The 3 key new admin features in Windows Server 8

A multiserver Server Manager, a GUI option for Server Core, and an explosion of PowerShell cmdlets

After installing the Windows 8 desktop developer preview, I didn't expect all that much out of the server flavor. But between what I saw and what I've heard since the Windows Build conference in September, I'm surprisingly impressed -- and mildly intimidated.

First, allow me to explain the intimidation. Any time I kick in a new version of Windows and I'm greeted by a new look, like the Metro UI, I'm uncomfortable. But I'm even more put off when the management tools I've grown used to have changed. After the install of Windows Server 8, I was greeted by both a Metro UI and the new Server Management interface tuned for the new UI. "Deep breath ... don't hate it yet" was what ran through my mind.

[ Read InfoWorld's picks for the top 10 Windows Server 8 features, then take a visual tour of Windows Server 8. | Watch J. Peter Bruzzese's video tour of Windows 8, and take InfoWorld's tour of the new Windows 8 Metro UI. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

What's impressive is the amazing number of feature improvements. There are hundreds of new features, and not just for the top 10 monster companies whose needs sometimes distort what vendors offer. In the Windows Server 8 developer preview, there are features that will benefit every admin working in a Windows environment, and most of these new feature are actually working today. Three jump out immediately.

Admin feature No. 1: Server Manager goes multiserver

Windows Server 2008's Server Manager tool did a much better job than its predecessors in managing the local server and configuring various roles and features of the server itself. Windows 8 takes this to the next level, letting you apply its tools to multiple systems at the same time. For example, you can create server groups that allow you to make changes to multiple systems. That means you can now group and remotely control your IIS servers or DHCP servers as if they were one server -- perfect for headless systems running Server Core. You can now easily do your admin work in bulk: install updates, reboot, make adjustments, and so on.

Not only is the capability great, I also like the new UI for Server Manager. I now can right-click a server and go right into a Computer Management session for it. Or PowerShell or reboot it! It's a much better interface.

Admin feature No. 2: Server Core gains a GUI setup

Windows Server 2008 also introduced Server Core, which allowed for a smaller footprint and attack surface because it had a command-line-only flavor of the OS installed. But it was a configuration nightmare (unless you picked up a copy of the free Core Configurator tool from CodePlex). The new version in Windows 8 addresses that flaw, allowing you to use the full GUI to configure Server Core. When done, you can uninstall the GUI and leave the core, gaining its small footprint advantages.

Another flaw with Windows Server 2008's Server Core is that it cannot be used with SQL Server or Exchange. The Windows 8 version promises to at least support SQL.

Admin feature No. 3: PowerShell is getting bigger

As an admin who isn't afraid to admit I love the GUI, I also have to confess that this command-line PowerShell thing just isn't going to die any time soon, so it's high time you got onboard. The current base of PowerShell cmdlets amount to about 200. With Windows Server 8, we are looking at having access to about 2,300 (yes, there are two zeroes after the number "23"). I'll preview the major ones in this blog in coming months.

There's a lot more in Windows Server 8, but rather than overwhelm you with the whole shebang, I'll go through key sets of features in this column over several weeks. Stay tuned!

This article, "The 3 key new admin features in Windows Server 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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