Test Driving The FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console

Changes in FMS 17 Admin Console and How We’re Adapting

FileMaker Server 17 introduces a new generation of Admin Console, refreshed, fast, and reliable. If you are familiar with the FileMaker Cloud console, you’ll feel right at home in the new FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console. However, the update also brings some of the biggest changes in administrative functionality in years, perhaps ever.

While FileMaker provides an excellent overview of the differences, here I will highlight changes that affect us most here at Beezwax and some adjustments we’re making to compensate.

Summary: Like a souped-up, redesigned car—this year’s model—heading into an open mountain track, you’ll want to take it slow at first, but once you get familiar with the new navigation and “steering”, you should find the FMS 17 Admin Console a delight to drive.

FileMaker Server — Reliable For On-Premise Deployment

The FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console is the new graphical user interface to FileMaker Server (FMS); many administrative functions are also available via the command line interface (CLI) and Admin API. While at first glance it appears similar to the FileMaker Cloud console, FileMaker Server is best approached as a different product with a different feature set. Principally, FileMaker Server still provides developers and administrators the on-premise deployment features on which we rely.

Screenshot FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console

That being said, some of the capabilities to which we are accustomed have moved within the GUI, others are accessible from only the command line or Admin API, and a few have been removed altogether. Before we explore these changes, let’s first briefly review some key points that remain unchanged.

What Stayed the Same

  • One still accesses Admin Console on port 16000 (remote) or 16001 (local).
  • The FMS 17 Admin Console still makes available FMS-only features like scheduled scripts and directory authentication; FileMaker Cloud requires use of the Admin API to schedule scripts, and directory authentication is not available at all.
  • Admin Console is still the front end to an on-premise server; this is not a strictly cloud-based product (though you could host FMS on an AWS EC2 instance or similar).

New Features

Installation

Installation of FileMaker Server 17 is very streamlined. Where before there was a multi-step deployment assistant, now there are more defaults. For example, by default only FileMaker Pro Advanced and FileMaker Go have access to a server. Now, after installation and during deployment, you use the Admin Console to configure the server for a particular environment, for example by enabling WebDirect, the Data API, or ODBC / JDBC.

Licensing

Rather than a license key, FileMaker Server now requires a license certificate. This is different than the SSL certificate, and contains details of the exact configuration of the license agreement.

Interface

The clean, flat user interface not only looks good, but also provides a modern foundation. Up until FileMaker Server 16, the browser-based console to which we were accustomed had been built on Java and Ajax, while the new FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console is based on Node.js and Angular. This is the same technology as the FileMaker Cloud console, which should make it easier for FileMaker’s engineering team to keep the two products aligned, and for us as administrators to switch between two different contexts.

Dashboard

Logging in to the Admin Console lands on a new Dashboard, comprising configuration, drive space, and system performance. This view provides a more efficient overview of general server status, reducing the number of clicks to get at some basic information. Personally, I find the constant refreshing of Volume Status and System Statistics — every twenty seconds — distracting, but there appears to be no way to change it.

Admin API


The Admin API is different from the Admin Console, but I’ll note here the Admin Console uses a version of the same REST API. In many cases, what you can do through the Admin Console GUI you can also do through the Admin API. In other cases, you must use the API.

Security

FileMaker continues to encourage users to deploy secure solutions, encouragement that has become progressively stronger with each new version. The changes in this version are several:

  • When configuring FileMaker Server 17, if you choose not to install a custom SSL / TLS certificate, you’ll now have to click through a dialog to acknowledge the risk you are placing on your data.
  • FMS will no longer use the built-in FMI-signed certificate for client connections like FileMaker Pro Advanced and FileMaker Go. It’s now only for connections between server components such as master and worker machines.
  • There is no longer an Admin Console interface to generate a certificate signing request, so you must now use the command line.

  • Once you’ve installed a custom certificate—which you’ll surely want to do—SSL and HSTS will be automatically enabled rather than being configurable options.
  • A new Secure folder is dedicated to hosting encrypted databases, which do not give full access privileges to the guest account, and for which full access accounts do not have empty or saved passwords. This is similar to the requirements for hosting databases in FileMaker Cloud.

Backups

Backups now automatically run every night, and the last seven backups are kept—a reminder to keep an eye on available disk space. In addition, there are new options to back up on demand as well as prevent FMS from automatically deleting selected backups. Administrators can create additional custom backups schedules in the GUI, but can disable the default schedule only through the command line interface.

Notifications

Administrators can now view notifications—for example, resource usage or operation failures—directly in Admin Console as well as receive local notifications. Traditional email notifications are still available.

International Language Support

A common complaint against the FileMaker Cloud console is that it supports only English. The FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console, on the other hand, is available in a half dozen languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Swedish. Perhaps a future update will return support for Chinese, Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish, all of which were available in FileMaker Server 16 and are still available in FileMaker Pro Advanced 17. After selecting your language of choice, the UI instantly switches to your preference. This information is saved in a browser cookie, so administrators in multilingual organizations should not experience conflicts.

Automatic Admin Console Logoff

The FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console logs out inactive users after fifteen minutes, which is not configurable. I found it to be particularly aggressive; in testing, even when I was actively clicking around but not changing any settings, I would get kicked off.`

Deprecated and Removed Features

  • As noted earlier, deployment is simpler, so there is no longer a need for the deployment assistant. If the defaults do not work for you, simply change them in Admin Console after installation.
  • Likewise, intuitive configuration panes have replaced the multi-step script and backup schedule assistant. This makes it much easier to update settings, since it is no longer necessary to click through step after step.
  • Administrator groups have been removed, though external authentication to Active Directory and Open Directory as well as OAuth support for Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are still available. Now if an admin has access, the admin has access to everything. Depending on licensing, it may be preferable to set up separate servers.
  • All databases now live at the root level of a folder; they can no longer be grouped by subfolder. Servers with a large number of files may want to, where possible, implement a new naming scheme to keep related files together, but keep in mind that could break dependencies such as external data sources. As with administrator groups, another solution may be to set up separate servers for each department or logical grouping of files.
  • Custom Web Publishing is no longer accessible through Admin Console, but one can use the command line to enable PHP and XML. Heed the warning signs, however: Data API is the future and CWP may not be around forever.

  • System and Client Statistics logging are also banished to the command line.

  • Certain settings such as progressive backup interval, logging collection interval, log file size, simultaneous script sessions and cache size are no longer configurable through the Admin Console. If it is necessary to change these lesser-used options, again look to the command line or Admin API.

  • The ability to list the FileMaker Server in a directory server—often confused with, but distinct from, external authentication—is no longer available.
  • There is no longer a built-in test page.

Reorganization

In a good way, the new interface is deceiving. With FMS versions 13 through 16 administrators first selected a module on the left, then a tab on the top. Now admins select a tab on the top then a pane on the left. More than just an inversion, the reorganization goes deeper. For example, various web settings used to be grouped in one “web” area, but now are dispersed to the relevant “connection”, “log”, and “plug-in” areas.

Mostly the changes are logical and intuitive, though at first you may be clicking through tabs trying to find that one setting you know must be around here somewhere. More than once in our testing, we’ve thought a feature or bit of information is gone, only to discover it later, or to realize we had to use the command line or Admin API. To help guide your journey, I’ll provide a cheat sheet for some common settings, but it is not meant to be a comprehensive list. For a side-by-side catalog of changes, I recommend “FileMaker Server 17: Admin Console, Admin CLI, and Admin API“, a white paper by Wim Decorte and Steven Blackwell, available on the FileMaker Community site.

  • Old: Start / Stop Database Server
    New: Configuration → General Settings
    Note: A common switch, but no longer on the front page.
  • Old: Start / Stop Web Publishing Engine
    New: Connectors → Web Publishing
    Note: Likewise, no longer on the front page.
  • Old: Activity
    New: Databases
    Note: Rather than two tabs for Databases and Clients, now select a database (or All Databases) to see the clients connected to that file. Unfortunately, in the process of simplification, we’ve lost a level of detail. For example, on the former Databases tab we could see which protocols (Pro / Go, WebDirect, DAPI, etcetera) clients could use to connect to a database. On the former Clients tab we could click on individual users to get specific details about their computers and the environments in which they were running.
  • Old: Schedules (Script)
    New: Configuration → Script Schedules
    Note: This pane is for database and system scripts; backup schedules are now in a dedicated place.
  • Old: Schedules (Backup)
    New: Backups → Backup Schedules
    Note: Again, backups are now separate from general script schedules.
  • Old: Statistics
    New: Dashboard
    Note: A basic graph of system statistics is available on the Dashboard page, but full system and client statistics are no longer part of Admin Console and are turned off by default.
  • Old: Log Viewer
    New: Configuration → Logging
    Note: There is no longer a built-in viewer, but you can download text logs for analysis in your favorite log viewer or text editor. Some logs are only available in the FileMaker Server/Logs/ directory.
  • Old: Database Server → Security → Client Authentication
    New: Administration → External Authentication → Database Sign In
  • Old: Database Server → Security → File Display
    New: Configuration → FileMaker Clients → Filter Databases
  • Old: Database Server → Security → SSL Connections
    New: Configuration → SSL Certificates
    Note: SSL and HSTS are now on by default after installing a custom certificate.
  • Old: Database Server → Logging
    New: Configuration → Logging
    Note: As noted above, many logging options have changed. Note the Access log is now always on and Server Statistics and Client Statistics must be enabled at the command line.

FileMaker Data API

This area deserves special attention, and is not to be confused with the Admin API mentioned above. Now that the FileMaker Data API is out of beta, it is important to monitor usage in conjunction with the license you purchased. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Data API licensing model. See how much bandwidth Data API users have consumed at Connectors > FileMaker Data API as well as on the Dashboard.

Conclusion

While it may seem a lot of things have changed (and they have!), the FileMaker Server 17 Admin Console interface is intuitive and fast, so finding what you need is not difficult. If you need to configure some esoteric settings, you may now have to resort to the command line or Admin API. The built-in help is contextual and well-written, though it can be easy to miss the small Help link in the textual footer—look for it.

The best way to become familiar with the new Admin Console is to dive in and check it out. I bet overall you’ll be pleased and quickly feel comfortable.

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