Microsoft’s Project Honolulu: Here’s What IT Leaders Need to Know

Project Honolulu is a still-in-development technical preview built to provide another way for IT administrators with small environments to manage their Windows servers.

Enterprise IT pros are always looking for better tools and systems to manage their Windows server infrastructures. Microsoft is working to help with those future server administration needs with its recently-announced Project Honolulu tool set, which is locally-deployed, browser-based, lightweight and requires no Azure or cloud dependencies.

Microsoft calls Honolulu “the modern evolution of ‘in-box’ management tools, like Server Manager and Microsoft Management Console (MMC). It is complementary to System Center and Operations Management Suite, and is not intended to replace these products and services,” according to the company.

What the technical preview version of Honolulu provides for IT administrators is full control over all aspects of their server infrastructure, including management on private networks that are not connected to the internet.

The Honolulu tool set can be used to manage Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2, and Windows Server 2012 nodes through the Honolulu gateway, which can be installed on Windows Server 2016 or Windows 10. Using the gateway, IT administrators can manage servers via Remote PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) extensions over the Windows Remote Management protocol (WinRM). Honolulu and its gateway can be downloaded and installed from a single lightweight .msi package.

Users can access Honolulu from the public internet by publishing the web server to DNS and setting up the corporate firewall, giving them the ability to connect to and manage their servers from anywhere with Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.

Honolulu’s main goals are to provide simplified server management by consolidating multiple tools into a simpler interface, while allowing administrators to see a more holistic overview of their resources at a deep level, according to Microsoft. The Honolulu ecosystem is expected to expand its capabilities as development continues with the tool set, so if you don’t find what you need now, it could be added in the future.

The tool set also allows users to manage and connect all eligible Windows servers as well as failover clusters, hyper-converged clusters and virtual machines from the same console, according to Microsoft.

To make the preview tool set familiar to server administrators, Microsoft has included the core tools they already are using, including firewall rules, Windows Update, Certificate Manager, File Explorer and more. Users can connect to a machine and perform all their work in one place using Honolulu.

The preview version can be installed on the Windows 10, Windows Server version 1709 and the Windows Server 2016 operating systems, according to Microsoft. Honolulu does require PowerShell features that are not included in Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, so if want to manage them with Honolulu, you must install Windows Management Framework (WMF) version 5.0 or higher on those servers.

It can be deployed on a local Windows 10 client that is connected to the servers you want to manage, or it can be installed on a designated gateway server and accessed from a connected client browser. Honolulu can also be installed directly on a managed server to manage itself or a cluster in which it is a member. By using the Windows 10 option, users can easily and quickly perform testing with the tool set to see how it performs for their needs.

Microsoft said it is developing Honolulu to fill requirements which users have requested through the company’s UserVoice forum, including the need for on-premises customer-deployed tools for use with no Azure or cloud requirements. In 2016 the company launched Server management tools, an Azure-hosted service for remotely managing Windows Servers. Even after that release, customers continued to tell the company that they needed more capabilities.

In an FAQ about Honolulu, Microsoft also explains that it does not currently replicate a wide variety of Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT), including Active Directory (AD) Directory Administrative Center, AD Domains and Trusts, AD Module for Windows, Cluster Aware Updating, Component Services, DFS Management, DHCP, DNS, Failover Cluster Manager, Network Load Balancing Manager, Performance Monitor, Remote Access management and Windows Server Update Services.

Project Honolulu was unveiled in September 2017 as a new tool to provide improved Windows Server graphical management tools for enterprise systems administrators for small environments. It is built to provide support for hybrid and disconnected server environments, while incorporating a lightweight deployment process.

“Project ‘Honolulu’ is the next step in our journey to deliver on our vision for Windows Server graphical management experiences,” Samuel Li, principal program manager lead for the Windows Server unit, wrote in a September 14 blog post on the Windows Server Blog.

“Our vision starts with modernizing both the platform and the tools,” he wrote. “For us, modernizing the platform means giving users greater flexibility in how and where they deploy and access the tools. Modernizing the platform also enables partners, both internal and external, to leverage and easily build on top of a growing ecosystem of tools and capabilities.”

To grow the development and adoption of Honolulu, “it means supporting a reasonable set of existing Windows Server versions, not just the latest, and licensed as part of Windows Server with no extra cost. Modernizing the graphical management platform reduces the friction of creating modernized admin tools.”

Microsoft also posted a Dec. 1 update on the Windows Server Blog, describing the latest developments and features for the tool set, including remote desktop capabilities, a PowerShell tool, Windows 10 client management and data grid performance improvements.

As 2018 arrives, consider taking Honolulu or 5nine Manager Standard for a free spin to see how they might help your server administration team with their daily tasks and how they compare. We here at 5nine Software would love to hear your overall impressions.

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