MicrosoftWindows Server 2012 embodies includes a lot of great changes that make it the best version of the Windows Server operating system to date. None of these changes will leap out at you faster than the new Windows Server 2012 Server Manager. In fact, with the new Windows 8–style interface, Server Manager is displayed immediately after your system starts up and is your primary management tool. The Server 2012 Server Manager offers a completely new feature set that goes way beyond the previous version of Server Manager. Here are some of the most outstanding new features.

1. All new UI—Without a doubt, the first thing you'll notice about the Server 2012 Server Manager is the new UI. On a Server 2012 installation using the full graphical shell option as opposed to the Server Core mode, Server Manager appears immediately after the system boots so that it's the first thing you see. The old Server Manager, with its roles and features navigation pane, has been replaced with a Windows 8–style interface.

2. Dashboard—Server 2012 Server Manager opens initially into the Dashboard display. The Dashboard is the primary entry point for a Windows Server 2012 system in the non–Server Core mode. The Welcome pane presents three Metro-style boxes: Quick Start, What's New, and Learn More. The Quick Start box shows a list of steps you need to take to manage your environment, such as C onfigure this local server, Add roles and features, and so on. Additional options at the top of the Dashboard window are Manage, Tools View, and Help.

3. Local server management—As you would expect, Server 2012 lets you perform management of the local server that it's running on. Clicking the Configure this local server link lets you modify most of the important local computer settings, including the computer name, domain name, firewall status, remote desktop, and remote management, as well as NIC teaming. By clicking the Add roles and features link, you can add server roles to the local server such as Hyper-V or Active Directory Domain Servers, or features such as BitLocker Drive Encryption and Failover Clustering.

4. Multi-server management—Unlike the Server Manager from previous versions of Windows Server, the Server 2012 Server Manager lets you easily manage multiple remote Windows Server systems. Clicking the Add other servers to manage link lets you add other computers on the network that can be located through Active Directory (AD), DNS, or an IP address. After they're added, the remote servers show up in the All Servers pane.

5. Server groups—Building on the ability to perform remote server management, the Sever 2012 Server Manager also lets you perform group management. Any action you perform on the group is performed on all the servers in the group. You can create a group to manage multiple servers by clicking the Create a server group link on the Dashboard, then providing a group name and selecting the servers to be included in the group.

6. Event logs—Server Manager lets you access event logs for both the local server and remote servers. If you're in the Local or All Servers view, you can see events for both the local server as well as for remote servers by clicking on either Local Server or All Servers in the navigation pane and scrolling down to the Events section. Events can be filtered, and clicking on any event brings up its details.

7. Services—The new Server Manager also lets you manage services on the local server and the remote servers that are being managed. If you're in the Local or All Servers view, scrolling down past the Event section displays the Server Manager's Service section. You can filter the results. Right-clicking on a service brings up a context menu that you can use to start, stop, restart, pause, and resume the service.

8. Best Practices Analyzer—Another completely new feature in Server Manager is the ability to run the Best Practices Analyzer (BPA). By clicking on the Tasks drop-down menu, you can start a BPA scan on the local server or a remote server.

9. Performance—Again, if you've selected the local server or a remote server, then scrolling down past the BPA section displays the Performance section. The Tasks menu lets you select the performance counters you want to track. Right-clicking the server name lets you start and stop the collection of performance statistics.

10. Administrative tools—With the once-handy Start menu gone, Server 2012 needed a way to help you access some of the common administrative functions; the Tools option at the top of the Server Manager display provides this access. The Tools menu displays a list of management options that looks a lot like what you used to see on the old Administrative Menu. Some of these management options include iSCSI Initiator, ODBC Data Sources, Resource Monitor, Services, and Task Scheduler.

If you don't have a Windows Server 2012 system installed, you can still get some hands-on experience with the new Server Manager from Microsoft's Windows Server 2012 Virtual Labs, which include the Managing Windows Server 2012 with Server Manager and Windows PowerShell lab.