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Windows Server 2012 Support Comes to Microsoft's Server Management Tools

Microsoft announced on Wednesday that its Server Management Tools (SMT) suite now supports Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2.

SMT includes a collection of familiar tools that are just starting to come together, including Task Manager, Registry Editor, Event Viewer, Device Manager and Control Panel. Microsoft also added Windows Update to that list back in May. The tools actually are services housed in Microsoft's Azure datacenters. Organizations must set up an on-premises gateway (called "server management gateway" by Microsoft) to use them.

The tools are still a work in progress, including for Windows Server 2012/R2.

"All SMT tools, except Windows Update and Device Manager, will now work with Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2012," Microsoft's announcement explained.

Tools for Remote Management
The SMT collection of tools is still at the preview stage since initial release in February. The tools were first introduced by Microsoft Technical Fellow Jeffrey Snover as one way to manage the headless Nano Server component of Windows Server 2016. Nano Server is a much smaller version of the also headless Server Core deployment option (it's said to have a footprint 20 times smaller than Server Core).  

Nano Server, which offers scalability benefits for organizations but requires Software Assurance to use, can only be managed by remotely by certain tools, since Microsoft stripped out the graphical user interface (GUI) from Windows Server 2016 with the Nano Server option. In addition to using SMT tools, Nano Server can be managed using "Windows PowerShell, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Windows Remote Management, and Emergency Management Services (EMS)," according to Microsoft's TechNet documentation.

Windows Server 2016 is expected to get released this fall, with a "launch" planned for Microsoft's September Ignite event. However, organizations sticking with Windows Server 2012-branded products at least will have the ability to use the new SMT tools, if wanted. The tools, accessed through the Azure portal, are described as having browser-based GUI-like management capabilities, along with PowerShell scripting capabilities.

New SMT Features
The SMT tools also are getting some new features. Credentials can now be saved to the server management gateway. The credentials are encrypted at Azure datacenters using AES 256 encryption, but they only can be unlocked via credentials stored on an organization's server management gateway. In addition, a new Certificate manager tool addition to the SMT suite will let organizations diagnose problems and remotely manage certificates on servers, with commands such as import, export and delete.

SMT additionally now provides a GUI for checking firewall rules on servers. Microsoft also added a file browsing capability to the PowerShell script editor in SMT, which lets IT pros save their scripts to Azure Blob storage.

Microsoft's announcement also explained that File Explorer capabilities right now in SMT still just have "limited functionality," namely "browse, rename and delete." However, the plan is to add File Explorer capabilities to other SMT tools, such as the "PowerShell Script Editor and Processes for opening and saving files."

Microsoft also built out a separate Storage SMT tool. It provides "detailed information" about disk use, file shares and volumes.

The SMT preview has some requirements. Windows Management Framework 5.0 is needed for Windows Server 2012 R2, but it's not needed for Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview. Microsoft cautions that Windows Management Framework 5.0 won't work with some applications, as described in this MSDN article. Organizations also need to have an Azure subscription in place.

The SMT preview is accessible through an Azure portal account via the Marketplace. Microsoft describes the setup process in this blog post. Also, check out this Redmond article. Microsoft has additionally published a troubleshooting guide.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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