Say Aloha to Microsoft’s New Web Management UI – Virtualization Review

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In depth

Say Aloha to Microsoft’s New Web Management UI

The project, codenamed “Honolulu”, premiered at the end of September.

What do you use for Hyper-V administration? I bet it’s a combination of a GUI (Hyper-V Manager, Failover Cluster Manager, maybe System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)) and a command line (PowerShell, CMD).

It’s often said that the problem with Hyper-V isn’t Hyper-V, it’s the management tools. And that’s true ; if you have a few servers you can get by with Hyper-V Manager for most things, but add clustering and now you need to move from that to Failover Cluster Manager. And if you have a larger environment, you will need VMM, but it will require its own care and power to function properly.

Microsoft also offers Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) for many versions of the Windows client. Most administrators are familiar with this tool, which gives you Server Manager along with all the other consoles for different server roles, including Hyper-V.

All this to say that you don’t manage your servers directly from the server (it should run Server Core in Microsoft’s world anyway); you manage them securely Privileged Access Workstations (PAW).

All of that is about to change, with the public preview of the project called “Honolulu”. Honolulu is the evolution of last year’s project, Server management tools (SMT). The problem with SMT was that it relied on hosting in Azure, requiring servers connected to the internet and inflicting unnecessary dependency on the cloud.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. Main dashboard of the Honolulu project.

What is Honolulu?

Just like SMT, Honolulu is a free web-based management user interface (see

Figure 1
) for all your Windows Server 2012, 2012 R2 and 2016 servers. Unlike SMT, this is a single MSI that you

Download and install
. It doesn’t require IIS (it has its own built-in web server) or SQL Server. You can run it on a Windows 10 client and then add servers that you need to manage.

Alternatively, you can install it on a server (where it will run as a service and require a TLS certificate) which will act as a gateway to the servers you need to manage, opening access to multiple administrators (Figure 2). This preview has been tested in Edge and Chrome. If you need to access on-premises servers from the Internet, you can open connectivity through a firewall to the Gateway server hosting Honolulu, provided you are comfortable with the security implications.

The servers you manage do not need an agent, although if they are low level, you must install the Windows 5.1 management framework. This first glimpse, published Friday September 22, contains basic individual server management such as certificates, device manager, event log, file management, firewall, local users and groups, network, processes, remote registry, roles and features, services, storage and storage replica (!) and Windows Update. There are also nodes for Hyper-V, virtual machines, and virtual switches. The most obvious missing from the list today are AD, DFS, DHCP and DNS management tools, remote access, and the task scheduler.

You can add individual servers in Honolulu manually or through a text file if you have more than one. If you have clusters, you can point to them, which will add both the cluster and the individual nodes.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 2. Configure Honolulu in Gateway Mode.

One cool feature that Honolulu brings is deep linking, for example allowing you to link directly from a documentation page to a specific management area for a specific server. Another feature of the platform is contextual reuse; if you search for certificates on a server and then go to events, you will only see events related to certificates because Honolulu understands the context you are looking for.

It’s not in the current preview, but the ability to open a PowerShell session to a server was shown in both sessions from Honolulu to Ignite (here and here).

If you use the free Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS) for your servers, Honolulu integrates with it so that it can authenticate using the local administrator account on the servers it manages.

Honolulu for Hyper-V

The main reason we are interested in Honolulu in the Hyper-V world is that hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a “hero” scenario that they focus on. In the Windows world, HCI is a Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V host with internal storage pooled through Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). Today, you will need to switch between Hyper-V Manager, Failover Cluster Manager, PowerShell, and Server Manager to maintain an S2D cluster. Having a single management console for all these functions is a very attractive goal. Today you need a HCI cluster running Windows Server Insider Preview, but I’m assuming the versions running on Windows Server 2016 currently released will be supported in future iterations of Honolulu.

If you are looking at an HCI cluster in Honolulu, the dashboard gives you an overview of latency and throughput, as well as CPU, memory, and storage usage in the cluster. This information can be displayed in an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annual global view.

Long-running tasks (such as creating, resizing, or deleting a volume) are non-blocking, which means you can continue working on other tasks in Honolulu and the task status is s ‘displays in the notification tab, just like in the Azure portal. For storage, you can explore individual drives and see information such as firmware version.

Another hero storyline is Azure site recovery, which allows you (once the configuration is complete) to enable one-click virtual machine protection for automatic replication to Azure for disaster recovery.

The story of scalability for Honolulu is also interesting. There is a third-party SDK for ISVs to add into their own management extensions. Microsoft is planning a plethora of extensions, just like you would add extensions to Chrome or Edge. I can see server makers like Dell and HP bringing their current (web-based) frameworks into Honolulu.

Honolulu Wish List

Since this is a preliminary preview, I really hope Microsoft takes the feedback to heart and puts all the features we need into a Hyper-V management tool. Here is my initial wishlist.

  • Right click would be nice (Honolulu is left click only)
  • The ability to work at lower screen resolutions. Right now Honolulu needs high resolution screens to hold all the information
  • Management of virtual switches must be thorough and support VLAN, SR-IOV and SET switches
  • Hyper-V host settings are also missing, as are virtual machine / virtual TPM protection settings, upgrade a virtual machine configuration version, storage migration, Hyper-V replica and secure boot settings
  • Be able to search AD for servers to add in Honolulu
  • The ability to view PowerShell commands that Honolulu actually runs in the background to collect information or perform actions on managed servers

The ability to change virtual machine runtime settings is one of the great features of Hyper-V, but you can’t do that in Honolulu. But that’s just the start, and hopefully Microsoft will make Honolulu the single management UI to rule them all.

Honolulu will continue to evolve with updates based on User comments, and the GA version is expected to be released sometime in 2018. Some tools (similar to how Azure works) may still be in preview for now, but the overall platform will be complete.

Honolulu has some interesting approaches to server management, and I look forward to the next drafts.

About the Author

Paul Schnackenburg has worked in IT for almost 30 years and has been teaching for over 20 years. He runs Expert IT Solutions, an IT consulting company in Australia. Paul focuses on cloud technologies such as Azure and Microsoft 365 and how to secure IT, whether in the cloud or on-premises. He speaks frequently at conferences and writes for several sites, including virtualizationreview.com. Find it at @paulschnack on Twitter or on his blog at TellITasITis.com.au.

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