How can you run a hybrid cloud with familiar tools?
The Windows Admin Center is a powerful tool for local and remote server management that has quickly become the preferred way to work with Windows Server infrastructures. It is one of the most powerful tools in the Windows DevOps arsenal and an important part of Microsoft’s management strategy for hybrid cloud deployments.
Working with hybrid clouds can feel disconnected. On the one hand, you use trusted Windows server management tooling to keep control of your data center, but on the other hand, you work with Kubernetes and other cloud-native platforms and use cloud tooling to manage applications and services. There is a tension between three different layers of management that have to work together in a way that services like Azure and AWS manage to hide.
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Instead of managing your servers like a data center, manage them like a cloud — or rather, like how a cloud manages them. That means that physical infrastructure and virtual infrastructure should be treated as separate entities. The physical infrastructure is there to support the virtual infrastructures and the platforms and applications that run on them. Yet there is still a need for visibility across infrastructure operations, platform operations, and application operations, as each must understand the resources available along with what is needed.
Windows Admin Center: Your all-in-one server management tool
WAC is the infrastructure operation layer in a hybrid cloud from Microsoft. It manages the individual servers that make up a Windows Stack HCI cluster together with the cluster itself, bridging the gap to the Azure Arc platform and application management tools.
WAC is a powerful tool for working with individual servers or groups of servers in a data center. But it is also a tool to work with clusters of servers built on Windows Servers clustering and storage pooling technologies, including bring-your-own-hardware edge and hybrid cloud systems such as Azure Stack HCI.
Azure Stack HCI combines a Windows Server cluster with the Azure Arc cloud-based application and platform management tooling. While you can manage some hardware functions from a server registered with Azure, WAC remains the primary tool for managing your physical infrastructure and your clusters, with Azure Arc handling virtual infrastructures and local instances of Azure services.
If you’re not running Azure Stack HCI in your datacenter, Microsoft provides scripts and instructions to create and run a sandbox instance in Azure, configured for use with Azure Arc and with a turnkey management server that uses WAC. It takes about two hours to set up and deploy the sandbox, hosting evaluation instances of Windows Server, but once installed, you have an environment ready to work with Azure Stack HCI and WAC with a guide to connecting the two.
Manage Azure Stack HCI from WAC
To manage an Azure Stack HCI instance from WAC, first add it to Cluster Manager from the drop-down list in the WAC menu bar. Change the appearance of the default All Connections and add a new cluster. You need the instance name and fully qualified domain name of the network controller that manages the software-defined network to connect the cluster to WAC. Once WAC has found the cluster, you will be prompted to add it to a Azure Active Directory example.
This allows you to manage it from both Azure and WAC, allowing you to use both Azure Arc resources and standard Windows Server tools. This hybrid management approach is important because it is how you separate responsibilities between infrastructure and application operations and between the platform operations teams responsible for services like Kubernetes. Infrastructure teams will manage the Azure Stack HCI cluster and ensure that the Windows Server hosts and storage are working to support the virtual infrastructures deployed and managed through Azure Arc.
WAC gives you several ways to view and manage a cluster: you can use the cluster tools to manage the cluster as a whole or use the All Connections view to work with individual servers.
Let’s say you want to create a virtual machine on a single server in a cluster. Under All connections, select the server you want to manage. Click it to open the WAC tooling for the server. Here you can use the well-known WAC functions to manage your server, add VMs and monitor host servers.
A useful feature for platform ops teams is the ability to use WAC to set up and manage an Azure Kubernetes service instance on your cluster. Your cluster must be registered with Azure so that you can manage an active AKS from the Azure portal.
Using Cluster Manager
The key to working with Azure Stack HCI in WAC is the Cluster Manager. Here you can configure virtual hosts for a Kubernetes management infrastructure, ready to use the Azure portal to install and manage applications and containers. By using WAC to install the underlying platform, you have the tools to ensure that your Azure Stack HCI has the right resources and that the AKS VMS are provisioned on servers with the right capacity for your code. You’re not limited to managing a single cluster: WAC includes tools to manage and monitor multiple Azure Stack HCI instances simultaneously.
Cluster Manager is designed to add additional roles to your Azure Stack HCI environment to simplify low-level management. An important feature that is a critical installation is cluster-aware updates. This automates updates across a cluster of servers while keeping applications running. It puts nodes into maintenance mode, moves roles and VMs from the server being updated, performs the updates, reboots, brings the roles back, and then updates the next node. You don’t have to keep track of what is being updated and how it affects users as it is all handled for you by the update process.
Other tools in Cluster Manager install and run diagnostics and provide performance monitoring. This way you can ensure that your Azure Stack HCI infrastructure can support the current application load without having to monitor the running applications. You can use this information to add additional hardware or memory to your systems without disrupting the application team, reconfigure systems, and let Azure Arc handle application deployment and management.
The future of server management?
The combination of Azure Arc and WAC is a powerful one. It allows you to separate infrastructure, platform and application management in much the same way as hyperscale cloud providers like Azure, building on their experience in your own data center. The tools are easy to use with fresh, clear user interfaces and because they are web-based, they can be run from anywhere in any browser. If you’re not using WAC, it’s time to get started.