Making DNS Administration Less Painful

Guest blogger Craig Naumann is sensing a lot of potential in Windows Server 2012's new IP address management options. Find and replace DNS for the win!

Wednesday continued after my last post until around 7:30pm. My alter-ego as a Windows Phone supporter enjoyed a bit of an insight into where things are at with the environment. I’m excited about the prospect of what’s coming, although most questions were answered with “I can’t discuss that” or similar remarks. I suppose that’s the joy of non-disclosure agreements or general secrecy of the “awesomeness” to come later this year -- whatever that ends up being. The part I really enjoyed is how well the Australian Windows Phone Developer community is going and the genuine interest in developing for Windows Phone. However, I'm here to focus on Windows Server 2012 and all the greatness that has been added.

Inside Windows PowerShell 3.0

Thursday started where Wednesday left off -- technical information overload. Skipping over the first session because it wasn’t Windows Server 2012, I then went to 'Advanced Automation Using Windows PowerShell 3.0'. This one was the most popular I’ve attended, being standing room only. The goal of the session was death by demo, which is a nice change from death by PowerPoint. The start gave the daunting information for anyone using PowerShell:

  • 12 modules in Windows Server 2008 R2 versus 86 modules in Windows Server 2012
  • 587 commands in Windows Server 2008 R2 versus 2375 commands in Windows Server 2012

My relative feeling of comfort with PowerShell was gone. It was replaced with excitement for its potential as an automation platform, given the System Center Orchestrator information I had already seen. The commitment from the Windows Server product team to provide more PowerShell functionality has really paid off and will enable much more powerful scripts. Inclusion of PowerShell 3.0 in WinPE 4 and a downloadable version for Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 means that functionality will become available to those who aren’t in a position to upgrade their servers yet.

The rest turned into something that was good for newcomers and great news for those who have been with PowerShell for a while now. Enhancements in the IDE to enable a most Visual Studio-style experience (IntelliSense, snippets, syntax highlighting, and regions, to name a few) gives a much richer feel for building scripts. Language simplification for areas like Where-Object and ForEach-Object will make the learning curve a little easier.

My favourite improvements would have to be default parameters and type extension on-the-fly. Why default parameters? Because it gets quite cumbersome to continually enter the same parameters over and over again. The $PSDefaultParameterValues variable allows the definition of the parameters that you know will be reused regularly for a command to reduce the size of command lines. Why type extension on the fly? There are times where I’d like to be able to quickly add content without having to worry about the process of building and importing the required files. An addition like Left to System.String was a bit complex, but is something simple now. Sure, I could use Substring with appropriate parameters and “get with the program”, but the ex-VBScripter in me likes to perform some legacy actions.

IP Address Management Improvements

I moved on to 'Windows Server IP Address Management' (IPAM) to see what it offered to improve my life as a DHCP/DNS administrator. The fear going into this was that this was a session about IP addresses. Really? Yes, IP addresses. I wasn’t disappointed (except for one “little” issue). Yesterday I had the joy of being in an Active Directory session and the crowd clapping about a new feature. IPAM received the same response when we got to a demo about adding a static record and being able to push the DHCP reservation and DNS records to the appropriate server.

The concept of IPAM intrigued me, as I work in an environment with a number of regional DHCP deployments. The complexity of managing can be very time consuming, so moving to IPAM will save a lot of effort. Having recently replaced a DNS server and needing to update hundreds of scopes across around sixty servers took quite some time. To be able to perform a find and replace from IPAM would have made this take about one minute. The overall simplicity of multi-server management is a must for any environment. The best part? It’s available for free in Windows Server 2012, as with so many other new features on show this week. And surprise (but not really) – you can use PowerShell to automate activities.

The power of IPAM will enable administrators to easily get a handle on the IP addressing in their environment. I was especially excited about the role-based access control, auditing options, and discovery of DHCP and DNS servers in the environment. This brings me to the “little” issue I have. IPAM supports Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 + SPs, and Windows Server 2012. The missing edition is Windows Server 2003. Sure, it’s in extended support, but it’s the platform for the bulk of DHCP servers I look after day-to-day. I guess this is just another reason to expedite a migration to Windows Server 2012.

Other experiences

Filling in the blanks for the rest of the day saw me focusing on System Center-related sessions. The day actually began with 'Enabling Mature Self Service with System Center 2012'. I’ll keep things relatively short as it was another session not directly related to Windows Server 2012. That being said, my experiences with the System Center suite show it is a beneficial deployment to manage your Windows Server fleet. Self service is an area I’m keen to get more involved with so I can enable clients to be more self-sufficient. The goal really is to be able to cater flexible working conditions without needing service desk hours to expand to support it. Ideally this will then move skill sets from triage to innovation, allowing us to maintain employment.

System Center Orchestrator and System Center Service Manager appear to provide a flexible environment to provide the capabilities for self service. These are yet more technologies I need to spend time learning, but I expect the medium to long-term benefits will help both IT and our clients. I get excited because it’s something new to me and is a logical transition for many scripted solutions and scheduled tasks that I’ve implemented in the past.

Today appears to be more of the same as the last two days – lots of great learning experiences. I expect I’ll be even more tired by the end, but it’s a good tired.

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Craig Naumann is covering Windows Server 2012 for Gizmodo using his ASUS Zenbook WX32VD.