Project Honolulu

With the recent release of Server 1709 (and the fact that it’s Server Core only), Microsoft have also recently released a preview of a new server management product. This product is currently code-named ‘Project Honolulu’, and is a light-weight web-based management console for Windows Server. Details of the original preview release can be found here.

In the past, when you wanted to manage remote servers (and especially Server Core instances), you either had to:

  • RDP in to configure it
  • Enable WinRM and use remote powershell
  • Enable WinRM and use a remote Server Manager instance from Server 2012 R2 or Server 2016

Depending on what you were trying to achieve, you also may have had to use remote consoles like Computer Management, Event Viewer, Storage Management, Certificate Management, Firewall Management – none of which are built in to Server Manager, but can be launched from there.

Based on initial impressions of Project Honolulu, it looks like Microsoft is trying to improve that experience, and it looks like they’re actually moving in the right direction.

As you can see from the above image, they’ve actually rolled a bunch of the above tools into a single interface – and the really surprising part, is that it’s actually¬†fast. Not like Server Manager where sometimes it can take quite a while to refresh or load.

Obviously it’s not a complete product yet, and there’s a bunch of stuff in Server Manager that it would be nice to see in Honolulu – mostly around dashboards, additional tool sets (Active Directory tools, for example), and additional functionality in the existing tools.

Some of the things I found quite good with Honolulu:

  • The speed of loading remote information (event logs, services, etc)
  • The ability to remotely import a certificate PFX file without having to resort to painful powershell commands and scripts!
  • Set basic IP config on a remote server
  • Remote process monitor (graphical – not tasklist.exe!)
  • Remote storage management without setting up additional firewall rules
  • Virtual Machine dashboards/management. I haven’t had too much of a play with this so I’d say there’s stuff missing, but what’s there is actually quite good.
  • Remote Windows Update management (for those of you not using SCCM/WSUS to automate update installation)

Things it can’t do yet, but I’m hoping they add in:

  • Dashboards for overall status of servers
  • Search function for Registry viewing/editing
  • More settings for Services (eg: Logon details)
  • Editing of certificate private key permissions
  • Additional remote tools – such as Active Directory Users and Computers, DHCP, DNS, Remote Access Management, IIS, etc

If you’re interested in trying out Project Honolulu, it can be downloaded here. Installation instructions can be found here. To be honest, it’s a super simple setup – whether that changes in the future is yet to be seen!.

Note: remote management via Honolulu does require Windows Management Framework 5.0, so you’ll need to install that on non-2016 servers.

Server 2016 LTSC vs Server 1709 Semi-Annual

In September 2016, Microsoft released Server 2016. A couple months ago, they then released Server 1709. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Server 1709 is an upgrade to 2016 – because it’s actually not.

Much like Windows 10, Microsoft have gone down the path of having multiple ‘Channels’ with the Server products. Essentially:

  • Server 2016 is the server equivalent of Windows 10 LTSB (Long Term Servicing Branch)
  • Server 1709 is the server equivalent of Windows 10 CBB (Current Branch for Business)

Instead of using LTSB and CBB, the server OS’s are ‘Channels’ – so LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel) and SAC (Semi-Annual Channel).

So what are the main differences?

Server 2016

  • Available in Standard, Datacenter and Essential editions
  • Available as Server Core, or Server with a GUI
  • 5 year mainstream support, 5 year extended support
  • New release expected every 2-3 years

Server 1709

  • Available in Standard or Datacenter (no Essential edition)
  • Only available as Server Core
  • 18 months mainstream support, no extended (much like Windows 10 CB and CBB)
  • Releases semi-annual

So why would you go with 1709 over Server 2016? In general, it depends on your use-case scenario. The largest improvements for 1709 are around Containers and Nano Containers (with Nano Server being deprecated), along with some Hyper-V. Obviously you’re going to be restricted to Server Core, but that’s not as big of a deal these days when you’re talking about built-in roles (due to significant improvements in remote management for Server 2016). In general, you’re only going to be considering 1709 (or any SAC release) in the following scenarios:

  • You’re looking to build a new Server Core server and you don’t mind upgrading it every 12-18 months
  • There’s specific features available in 1709 that aren’t available in 2016

For a full list of updated features in 1709, here’s the full list. There’s also a new management interface on the way, currently named ‘Project Honolulu’ – this may help with some of the Server Core management concerns.

A couple of gotchas:

  • If you’re using Automatic Virtual Machine Activation (AVMA) on Datacenter Hyper-V hosts, it doesn’t seem to work with Server 1709 – at this stage I’m unable to find official information about this, so it seems that you’ll need to use Manual Activation Keys (MAK) in the mean-time (or…ongoing).
  • You can’t upgrade from Server 2016 to Server 1709 (even if it’s 2016 Core) – much like you can’t upgrade from Windows 10 LTSB to CBB.