Windows Sys Admins – Your world is about to change

Posted Posted by Martin Peacock in Infrastructure     Comments No comments

So towards the end of last week an official Microsoft blog entry caused a bit of a stir.  Its not strictly news but has re-interated Microsoft’s position on how Windows Server systems will be administered in the future, which will undoubtedly have more of an effect in healthcare then many other industries.

The big change is a decisive movement away from the GUI console as the primary means of local administration.  That means no point-and-click with right-click context menus, no visual clues, and no ‘wizards’ – at least in the form that most folk are accustomed to.

The changes (for Windows Server 8) aren’t an immediate turnaround.  WS8 will have an optional minimal-GUI for the time being.  But even the official line from Microsoft is:

In Windows Server 8, the recommended application model is to run on Server Core using PowerShell for local management tasks and then deliver a rich GUI administration tool capable of running remotely on a Windows client.

.. which of course is the model that MS themselves have been using in tools like AD admin for many years.  But as RedmondMag opines:

Anyone who thinks “minimal GUI” mode is anything more than a holding measure is crazy. To me, this clearly says Microsoft is trying to get us off the console for good.

In most cases, in my opinion, the inconvenience will be quickly forgotten:

  • The vast majority of app-level administration for any software that truly belongs in an ‘enterprise’ infrastructure follows the recommended model already, and at worst, needs only a modest change in practice.
  • I expect Microsoft to expand their own range of remote-GUI tools to extend deeper into the OS/Hardware stack so that the range of admin functions that can only be performed directly on the server using PowerShell will be quite limited.  System Recovery and AV cleanup may be challenges but not by any means insurmountable.

However, healthcare offers a different category of challenge.  Not uniquely, but probably to a greater extent than many other industries.  That is one of the desktop app hosted on a server.

It happens less nowadays than in the past but is still (in my experience) a practice that derives from the way Health IT has evolved over the last 15 years or so in an environment where individual departments/specialties have more autonomy than equivalents in other industries.  I’m not debating the rights and the wrongs – just the reality.

I have seen applications coming through the door which have (to cut a long story short) questionable ‘enterprise’ credentials.  yes, there are MSDE databases (theoretically easily migratable to SQLServer but – in theory….), and yes Access databases, and HL7 interface engines written in VB or Delphi that run only on a desktop.  The requirements of clinical departments are many and varied and sometimes it is a necessary evil to accept such software.  Sometimes, the best that can be made of the situation is that they are hosted in a server environment so that some of the benefits can accrue – like redundant power supplies, controlled environment, or OS that doesn’t need to be rebooted once a week.

For those applications, either a new strategy is required or they need to be replaced.  There isn’t – necessarily – a panic.  Extended support for Server 2003 continues to 2015 and for Server 2008 until 2018, so there is time to consider carefully.  And another consequence of the HIT evolutionary process is that everyone accepts we’ll be living with multiple versions of Windows Server – as well as the LINUX, VMS, AIX, HP-UX and even (gasp) OSX Server installations routinely in use.


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