Windows Admin Center Cluster Creation Wizard

Creating Windows Server Failover Clusters with software-defined storage and networking can be challenging. Microsoft has released a new Cluster Creation extension for Windows Admin Center to help easily create Windows Server HCI clusters.

Windows Admin Center is certainly changing how Windows IT administrators are managing their Windows infrastructure. It has provided a great way to consolidate several management consoles and their functionality into one robust tool for management. In addition, it also allows easily enabling hybrid connectivity between on-premises environments and Azure.

Microsoft has recently introduced many new features contained in Windows Admin Center since the release of version 1910. One of those features is the Cluster Creation module. With the new Cluster Creation module, administrators have can easily create Windows Server Failover Clusters and even HCI clusters. In this post, we will take a look at the Windows Admin Center Cluster Creation wizard and the functionality this brings to the new Windows Admin Center.

Why a cluster creation tool is needed ^

First off, why is a new cluster creation tool needed? One of the pain points for Microsoft and their clustering technologies, especially with hyperconverged clusters, has been the creation process. When provisioning a Storage Spaces Direct cluster with the addition of software-defined networking, you have to run a mountain of PowerShell scripts and other convoluted tasks.

This has somewhat hindered the adoption of Windows Server HCI-driven solutions in many environments. Due to a challenging implementation process, it can lead to businesses shying away from using Microsoft Windows Server HCI clustering and choosing other vendors to provide clustering technologies for running virtual infrastructure.

Microsoft has recognized the need for a better way for administrators to be able to provision WSFC and HCI clusters. Recently, they introduced the Cluster Creation module, currently in Preview mode, for Windows Admin Center. Let's take a look at how to get the Cluster Creation extension installed in Windows Admin Center.

Installing the Cluster Creation extension ^

The process of installing the Cluster Creation extension in Windows Admin Center is very easy. You simply click the extension under the Available extensions tab and choose Install.

Installing the Windows Admin Center Cluster Creation extension

Installing the Windows Admin Center Cluster Creation extension

When you click Install, the extension installation begins. You will see a popup window from the top right side of Windows Admin Center. It only takes a few seconds for the extension to finish installing.

Cluster Creation extension installation begins

Cluster Creation extension installation begins

Once the installation of the Cluster Creation extension succeeds, you can click the Installed extensions and you should see Cluster Creation (Preview) listed.

Verifying the installation of the Cluster Creation extension

Verifying the installation of the Cluster Creation extension

Now that you have the Cluster Creation extension installed, how do you use it?

Creating a cluster ^

Once the Windows Admin Center Cluster Creation extension has been installed, you can easily access the new wizard-driven interface provided by the new extension. Click the Settings menu and you will now see the Cluster Creation option listed.

Accessing the Cluster Creation wizard from Windows Admin Center

Accessing the Cluster Creation wizard from Windows Admin Center

When you launch the Cluster Creation tool, you will notice the simplicity and intuitiveness of its options. You can easily choose the type of cluster you are looking to create. Depending on the type of cluster, you will have different options presented for creating your cluster.

These include:

  • Hyperconverged
  • Compute cluster
  • Storage cluster
  • Classic failover cluster

As mentioned earlier, two configurations in particular were previously difficult to provision correctly with a Windows Server cluster. They are now part of the Cluster Creation tool:

  • Storage Spaces Direct: Storage Spaces Direct is Microsoft's software-defined storage solution that allows pooling local storage in your Windows Server hosts together to form a logical, software-defined storage volume. Previous to the Cluster Creation wizard, configuring this correctly involved running various PowerShell scripts and making sure you progress through the steps and order of operations correctly.
  • Software-Defined Networking: Microsoft's software-defined networking technology has been extremely challenging to implement correctly. Documentation can be scarce and can provide conflicting information. With the new Cluster Creation wizard, software defined networking steps are actually included with the Cluster Creation wizard.
Launching the Cluster Creation wizard in Windows Admin Center

Launching the Cluster Creation wizard in Windows Admin Center

Once you choose which type of cluster you want to create, the Cluster Creation wizard takes over and helps you step through the rest of the process, which is in the context of the type of cluster you are creating. As you can see in the hyperconverged infrastructure cluster creation wizard, it breaks the process into four areas:

  • Get Started/Prerequisites
  • Networking
  • Clustering
  • Storage

Within each category, there are multiple sub-configuration tasks the Cluster Creation wizard will guide you through. The great thing about the Cluster Creation wizard is that it takes you through the configuration steps in the right order and performs the configuration for you. Below, we will step through a few of the highlights of each area of configuration.

The first part of the wizard will help you to validate the configuration prerequisites, adding a user account that has permissions to perform the operations, and installing any required features that are missing.

Windows Admin Cluster Creation Hyperconverged Infrastructure wizard

Windows Admin Cluster Creation Hyperconverged Infrastructure wizard

It guides you through adding the specific servers to the wizard to be validated and configured for use as HCI hosts.

Adding servers to the Cluster Creation hyperconverged infrastructure cluster wizard

Adding servers to the Cluster Creation hyperconverged infrastructure cluster wizard

The Networking section allows you to select the network adapters, define management adapters, set address and VLAN configuration, and create the first virtual switch for use in the HCI cluster.

Configuring networking for the new HCI cluster with the Cluster Creation wizard

Configuring networking for the new HCI cluster with the Cluster Creation wizard

Setting IP addresses and VLAN tag configuration for each host in the Windows Server HCI cluster is easy using the new Cluster Creation tool.

Configuring addresses and VLANs for the HCI cluster hosts

Configuring addresses and VLANs for the HCI cluster hosts

In the clustering portion, you can configure the Windows Server Failover Cluster name as well as the cluster networks and address information.

Creating the cluster name for the new HCI cluster in Windows Admin Center

Creating the cluster name for the new HCI cluster in Windows Admin Center

The first two steps in the Storage configuration screen have you verify the drives you want to use for Storage Spaces Direct as well as Clean the drives to make sure they are configured and ready for Storage Spaces Direct provisioning.

Cleaning drives and enabling Storage Spaces Direct

Cleaning drives and enabling Storage Spaces Direct

Instead of many different PowerShell scripts to enable Storage Spaces Direct, the wizard has a simple Enable button for Storage Spaces Direct enablement and configuration.

Enable Storage Spaces Direct

Enable Storage Spaces Direct

As you can see, using the “wizardized” approach in the new Cluster Creation wizard in Windows Admin center, you can configure a new Windows Server HCI cluster in just four areas of the configuration screens. This new configuration process is certainly going to be a game changer with getting Windows Server Failover Clusters configured correctly, in the context of the type of cluster you are trying to create.

Conclusion ^

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the new Cluster Creation wizard worked for me in the lab environment. It greatly simplifies the overall process of configuring a new Windows Server Failover Cluster. It also helps to align your cluster with Microsoft's best practices by configuring and processing the steps involved with cluster creation in the correct order and the correct way.

The new Cluster Creation wizard is one of the more important extensions Microsoft has released with Windows Admin Center. This will no doubt eliminate much of the frustration in creating the more complex Windows Server cluster configurations like the HCI clusters. The only downside at this point is the extension is in Preview mode, so it is not quite GA as of yet.

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