Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Disappearing Windows Server GUI, Revisited

Brien retreads the idea of System Center taking over the role of Windows Server's GUI and explains how it can be used as the single window to a cluster of VMs.

A while back I wrote an article in which I speculated that the Windows Server GUI would eventually go away and be replaced by a purely PowerShell environment. In that article, I cited several different reasons behind this speculation. I thought that it was especially interesting that Server Core was the default installation type in Windows Server 2012 and that even if you do choose to perform a GUI-based installation, you can later remove the GUI.

Last month I spent some time in Redmond, Wash.  at a reviewer's workshop for Windows Server 2012 R2. During the portion of the workshop that I attended (I had to fly home early because of a prior commitment) Microsoft never discussed the future role of the GUI. Even so, one of the other attendees made a really interesting observation.

I wish I could remember who said this because I would love to give the person the proper credit, but the idea behind the observation was that perhaps in the future the desktop GUI would be completely removed and System Center would become the new GUI interface.

The point wasn't really elaborated on beyond that, but after thinking about it for a bit, I think that it makes perfect sense. Let me explain.

I have worked in IT for over 20 years. That's long enough to have observed that even in the technology field, history does indeed repeat itself. With that said, I want to talk for a moment about the way that server management was done in the early '90s.

One of my first networking jobs involved managing a network for a large insurance company. The organization's network was based on a long extinct version of Novell NetWare. This particular NetWare version used a command line-based server console. This console was used primarily for configuring the operating system and for troubleshooting. For example, you could use the command line to load NLMs (NetWare Loadable Modules) or to bind the IPX / SPX protocol to a network adapter.

All of the day to day network management tasks were performed from a workstation. Novell provided utilities such as Syscon (the system console) and Pconsole (the printer console) that served as the primary management tools. These tools could not be used on the server console. They could only be run from a connected workstation.

Of course this approach isn't unique to Novell. VMware uses a similar technique. A vSphere Server runs a Linux kernel with a very lightweight interface, and almost all of the real management work is done from a workstation that's running the vSphere Client.

So what does any of this have to do with Microsoft? I recently saw a statistic indicating that almost ninety percent of new server workloads are virtualized. Of course the best way for an organization to get the maximum return on their hardware investment is to do what they can to maximize the virtual machine density. One way of doing so is to deploy VMs without a GUI, thereby reducing the footprint for each of the VMs.

While this might at first seem impractical (and in some cases it is), it is worth noting that large organizations can have thousands of VMs and it is rare for an administrator to access a VM's server console directly in such an environment. Instead, the administrator typically relies on enterprise grade management tools.

This is where the idea about System Center replacing the GUI comes into play. When properly configured, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 R2 is able to provision, configure and manage VMs in bulk. It is completely conceivable that an administrator who is well versed in System Center Virtual Machine Manager may never have to touch an individual VM or the Hyper-V Manager. Instead, the administrator could use System Center as a "single pane of glass" tool for provisioning and managing their entire virtualization infrastructure and all of their virtual machines.

Sure, the Virtual Machine Manager console is GUI-based, but there is no reason why the VMs (or the host servers) that are being managed should require a GUI. As such, the Virtual Machine Manager console could prove to be a happy medium for those who don't want to bog down VMs with a GUI, but who also do not want to use PowerShell for everything. Suitable

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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