Today, we are announcing the addition of one of the most requested features for Server management tools – down-level support for Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012. Server management tools was released in public preview several months ago, and we’ve received a lot of feedback from our customers about ways to improve the product and make it more applicable to your management scenarios. You asked and we listened! With this new update, Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2012 can sit side-by-side in Server management tools with your Windows Server 2016 instances. Before we jump into the details of this new release, here’s a quick refresher of the service:
Server management tools overview
Server management tools is an Azure service that offers a set of web-based GUI and command line tools to manage Windows Servers. This is especially useful when managing headless servers such as Nano Server and Server Core. These tools also provide rapid access to your on-premises infrastructure in a common dashboard alongside your Azure resources, thereby providing a consistent management experience across your infrastructure. Today, Server management tools supports a set of basic server diagnostic tools. We are continuing to add new features and tools which will expand the capabilities of Server management tools as a hub for server management.
Server management tools requires a gateway which can be configured on any server in your environment. The gateway enables communication between the Microsoft Azure portal and your Windows Server machines, whether on-premises in your infrastructure, or hosted in a cloud provider. For more details on how to get started, check out my previous blog post.
Down-level support for Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012
All SMT tools, except Windows Update and Device Manager, will now work with Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2012. The providers that enable this functionality are natively included in Windows Server 2016, but will require installing several prerequisites on any down level instances that you’ll be managing. To get started, you will need Windows Management Framework 5 and the Server management tools WMI providers. You may either install the packages manually, or we’ll automatically detect and ask if you’d like them installed when you first connect to the server. You should check the WMF Product Compatibility Status page to verify that it is compatible with the applications you are running on that server. Keep in mind that installing WMF may result in a restart, and if the server is not up-to-date with Windows Updates, WMF may pull in additional prerequisite updates, potentially resulting in more than one restart.
Another new feature, requested by our users, was the ability to save the credentials used to manage the target machines. From the credential entry dialog, you can opt to store credentials securely. The credentials are first encrypted using standard AES 256 encryption and then securely stored within Azure. These credentials can only be decrypted using the certificate which is stored in the Server management tools gateway. When you go to manage an instance, the encrypted credentials are passed down to the Server management tools gateway for decryption, and are then used to process all management requests on the target machine. Even though the credentials are securely stored in Azure, the on-premises certificate provides an additional level of security because only your gateway can decrypt the stored credentials since only your gateway has the certificate used to encrypt them. The certificate used to encrypt the credentials is never passed to Azure and the Azure service will never have access to unencrypted user credentials.
We have added GUI support for firewall rules on the target machines. You can browse through the rules on the system, check their state, modify the rules and also create new rules.
PowerShell script editor enhancements
The script editor is now equipped with basic file browsing capabilities. You can browse through the files on the target machine and open an existing script. You can create a new script or modify an existing one and save it on the target machine.
Script editor is now also integrated with your Azure Blob storage. You can save your scripts in your blob and make them available across all your servers and to other members of the subscription.
Managing files and folders is an inevitable part of day-to-day server management and we’re excited to add File Explorer to our set of tools. It currently offers limited functionality such as browse, rename and delete, but we’ll be adding more capabilities in the future. You’ll also see File Explorer integrated into other tools such as PowerShell Script Editor and Processes for opening and saving files.
Storage is now available as a separate tool and it provides detailed information on disks, volumes and file shares for basic storage management. Similar to File Explorer, it currently offers only a read only view of your storage infrastructure, but we will be adding more capabilities in the future based on user feedback.
And last in the list of new tools is Certificate manager. It brings the much needed ability to remotely manage certificates on targeted computers. With capabilities such as viewing all or a specific set of certificates, along with relevant event log channels, it helps you to find the root cause of certificate related issues. You can also import, export and delete certificates.
Try it today!
This update to Server management tools adds many new features and enhancements to offer management capabilities from a single pane of glass. We look forward to you trying out the new features, and we look forward to any feedback about how we can improve the service and make it more functional for your needs. If you have any issues while using the service, check out the Troubleshooting guide to quickly identify and resolve common problems. In addition, if you have suggestions, you can use the feedback button in the Azure portal, or submit your ideas and suggestions via our UserVoice forum. You may also follow us on Twitter.