual machine using Windows Admin Center. Azure Backup integration in Windows Admin Center will be coming later.

Other New Admin Center Capabilities
Microsoft is adding the ability to manage hyperconverged infrastructure scenarios with Windows Admin Center. Li demonstrated that capability during the event. Woolsey commented that the view in Windows Admin Center of hyperconverged infrastructure isn't just a view of one server. Instead, users see an entire cluster in a single view, which is a capability Microsoft hasn't had before.

Microsoft is also adding additional role options with the role-based access control capability in Windows Admin Center. It's also graphically enabling the just-in-time administration capability that required PowerShell. Microsoft also added extensibility capabilities to Windows Admin Center with an SDK that lets partners build on it. Current partners building extensions include DataOn with a server graphic view addition. Fujitsu added a chassis management extension, while SquaredUp has a System Center Operations Manager visualization extension.

Microsoft has been executing top feature requests in Windows Admin Center. With the latest release of Windows Admin Center version 1806, Microsoft now supports the No. 1 request, which is the ability to show the PowerShell script that's being used underneath by the Windows Admin Center interface. The script can be copied, modified and used in other solutions.

There's also newly added rudimentary support for Windows Server 2008 R2 in the latest Windows Admin Center release.

"I'm happy to announce, as of Windows Admin Center release 1806, we now have basic support for Windows Server 2008 R2 as a connection type with some, but not all, of the tool capabilities, and that's simply because some of the infrastructure is not there," Li said. He added that Microsoft is still trying to work out a bug in the Remote Desktop client, though.

Woolsey commented that that Microsoft can only provide basic support for Windows Server 2008 R2. Windows Admin Center can't provide the full rich feature set "because 2008 R2 simply doesn't have it." He also noted that Windows Server 2008 R2, which has a "huge install base," will lose support in January 2020.

Windows Admin Center is included with a Windows Server license. It runs on Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome browsers and is a small download, Li said. It can be used to manage Windows 10 client PCs and Windows Server down to Windows Server 2008 R2. It doesn't lay down agents on the system and it doesn't require using SQL Server or Active Directory.

Windows Admin Center does require having the latest version of PowerShell installed and it uses a Web server and a gateway. The gateway is used to fan out requests to the servers you want to manage, Li added.

Install options for Windows Admin Center include a Windows 10 PC or Windows Server, and there's also an option to install Windows Admin Center on the gateway. "If you want to have high availability you can install it on a cluster," Li said. He added that "you can have access from anywhere by publishing from a DNS."