Windows PowerShell is a Microsoft framework for automating tasks using a command-line shell and an associated scripting language. When it was released in 2006, this powerful tool essentially replaced Command Prompt as the default way to automate batch processes and create customized system management tools. Many system administrators, including managed services providers (MSPs) rely on the 130+ command-line tools within PowerShell to streamline and scale tasks in both local and remote systems.
What’s more, this tool is not just for Windows—as of 2016, PowerShell Core has been open-source and cross-platform, and its capabilities have been incorporated into a number of additional interfaces. It has never been more important for MSPs to understand how PowerShell works, what it’s used for, and how to automate management tasks in a way that will save time and effort.
What is the use of Windows PowerShell?
What is Windows PowerShell, and what is it for? In short, PowerShell is a robust solution that helps users automate a range of tedious or time-consuming administrative tasks and find, filter, and export information about the computers on a network. This is done by combining commands, called “cmdlets,” and creating scripts.
For IT professionals like MSPs, it makes sense to utilize text-based command-line interfaces (CLIs) to achieve more granular control over system management. With PowerShell, you can leverage improved access to and control over Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and the Component Object Model (COM) to fine-tune administrative management. For MSPs tasked with managing Active Directory (AD) within a Windows network, PowerShell automation can be immensely helpful for executing typical management tasks. The uses of PowerShell include adding and deleting accounts, editing groups, and creating listings to view specific types of users or groups.
You can also choose to use the Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE), a graphic user interface that lets you run commands and create or test scripts. This interface lets you develop scripts as command collections, wherein you add the logic needed for their execution. This is a particularly useful function for administrators who need to repeatedly run command sequences for system configuration.
What are cmdlets?
PowerShell is built to utilize four types of commands—cmdlets, PowerShell functions, PowerShell scripts, and executable programs—but cmdlets are the program’s basic single-function commands. Cmdlets are essentially specialized .NET classes used for implementing particular functions, and can access information housed in file systems, registries, and other data stores.
You can view the full list of these commands by running “Get-Command-Type Cmdlet” in PowerShell. Not only do you have access to more than 130 of these commands, but you can write your own as well. In fact, knowing how to write PowerShell scripting commands is an in-demand skill. While cmdlets can be used individually, they’re more powerful when combined—you can use cmdlets within scripts, then package scripts into more comprehensive modules.
Cmdlets are a powerful tool largely because PowerShell is built on an underlying .NET framework, which allows PowerShell to operate more like a programming language than a simple command-line program. The program uses objects, which are a kind of representation of either properties (attributes) or methods (instructions). With PowerShell, you can use “pipes” that allow you to pass a cmdlet’s output to another cmdlet’s input as an object, allowing multiple cmdlets to work together to configure the same data. This is the fundamental change that makes PowerShell such a powerful tool for Windows configuration.
Why should I use PowerShell?
PowerShell is a popular tool for many MSPs because its scalability helps simplify management tasks and generate insights into devices, especially across medium or large networks. Here’s how PowerShell uses can transform your workflow:
- Automate time-consuming tasks: With cmdlets, you don’t have to perform the same task over and over, or even take the time for manual configuration. For instance, you can use cmdlets like Get-Command to search for other cmdlets, Get-Help to discover these cmdlets’ syntax and uses, and Invoke-Command to run a common script locally or remotely, even with batch control.
- Provide network-wide workarounds: Using PowerShell enables you to get around software or program limitations, especially on a business-wide scale. For instance, PowerShell can be used to reconfigure the default settings of a program across an entire network. This could be useful if a business wants to roll out a specific protocol to all its users—say, compelling users to either use two-factor authentication (2FA) or change their password every two months.
- Scale your efforts across devices: PowerShell can be a lifesaver if you need to run a script across multiple computers, especially if some of them are remote devices. If you’re trying to implement a solution on quite a few devices or servers at once, you don’t want to log in to each device individually. PowerShell can help you gather information about multiple devices within minutes, compared to the hours it would take to check each device manually. Once you enable PowerShell remoting, you’ll be able to scale your scripts to reach dozens (or more) of machines at once, allowing you to install updates, configure settings, gather information, and more—potentially saving hours of work and travel time.
- Gain visibility into information: The advantage of command-line interfaces like PowerShell is the access they provide to a computer’s file system. PowerShell makes hard-to-find data in files, the Windows Registry, and even digital signature certificates visible regardless of whether it’s housed on one computer or many. This information can then be exported for reporting purposes.
Finally, since every Windows 10 computer should have it pre-installed, it’s not difficult to learn PowerShell. As an MSP, knowing PowerShell not only puts you one step ahead of your competitors in terms of marketability, but gives you a host of useful abilities. If you know how to script cmdlets for PowerShell, it’s that much easier for you to scale your efforts and provide accurate, flexible, and fast service to customers.
Is Windows PowerShell the same as Command Prompt?
Although Windows Powershell 1.0 was released as a replacement for Command Prompt, it’s inaccurate to think of PowerShell as simply a new version of the classic command-line interpreter. In fact, both programs still exist on Windows 10, though PowerShell is much more powerful.
Some intermediate-level users may choose to use Command Prompt if they’re already familiar with the language—its interface executes simple DOS commands, and for some users, that’s enough. But the many uses of PowerShell make it a more attractive tool for MSPs who want true control over a network. By providing cmdlets that can reach into registry management and WMI, PowerShell gives you access to more system administration tasks than Command Prompt can, especially since PowerShell is not just for Windows, but is an open-source tool for Linux and Mac OS X as well.
SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) offers all the advantages of PowerShell without requiring MSPs to actually use PowerShell scripts. With RMM, you can utilize simple drag-and-drop objects to easily create a wide range of automated functions. This kind of automation is crucial for busy MSPs looking for efficient, scalable business practices. RMM’s user-friendly interface lets you leverage all the benefits of Windows PowerShell, faster.
Read through our blog for other useful tips on utilizing Windows tools and programs.