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Microsoft Honolulu Brings Web-Based Management Tools to the Desktop

By Paul Ferrill (Send Email)
Posted March 5, 2018

Traditional server management tools from Microsoft have utilized the standard user interface presented by other Windows applications.

Project Honolulu is a browser-based management tool from Microsoft that delivers functionality similar to the Azure-based Server Management Tools, a service that was retired at the end of June in 2017 only to have many of the same capabilities resurrected in Project Honolulu.Project Honolulu

Honolulu will manage Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012. All communication happens via Remote PowerShell and WMI.

While this capability works great within the corporate firewall, it can also be extended to allow remote access should that be required. More on this a little later.

Microsoft has definitely seen the value of utilizing the portability of modern web applications to solve the problem of managing servers and has implemented it quite well in Honolulu.

Honolulu Installation and Setup

To get started with Honolulu, download the installer from https://aka.ms/HonoluluDownload. As of this writing the latest version is 1711-15002.

Honolulu combines a web server and gateway to connect to multiple systems over WinRM. You can even connect to the gateway from off-premises by publishing the web server to DNS and properly configuring the corporate firewall. Full documentation can be found on the Microsoft Docs website.

Project Honolulu is based on Windows PowerShell and requires the Windows Management Framework version 5.0 or higher to be installed on all managed systems. If your system doesn't have WMF 5.0 or later installed, you can download and install it from here. By default the installation program will use port number 6516 for the web interface (see Figure 1). This is the port that must be made available externally should you wish to provision it through the corporate firewall.

Project Honolulu - Figure 1
Project Honolulu - Figure 1

Full access to system settings like the firewall make it possible to enable specific rules for functions like remote desktop (see Figure 2). Positive feedback of rule changes comes through the use of small "toaster" dialogs to indicate that the rule has been changed as shown in Figure 2. Clicking the refresh button will also display the current updated state of all firewall rules.

Honolulu Monitoring and Management Functionality

Much of a system administrator's life is spent observing the health of a system by watching graphs of performance. Honolulu provides primary performance measures like CPU and memory utilization, total disk space available and amount used, plus basic information about the system hardware (see Figure 3).

Buttons let you power down or restart your server, although you must acknowledge that request a second time to prevent inadvertent clicks from taking a system down.

When connecting to new systems you must supply credentials, which only persist for the current browser session. Honolulu also supports the Local Administrator Password Solution or LAPS. This utility is available on the Microsoft download site. LAPS makes it possible to manage local administrator passwords through Active Directory and comes in the form of a Group Policy Client Side Extension that must be installed on managed machines.

Access to PowerShell on the remote machine is only a click away, as it's available from the list of options on the left-hand side of the main page. As long as you're using domain admin credentials to connect to the remote systems you don't need to authenticate a second time. If you're comfortable at the PowerShell prompt, you'll be right at home with this feature.

With the virtual machines feature it's possible to manage all your VMs from the browser without the need to launch an external application like virtual machine manager (see Figure 4).

You can start and stop, pause, save, and reset any virtual machine with a few clicks. Connecting to the VM using RDP is also available as a menu item. One thing you can't do is change any settings on a running VM like you can do using the native management tool.

The current version of Honolulu does not replace all the tools you need to manage a Windows Server 2016 instance. Most notably missing is any Active Directory-related tool. Other missing features include Group Policy editing, DHCP and DNS policy management, Failover Cluster management, and all the remote access features. For a complete list, see the Honolulu FAQ.

Final Thoughts on Honolulu

This might lead you to the question of why would I want to use Honolulu instead of the tools I already know and love? One big reason is remote access. For many of the current tools you must be logged into a terminal session either directly on the server or using a remote terminal session.

Honolulu and the gateway service make it possible to manage a server over the Internet. At the same time, this could represent a security risk your organization isn't willing to take.

Another consideration for using Honolulu is its extensibility. Project Honolulu supports the concept of extensions, and Microsoft fully intends for third-party vendors to integrate existing tools into the Honolulu platform. You can find a sample extension on Github here. Web-based management is definitely the future, so download your copy of Honolulu now and give it a try.


Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.

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