Microsoft Releases System Insights Preview for Windows Server 2019

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a preview of System Insights for Windows Server 2019, which promises to put predictive analytical tools into the hands of IT pros.

It's possible to try System Insights with the latest preview of Windows Server 2019 (build 17692), which Microsoft also announced was available Tuesday for Windows Insider Program testers. The "long-term servicing channel" and the "semiannual channel" releases of Windows Server 2019 preview build 17692 were both released Tuesday, but the semiannual channel release is just available in English. Microsoft is recommending a clean install of Windows Server 2019 preview build 17692 because some things won't work with an in-place upgrade, such as administrator credentials.

This Windows Server preview release is also notable for delivering previews of Microsoft Hyper-V 2019, Windows Admin Center preview 1806 and a new Server Core app compatibility "feature on demand."

System Insights
System Insights would appear to be the star capability being showcased in this Windows Server 2019 preview as it enables Microsoft's machine learning capabilities to be used on a local server to help predict system events. System Insights can "help you reduce the operational expenses associated with reactively managing your Windows Server instances," explained Garrett Watumull, program manager for Windows Server, in the announcement.

Currently, System Insights has four built-in system capacity capabilities that are enabled by default. They include:

  • CPU capacity forecasting
  • Networking capacity forecasting
  • Total storage consumption forecasting
  • Volume consumption forecasting

However, Microsoft plans to add new capabilities in future releases, particularly with regard to clustered storage and "the ability to dynamically install new predictive capabilities that require custom system data."

The four default capabilities run on local servers without tapping Microsoft's cloud-based services. Organizations can schedule when they run and select which ones to run. There's a possible performance hit, though, from running all four of the default capabilities, as Microsoft advised in this "Managing System Insights" document:

Though the performance impact of invoking the default capabilities is relatively modest compared to other machine learning models, it's recommended to schedule predictions during machine downtime, as running a capability can be an expensive operation.

System Insights lets IT pros browse the predictive information, and they can get dashboard views to see capacity trends over time. The tool provides various status indicators, such as "OK," "Warning," "Critical," "Error" (for unknown problems) or "None" (no prediction made). They can schedule when to run the predictive capabilities, as well as automate them.

The predictive tools work on a single instance of Windows Server 2019, but IT pros can also use PowerShell to gain insights across multiple servers.

"Use PowerShell on remote instances to aggregate prediction outcomes reported by a fleet of related Windows Server instances -- e.g. cluster, application tier, rack, and data center -- to understand how the fleet overall is trending along compute, storage, or network capacity dimensions," Watumull explained.

While System Insights "runs completely locally on Windows Server," according to Microsoft's "System Insights Overview" document, it's nonetheless optionally possible to use it together with the Azure Operations Management Suite (OMS) and the Windows ML platform, according to a Microsoft "FAQ" document.

OMS can use System Insights events data to surface "predictions across a fleet of Windows Servers," the FAQ explained. System Insights can use Windows ML (used to build predictive models) "to benefit from hardware acceleration and the ability to import models in the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) format," the FAQ added.

Microsoft is also promising that System Insights can run on a failover cluster node. It can provide predictions about "local storage, volume, CPU and network usage for each node in a cluster."

Windows Admin Center Preview
Windows Admin Center is a browser-based management portal. It's Microsoft's next-generation tooling compared with old stalwarts such as Server Manager and Microsoft Management Console. Microsoft released Windows Admin Center at the "general availability" stage back in April.

Now there are two Windows Admin Center products. One of them is the general availability product used for production workloads. The other is the preview product, which gets updated on an approximately monthly basis, Microsoft explained in an announcement. The preview tool isn't recommended for use in production environments.

Windows Admin Center preview 1806, released Tuesday for Windows Insider testers, is the first preview product version. It gets new features for testing, which are marked "preview" within the user interface.

One of the new features in Windows Admin Center preview 1806 is the ability to view and copy the PowerShell scripts that the underlying shell is using, which was a top request. Microsoft also added "a limited set of tools" for managing Windows Server 2008 R2 connections. Microsoft now notifies IT pros when the Windows Admin Center has been updated via a dialog box. The preview includes a "Scheduled Tasks" tool, although it's limited to one trigger per task. The preview also supports managing software-defined networks with a Virtual Network tool. It's also possible to monitor the state of software-defined networks in hyperconverged clusters using the preview.

Microsoft also added some Port 80 redirect flexibility into the preview and updated some of the Windows Admin Center's existing functionality. Notably, the Hyperconverged Cluster Connection "now supports Software Defined Networking (SDN)," Microsoft's announcement noted. "You can use Hyper-converged Cluster Manager to manage your SDN resources and monitor SDN infrastructures," it added, although it currently does not work in "SDN environments with Kerberos authentication for Northbound communication."

Server Core App Compatibility
Windows Server 2019 preview build 17692 includes a Server Core App Compatibility feature on demand. It improves application compatibility, but it only works with the Server Core installation option of Windows Server. Server Core App Compatibility apparently was extracted from the Desktop installation option of Windows Server. Here's how Microsoft's announcement explained it:

This new Feature on Demand (FoD) significantly improves the app compatibility of Windows Server Core by including a set of binaries and packages from Windows Server with Desktop, without adding any of the Windows Server Desktop GUI or Windows 10 GUI experiences.

To use this feature-on-demand capability, IT pros have to get it via "a separate ISO." Microsoft wants IT pros to test it with "any server app (MS or otherwise) that you would like to use on Server Core but currently cannot."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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