Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

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Recently, a blog post from Microsoft caught my attention as the discussion was around the adoption of Window Server 2019 Core edition. Microsoft detailed in this post that Windows Server 2019 Core edition has the fastest adoption rate of any Windows Server Core edition in since it was an official option. One of the boosts to the adoption of Windows Server 2019 Core edition is Windows Admin Center. Windows Admin Center provides the management front end that has long been missing with Windows Server Core edition. In this post, we will take a look at managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center to get a look at the basic steps you need to manage Windows Server Core with Windows Admin Center as well as a good overview of the capabilities you will have with WAC and Windows Server 2019 Core edition.

What is Windows Admin Center and Why is it Important with Windows Server Core?

As I mentioned above, the Windows Admin Center solution is the long missing piece that Microsoft has needed to make Windows Server Core edition a success and a release that customers will actually pick when installing Windows Server in their environments.

The benefits to running Windows Server Core edition are obvious. You get a minimized security footprint, a much smaller, less bloated server operating system and a Windows Server version that provides what many have been looking for to compete with Linux installations over the years, simplicity.

Installing-Windows-Server-2019-Core-without-the-Desktop-experience Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Installing Windows Server 2019 Core without the Desktop experience

However, the old Windows Server GUI administration mentality has long plagued the Windows Server Core edition. Many have struggled to be able to effectively manage Windows Server Core edition when coming from the GUI-driven Windows Server interface that administrators love/hate.

With the struggles that many IT admins have had with effectively interacting with Windows Server Core edition and being able to properly install, manage, configure, and troubleshoot the platform, many simply forgo the benefits of the minimized operating system and simply install the Windows Server Desktop version.

Windows Admin Center is a brand new management solution from Microsoft that is set to change the way administrators interact with Windows Servers, both GUI and Core versions. The great news as well with WAC is that it is free. This is no paid solution and is readily available from Microsoft as a free download.

What I really like about WAC is the way it brings all the tools that we know and love under one management tool. You have all the standard tools that you are used to with Windows Server, all in a single dashboard and readily accessible.

Windows Admin Center provides an extremely effective way to manage Windows Server. It is installed either on Windows Server or Windows client operating systems like Windows 10.

There are two installation modes:

  • Local Client – Install on a local Windows 10 client that has connectivity to the managed servers. Great for quick start, testing, ad-hoc or small scale scenarios.
  • Gateway Server – Install on a designated gateway server and access from any client browser with connectivity to the gateway server. Great for large-scale scenarios.
Local-Client-vs-Gateway-Server-installation-of-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Local Client vs Gateway Server installation of Windows Admin Center

Windows Admin Center, once installed, is accessed via a web browser. This allows easily accessing your WAC dashboards and managed servers for easy administration. In gateway server mode, you can have WAC installed on a server that everyone logs into for administration. This helps to centralize the layout of your tools in the environment for managing your servers by means of a management server running WAC for centralized administration.

Installing Windows Admin Center

The process to install Windows Admin Center is very straightforward. First, you will want to snag the latest release of WAC. The link below will take you directly to be able to download the latest releases.

There is always the Preview version that contains all the features up to this point, however, may have some stability issues and other bugs.

There is always a stable, broadly tested version on the page as well that is probably the best option for use in production.

Beginning-the-installation-of-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Beginning the installation of Windows Admin Center
Allowing-Windows-Admin-Center-to-customize-the-trusted-hosts-entries Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Overview of the installation modes during setup
Overview-of-the-installation-modes-during-setup Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Overview of the installation modes during setup
Windows-Admin-Center-automatially-updates-trusted-hosts Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Select-the-port-to-use-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Select the port to use with Windows Admin Center
Ready-to-manage-your-Windows-Server-2019-Core-install-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Ready to manage your Windows Server 2019 Core install with Windows Admin Center

Managing Windows Server 2019 Core from Windows Admin Center

The first thing you will want to do in Windows Admin Center is Add the server you want to manage with Windows Admin Center. There is a special configuration we need to enable for Windows Server Core however.

Below, I am attempting to add the Windows Server 2019 Core server to Windows Admin Center without any configuration changes. As you can see, Windows Admin Center attempts to add the server, but tells you basically that it can’t connect to the server in question. You can go ahead and add it to Windows Admin Center, but most likely you will not be able to manage it, unless you have made a chance to your Windows Server Core installation.

Notice the message below, “You can add this server to your list of connections, but we can’t confirm it’s available.” Inevitably, this means that it is not communicating with your Windows Server Core server.

Attempting-to-add-a-Windows-Server-2019-Core-server-to-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Attempting to add a Windows Server 2019 Core server to Windows Admin Center

Enable Remote Management for Windows Server 2019

If you have used any version of Windows Server Core edition prior to Windows Server 2019, you are most likely already familiar with sconfig. If not, it is easy to become acquainted with this utility. It provides a simple, menu driven interface that allows you to quickly perform very common admin tasks on your Windows Server Core installation. By default, this utility launches once you login with Windows Server Core.

Notice Option 4 – Configure Remote Management. This simple menu option allows you to configure the remote management configuration for your Core installation, simply and easily.

Configuring-remote-management-on-Windows-Server-2019-Core-with-sconfig Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Configuring remote management on Windows Server 2019 Core with sconfig

After choosing option 4, select Option 1 – Enable Remote Management.

Enable-Remote-Management-using-sconfig Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Enable Remote Management using sconfig

You will quickly see a dialog box pop up saying Successfully enabled Remote Management which confirms the remote management features and connectivity settings have been enabled.

Successfully-enabled-remote-management-using-sconfig Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Successfully enabled remote management using sconfig

Now we get a different response. Windows Admin Center is now able to connect remotely to the Windows Server Core installation. Now, we are simply being prompted for credentials. You have a few options here.

Windows-Admin-Center-can-now-connect-since-Remote-Management-has-been-configured Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Windows Admin Center can now connect since Remote Management has been configured

Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

Now let’s take a look at Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center. There are so many things you can do with Windows Admin Center that makes life very easy to manage Windows Server 2019 Core installations. Let’s go through a few of the capabilities of Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center.

As mentioned earlier, one of the hurdles to using Windows Server Core is the lack of easy GUI tools to configure, manage, and interact with the system.

Adding Roles and Features

No doubt, one of the first things you will want to do with your Windows Server 2019 Core installation is add roles and features to the server. Whether, you are going to use it as a domain controller, file server, DNS, DHCP, etc, you will need to install the appropriate role.

Using Windows Admin Center, simply clcik the Roles & Features menu. Once you highlight a role/feature, you can place a check in the box next to it. This enables the +Install button at the top. This makes Roles & Features installation easy on Windows Server 2019 Core.

Adding-Roles-and-Features-to-Windows-Server-2019-Core-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Adding Roles and Features to Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

Remote PowerShell with Windows Admin Center

Using Remote PowerShell on your Windows Server 2019 Core installation is extremely easy with Windows Admin Center. Click the PowerShell menu option on the left. You will then be prompted for credentials on your Windows Server 2019 Core server. Enter your credentials and you will be able to use remote PowerShell right from the interface of Windows Admin Center!

Using-remote-PowerShell-with-Windows-Admin-Center-on-your-Windows-Server-2019-Core-installation Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Using remote PowerShell with Windows Admin Center on your Windows Server 2019 Core installation

Enable Remote Desktop with Windows Admin Center

You will most likely want to have Remote Desktop enabled on your Windows Server 2019 Core installation. Under the Settings menu > Remote Desktop you will have the familiar menu presented to enable remote desktop with NLA and other options.

Enable-remote-desktop-on-Windows-Server-2019-Core-using-WAC Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Enable remote desktop on Windows Server 2019 Core using WAC

Managing Windows Server 2019 Core Services with Windows Admin Center

Managing your Windows Server 2019 Core services is easily accomplished using Windows Admin Center. Click Services and you will see your services with the ability to start, pause, and configure settings for the services.

Managing-services-on-Windows-Server-2019-Core-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Managing services on Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

Configure Network Settings Remotely on Windows Server Core

Windows Admin Center Network menu allows you to configure your network settings for the Windows Server Core installation. You can change all the expected settings from address, gateway, DNS, and others.

Configure-network-settings-on-Windows-Server-2019-Core-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Configure network settings on Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

Configure System Insights

System Insights provides a powerful, predictive analytics, performance, and monitoring platform, built right into Windows Admin Center. When you click on System Insights, you will be prompted to Install the plugin. This will be done for you automatically.

Configure-System-Insights-from-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
System Insights information gathering for Windows Server 2019 Core

After installing System Insights, you will have the ability to forecast CPU, networking, storage consumption, and volume consumption. Keep in mind it will take a while for the initial metrics to pull and the forecast to be generated. This provides a great tool for capacity management and other purposes.

System-Insights-information-gathering-for-Windows-Server-2019-Core Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
System Insights information gathering for Windows Server 2019 Core

Enable Azure Backups

Windows Admin Center provides great built-in integration with Microsoft Azure. Backup is a great example of this. Right from the Windows Admin Center interface, you can configure Azure Backup for your Windows Server Core installation.

Configure-Azure-Backup-from-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Configure Azure Backup from Windows Admin Center

Viewing Events on your Windows Server 2019 Core Server with Windows Admin Center

Viewing events on the server by using the Events menu allows viewing all the expected event logs as you would see in the normal management console locally on the server.

Viewing-events-on-your-Windows-Server-Core-server-from-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Viewing events on your Windows Server Core server from Windows Admin Center

Managing Files Remotely on your Windows Server 2019 Core Installation

Using the Files menu, you can easily browse the files on your remote Windows Server Core server.

Browsing-files-remotely-on-your-Windows-Server-2019-Core-server Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Browsing files remotely on your Windows Server 2019 Core server

Remotely Managing Windows Firewall using Windows Admin Center

Managing your Windows Firewall settings using Windows Admin Center provides all the functionality you will need to configure your firewall exceptions and configuration.

Managing-firewall-settings-remotely-using-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Managing firewall settings remotely using Windows Admin Center

Managing Local Users and Groups with Windows Admin Center

Using Windows Admin Center, you can easily add local users and groups to your remote Windows Server Core installation.

Managing-Local-Users-and-Groups-with-Windows-Admin-Center Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center
Managing Local Users and Groups with Windows Admin Center

View PowerShell Script Examples

One of the coolest features I like about Windows Admin Center is that it gives you tons of PowerShell script examples in the context of each menu you are in. For example, below, we are in the Files menu. If you hit the PowerShell icon as pointed out, you will have a dropdown menu under Script that gives you many examples of PowerShell scripts in the context of working with your Files. The same is true of all the other menus. Really, really cool.

Viewing-PowerShell-Scripts-for-each-menu-in-context Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center

Wrapping Up

Managing Windows Server 2019 Core with Windows Admin Center is the gold standard for managing your Windows Server Core installations moving forward. Windows Admin Center is a game changer for the adoption rate of Windows Server Core installations across the board.

It provides all the needed tools in a single pane of glass management interface that allows easily configuring, managing, and provisioning needed components on your Windows Server Core installations. Since it is a free download from Microsoft, there is no downside to downloading the tool and using it.