Category Archives: Windows Admin Center

Azure Stack HCI: introduction to the solution

The use of hyper-converged infrastructure in recent years has increased sharply and estimates from authoritative sources report that in the coming 12-18 months investing in solutions of this kind will be among the most significant for the modernization of datacenters, for about the 54% of the organizations. With the arrival of Windows Server 2019, Microsoft introduced the solution Azure Stack HCI, that can run virtual machines and easy connection to Azure with a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). This article lists the main features of the solution and its potential.

The trend that is emerging is the transition from a "three tier" traditional infrastructure, composed of network switches, appliance, physical systems with onboard hypervisors, storage fabric and SAN, toward hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), where different hardware components are removed, substitutes by the "magic" of the software, able to combine the layer of compute, storage and network in one solution.

Figure 1 – "Three Tier" Infrastructure vs Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI)

All this is made possible by the new operating system Windows Server 2019, that lets you use Hyper-V, a solid and reliable hypervisor, along with Software Defined Storage and Software-Defined Networking solutions. To this is added Windows Admin Center, that allows you to fully manage and with a graphical interface the hyper-converged environment. The whole is implemented on hardware specially validated by various vendors.

Figure 2 – Azure Stack HCI Solution overview

The positioning of the solution Azure Stack HCI is as follows, side-by-side with Azure and Azure Stack, but with specific and distinct purposes.

Figure 3 – Azure Family

Azure Stack HCI is an evolution of Windows Server Software-Defined solution (WSSD) available in the past with Windows Server 2016. Azure Stack HCI was inducted into the Azure family as it shares the same software-defined technologies used from Azure Stack.

Azure Stack HCI allows the execution of virtualized applications in the on-premises environment, on hardware tested and validated specifically. In order to get certified hardware is subjected to rigorous validation testing, that guarantee the reliability and stability of the solution. To consult the different solutions for Azure Stack HCI of the various hardware vendors you can access this page.

Figure 4 – Azure Stack HCI solutions hardware partners

Proper hardware sizing is critical to achieving the desired results in terms of performance and stability, Therefore, you should always use hardware solutions validated in a specific way and do not use hardware components assembled at will. This condition is also required to obtain a solution of Azure Stack HCI fully supported.

Through the use and support of the latest innovations in hardware devices, Azure Stack HCI enables you to achieve very high performance, much to achieve an important record of IOPS (-> 13.798.674) for the hyper-converged platforms, doubling the maximum performance that had been reached with Windows Server 2016.

Figure 5 - Hardware Innovations supported by Azure Stack HCI

The hyper-converged solution with Windows Server 2016 saw a big problem due to the fact that the configuration and management of the environment had to be made predominantly from the command line.

Thanks to the introduction of Windows Admin Center you have the ability to manage and control hyper-converged environment totally via web interface. In addition, many vendors of hardware solutions provide the Windows Admin Center extensions to enhance the management capabilities.

The following video shows the management of a hyper-converged environment from Windows Admin Center:

In software-defined storage, the Storage Space Direct technology allows you to take advantage of many features, making it a complete solution, reliable and secure.

Figure 6 – Features in software-defined storage scope

In Windows Server 2019 important improvements have been made in the field of data deduplication and compression that allow you to have a higher quantity of usable storage space.

Figure 7 – Possible disk space savings using deduplication and compression

This configuration can be achieved very easily directly from Windows Admin Center.

Figure 8 – Enabling deduplication and compression from Windows Admin Center

Azure Stack HCI can be used for smaller environments with two nodes and can scale up to a maximum of 16 nodes.

Figure 9 -Scalability of the solution

In the presence of clusters composed by exactly two nodes Windows Server 2019 you can use the Nested resiliency, a new feature in Storage Spaces Direct, introduced in Windows Server 2019, that allows you to support more faults at the same time without losing access to storage.

Figure 10 - Hardware Fault supported

Using this feature you will have a lower capacity than a classic two-way mirror, but you get better reliability, essential for hyper-converged infrastructure, exceeding the limit from previous versions of Windows Server in the presence of cluster environments with only two nodes . The nested resiliency brings together two new options in the resiliency, implemented in software and without the need for specific hardware:

  • Nested two-way mirror: on each server is used locally a two-way mirror, and an additional resiliency is ensured by a two-way mirror between the two servers. Actually it's a four-way mirror, where there are two copies of the data for each server.
  • Nested mirror-accelerated parity: mixes two-way mirror, described above, with the nested parity.

Figure 11 – Nested two-way mirror + Nested mirror-accelerated parity

Azure Stack HCI connects on-premises resources to public cloud Azure to extend the feature set, a totally different approach from Azure Stack, that allows you to adopt the Azure services on-premises, getting a totally consistent experience to the public cloud, but with resources that are located in your datacenter.

Figure 12 – Hybrid approach: Azure Stack vs Azure Stack HCI

The ability to connect Azure Stack HCI with Azure services to obtain a hybrid hyper-converged solution is an important added value that differs strongly from other competitors. Also in this case the integration can be done directly from Windows Admin Center to enjoy the following services Azure:

  • Azure Site Recovery to implement disaster recovery scenarios.
  • Azure Monitor to monitor, in a centralized way, what happens at the application level, on the network and in its hyper-converged infrastructure, with advanced analysis using artificial intelligence.
  • Cloud Witness to use Azure storage account as cluster quorum.
  • Azure Backup for offsite protection of your infrastructure.
  • Azure Update Management to make an assessment of the missing updates and proceed with its distribution, for both Windows and Linux systems, regardless of their location, Azure or on-premises.
  • Azure Network Adapter to easily connect on-premises resources with the VMs in Azure via a point-to-site VPN.
  • Azure Security Center for monitoring and detecting security threats in virtual machines.

Figure 13 – Windows Azure hybrid Integration services from Admin Center

Conclusions

Microsoft has made significant investments to develop, improve and make its own proposition for hyper-converged scenarios more reliable and efficient. Azure Stack HCI is now a mature solution, that exceeds the limits of previous Windows Server Software-Defined solution (WSSD) and incorporates everything you need to create a hyper-converged environment into a single product and a single license: Windows Server 2019. The ability to connect remotely Azure Stack HCI to various Azure services also make it an even more complete and functional solution.

Windows Server 2019: available versions and installation choices

Windows Server 2019, the latest version of the server operating system from Microsoft, is available and introduces important new features that allow you to more easily extend the datacenters to Azure to obtain hybrid environments, modernizing your applications and infrastructure, and maintaining a high level of security and efficiency. This article provides detailed versions available in Windows Server 2019 and possible installation variants, to address better the choices related to the implementation of the new operating system.

For the Windows Server operating system you have the option of choosing two different release: Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) or Semi-Annual Channel. Windows Server 2019 belongs to the release channel Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC).

The release model defined Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) has the following features:

  • A new major version is released approximately every two or three years.
  • The products belonging to the LTSC have 5 years of mainstream support and more 5 years of extended support.
  • Products belonging to the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) may be adopted by customers regardless of the licensing model that adhered (Software Assurance is not needed).

The release channel defined Semi-Annual Channel is characterized by these elements:

  • Are released approximately two operating system release every year. This releases include new features, improvements and resolution of issues.
  • The versions are identified by a four-digit number, two for the year and two for the month.
  • The Semi-Annual Channel releases have a support of 18 months from the date of publication.
  • Can join the Windows Server released in Semi-Annual Channel Microsoft customers with a Software Assurance contract or customers using cloud environments.

The use of Windows Server in Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) is appropriate in case you want to have a longer service period and increased stability of the services functionality. It is therefore suitable for infrastructure roles, hyper-converged infrastructure and traditional applications infrastructure. The Semi-Annual Channel, considering the constant releases and particularly not long period, is suitable for customers who aim to innovate continuously and fast, to keep up with the rapid evolution of the cloud. Recommended scenarios for using the operating system on Semi-Annual Channel are, for example, Containers applications, Microservices and applications that can benefit from rapid innovation.

Versions of Windows Server 2019

Windows Server 2019 is available in two main versions: Standard or Datacenter. The Datacenter version is ideal in the presence of data centers with a high density of virtualization and cloud computing environments, while the Standard version is typically used for physical servers, or in areas with a limited number of virtualized systems. For these versions the licensing model is based on the cores and is no longer based on the processors, choice taken by Microsoft to provide greater linearity in the management of licensing, in the presence of multi-cloud environments. There is also the version Essentials, designed for small businesses with up to 25 users and 50 devices. For this edition, the licensing is for server. For more details concerning the licensing and cost of Windows Server 2019 you can download this Microsoft's document.

When choosing the version, Standard or Datacenter, you should consider the following differences in functionality:

Functionality

Standard edition Datacenter edition
Core Windows Server functionality OK OK
Hybrid integration OK OK
Hyper-Converged Infrastructure X OK
OSes */Hyper-V containers

Includes 2 OSes or VMs

Unlimited

Windows Server containers

Unlimited

Unlimited

Host Guardian Service OK OK
Storage Replica

Limited: single Volume at most 2 TB

OK
Shielded virtual machines (VMs) X OK
Software-defined networking and Network Controller X OK
Software-defined storage X OK

ok = Feature available      X = Feature not available

To compare in detail the features of Windows Server 2019 you can consult this document.

Installation options in Windows Server 2019

Windows Server 2019 can be installed in the following ways:

  • Windows Server Core: This is the default installation of Windows Server 2019, recommended for servers in the production environment. In this mode there is no Desktop Experience, but you can administer the system remotely using Windows Admin Center.
  • Windows Server with the Desktop Experience: in some specific cases, for application compatibility issue, however, the presence of the Desktop Experience is required. With this installation mode, core mode, uses more disk space, requires higher deployment time and it has a higher attack surface.

Figure 1 – Installation options in Windows Server 2019

In Windows Server 2019 Core can be installed an option package called Server Core App Compatibility Feature on Demand (FOD) to meet the application compatibility problems. This solution can be useful even in scenarios where tools to perform advanced operations troubleshooting and debugging are required. The procedure for installing the Server Core App Compatibility FOD is documented in this article and installing it are included the following components in the Core Operating System:

  • Microsoft Management Console (mmc.exe)
  • Event Viewer (Eventvwr.msc)
  • Performance Monitor (PerfMon.exe)
  • Resource Monitor (Resmon.exe)
  • Device Manager (Devmgmt.msc)
  • File Explorer (Explorer.exe)
  • Windows PowerShell (Powershell_ISE.exe)
  • Disk Management (Diskmgmt.msc)
  • Failover Cluster Manager (CluAdmin.msc)

The Server Core App Compatibility FOD also prepares the system to accommodate the installation of Internet Explorer 11.

If Windows Server Core mode is not a valid choice for application compatibility issues, is recommended that you consider installing the Server Core App Compatibility FOD before opting for Windows servers with the Desktop Experience.

Conclusions

With Windows Server 2019 Microsoft has introduced important changes and has dramatically improved the experience of new server operating system, with the ability to manage it remotely, easily and intuitively, with Windows Admin Center and focusing on issues related to application compatibility. As reported in this article, there are substantial differences between the various versions and methods of deployment, that should be taken into consideration at every deployment of Windows Server 2019.

Azure Site Recovery: the protection of Hyper-V virtual machines using Windows Admin Center

Among the various features that can be managed through Windows Admin Center, there is the possibility to simply drive the protection of virtual machines, present in a Hyper-V environment, with Azure Site Recovery (ASR). This article lists the necessary steps to follow and the possibilities offered by the Admin Center in this area.

Windows Admin Center, formerly known as Project Honolulu, allows through a web console, to manage the infrastructure in a centralized way. Thanks to this tool Microsoft has initiated a process of centralization in a single portal for all administrative console, allowing you to manage and configure your infrastructure with a user experience: modern, simple, integrated and secure.

Windows Admin Center requires no dependency with the cloud in order to function and can be deployed locally to gain control of different aspects of your local server infrastructure. In addition to the component Web Server, that allows access via browser to the tool, the Windows Admin Center consists of a component gateway, through which you can manage your server via Remote PowerShell and WMI over WinRM.

Figure 1 - Basic diagram of the architecture of Windows Admin Center

 

Connecting your Windows Admin Center gateway to Azure

Windows Admin Center also offers the opportunity to integrate with different Azure services, including Azure Site Recovery. In order to allow the Windows Admin Center gateway to communicate with Azure it is necessary to proceed with its registration process, by following the steps later documented. The wizard, available in the preview version of Windows Admin Center , making the creation of an Azure AD app in its own directory, which allows the Windows Admin Center communication with Azure.

Figure 2 - Start of the registration process from the Admin Center settings

Figure 3 - Generation of the code needed to log in

Figure 4 - Enter the code in the Device Login page

Figure 5 - Start the Azure authentication process

Figure 6 – Sign-in confirmation

Figure 7 – Selection of the Tenant where register the Azure AD app

Figure 8 - Guidance for providing permissions to the Azure AD app

Figure 9 – Assignment of permissions, from the Azure Portal, to the registered app

Figure 10 - Azure integration configuration completed

 

ASR environment configuration for protecting Hyper-V VMs

After configuring the connection of Windows Admin Center with Azure you can, selecting the Hyper-V system that holds the virtual machines to be replicated to Azure, proceed with the entire configuration of the Recovery Services vault, directly from the web console of Windows Admin Center. The steps below illustrate the simplicity of the activation.

Figure 11 – Start the configuration necessary for protecting VMs

From the Admin Center you are asked to provide basic information for the ASR environment configuration and it provides the ability to create a new Recovery Service vault or select an existing one.

Figure 12 – Configuration of the Hyper-V host in Azure Site Recovery

In the form proposed by the Windows Admin Center are offered only some values, therefore I advise you to proceed before to the creation of the Recovery Service vault and, on the previous screen, select an existing one, created with all configuration parameters at will and to suit your needs.

This step performs the following actions:

  • Install the ASR agent on the Hyper-V host or on all nodes in a cluster environment.
  • If you select to create a new vault it proceeds to the creation in the selected region and places it into a new Resource Group (assigning a default name).
  • It registers the Hyper-V system with ASR and configures a default replication policy.

Figure 13 - Site Recovery Jobs generated by the configuration

 

Virtual machine protection configuration

After the configuration of the previously reported activity is possible to activate the protection of virtual machines.

Figure 14 - Activation of the VM protection process

Figure 15 - Selection of the storage account and start of protection

At the end of the process of replication, you can validate the replication process by activating the test failover procedure from the Azure Portal.

 

Conclusions

Being able to interact with certain Azure services directly from Windows Admin Center can facilitate and speed up the administration of an hybrid datacenter. At the moment the possibility of integration with Azure Site Recovery are minimal and not suitable for complex scenarios. However, Windows Admin Center is constantly evolving and will be more and more enriched with new features to better interact with Azure services.

Storage Replica: What's new in Windows Server 2019 and the management with Windows Admin Center

Storage Replica, in Microsoft home, is a technology introduced in Windows Server 2016 that you use to replicate, synchronously or asynchronously, volumes between servers or clusters, for disaster recovery purposes. This technology also allows you to create stretch failover cluster with nodes spread over two different site, keeping in sync the storage. This article will present the news, regarding Storage Replica, that will be introduced in Windows Server 2019 and you will be shown how to enable Storage Replica by using the new management tool Windows Admin Center.

 

What's new in Storage Replica in Windows Server 2019

In Windows Server 2016 there is the possibility of using Storage Replica only if you use the Datacenter Edition as operating system version, while in Windows Server 2019 there will be the option to enable Storage Replica also adopting the Standard Edition, but right now, with the following limitations:

  • You can replicate a single volume instead of an unlimited number of volumes.
  • The maximum size of the replicated volume should not exceed 2 TB.
  • The volume in replica can have only one partnership, instead of an unlimited number of partners.

By adopting a new Log format used by Storage Replica (Log v 1.1), imported performance improvements are introduced regarding throughput and latency. You can benefit from these improvements if all systems involved in the replication process will be Windows Server 2019 and will be especially noticeable on all-flash arrays and on Storage Spaces Direct cluster (S2D).

To validate the effectiveness of the replication process, is introduces the ability to perform a Test Failover. Through this new feature it is possible to mount a writable snapshots of the replicated storage. To perform this operation, for testing purposes or backup, you must have a volume, not involved in replication, on the destination server. Testing Failover has no impact on the replication process, which will continue to ensure the protection of the data and the changes to the snapshot will remain circumscribed to the test volume. Upon completion of testing it is appropriate to conduct a discard of the snapshot.

Storage Replica in Windows Admin Center

Windows Admin Center, also known as Project Honolulu, enables via an HTML5-based web console, to manage the infrastructure in a centralized way.

Through Windows Admin Center, you can install on the servers the Storage Replica feature and the related PowerShell module.

Figure 1 - Add the Storage Replica feature from Windows Admin Center

Figure 2 - Confirm the installation of Storage Replica and its dependencies

Figure 3 - Notification that the installation was successful

After the installation, the server requires a restart.

At this point you can configure, through Windows Admin Center, a new partnership of replica. The same thing could be accomplished using the Windows Powershell cmdlet New-SRPartnership.

Figure 4 - Adding new Storage Replica partnership between two replication Groups

Figure 5 - Settings required for the configuration of the Partnership

Windows Admin Center reports, at the end of the configuration, the details of the partnership.

Figure 6 - Details about the replication partnership

In addition, you can manage the replication status (suspend \ resume), switch the direction of synchronization and modify the configurations (add \ remove the replica volumes and settings of the partnership).

Figure 7 - Switch the replication direction

Figure 8 - Changing the partnership settings

Conclusions

Windows Server 2019 will introduce significant changes in Storage Replica service that, In addition to evolve it in terms of performance and effectiveness, will make it even more accessible. The whole is enriched by the possibilities offered by Windows Admin Center to easily, quickly and completely manage Storage Replica. Microsoft is making significant investments in storage and the results are obvious and tangible. For those wishing to test the latest new features about Windows Server 2019 can participate in the program Windows Insider.