Toolbox New Products for IT Pros
Take Control of Windows PowerShell
If you haven't started using Windows PowerShellTM yet, you most likely will be using it soon. Windows PowerShell is becoming a core administrative tool in the world of Windows Server®. For starters, it has become the basis for script-based management of Exchange Server 2007.
To get the most out of Windows PowerShell in its native format, you need to memorize a fair amount of syntax, cmdlets, and general structure. Of course, you may not have the time (or mental energy) to dedicate to this. But what if you had a centralized graphical administrative console for managing your scripts? A user interface that would give you customizable templates, IntelliSense®-like editing features, and a script-sharing community base? With this sort of environment, you would be able to quickly script the tasks you need and always know where they are located for future reuse and reference.
Don't worry—I'm not just teasing you here. This GUI-based environment for Windows PowerShell is what you get with PowerGUI, a freeware product sponsored by Quest Software. Though still in beta at the time of writing this column, this application offers an easy-to-use, extensible administrative GUI that has the feel of a Microsoft® Management Console (MMC) snap-in on steroids.
Within the GUI, you can double-click on any of the supplied scripts or one of your own customized scripts to have it run and provide a tabular view of the returned dataset. You can apply column and value filters to this data to drill into the information you need. In addition, you can add your own custom columns to supply computed values or custom results that suit your specific needs.
From within the GUI, you can launch a Windows PowerShell prompt or the application's built-in script editor. The script editor is where you get a basic IntelliSense-like environment that shows you the syntax of the available cmdlets as well as the standard file and editing features, such as search and replace, printing, and cut/copy/paste. You can also bookmark steps.
Furthermore, PowerGUI gives you a number of customizable and extensible actions that you can apply to your dataset. For example, the local system services script lets you start, stop, suspend, and set properties on the designated service. Another nice feature is the ability to add links between scripts, in effect allowing you to chain scripts by common elements to get the information you need. For instance, you can get a list of users from a certain Group and then link that to a script that shows you the amount of data in their home directory. In addition to those capabilities, PowerGUI has a few built-in common action scripts for reporting and reviewing that let you dump your data to XML, CSV, HTML, and the clipboard.
You can extend both the individual script actions and the common actions by adding your own scripts or customizing one of the provided templates. Bringing up the properties window on a script allows you to edit the script in place or simply see how it works.
Another valuable feature is the PowerGUI Web site community library, which offers a place for users to share and download scripts to aid in your system administration tasks. Here you'll find scripts and actions for Active Directory® management, Exchange server management, Microsoft Operations Manager tasks, general Windows Server tasks, and more. PowerGUI is a solid start to providing a GUI-based, extensible administrative tool for working with Windows PowerShell.
Simplify Windows PowerShell with a graphical UI (Click the image for a larger view)
Think Green When Acquiring Products
Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool
When you think green, you need to consider the overall cost of a computer throughout its entire lifecycle. This means the collective energy consumed when manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers (not to mention other factors, such as the materials used and waste generated). The overall cost, in these terms, is quite astounding. (For an overview of the environmental and financial costs involved, see the article Dave Ohara wrote for the October 2007 issue of TechNet Magazine, available at technetmagazine.com/issues/2007/10/Green.)
Fortunately, more and more individuals and corporations are recognizing the impact, both financially and environmentally, of their infrastructure. And, as a result, they are beginning to look for products that reduce energy consumption. One tool for the IT professional that is trying to help companies address this concern is brought to us by the Green Electronics Council (greenelectronicscouncil.org ).
The organization's tool, dubbed EPEAT (short for Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), evaluates electronics products according to 51 different environmental criteria—23 of these criteria are required and 28 are optional. The ratings are as follows: Bronze (which implies the product meets the baseline required criteria), Silver (which is the required plus 50 percent of the optional criteria), and Gold (which meets the required criteria plus 75 percent or more of the optional elements).
The criteria cover the gamut of a product's lifecycle, from the materials selected for manufacture to the power consumption during use and end of life management. The standard's required criteria predominately cover declarations of a product's impact, such as declaring how much of a product is made from recycled plastic, identifying materials contained in the product that require special handling, and declaring how much of a product's packaging is recycled material. (All EPEAT-registered products currently meet ENERGYSTAR 3.0 standards; and by the end of January 2008, all will be compliant with the new ENERGYSTAR 4.0 standard.)
Furthermore, certified products must have a "take-back" service in place for both the product and its rechargeable batteries (if applicable). Another interesting requirement is the availability of a three-year warranty or service agreement, which should, in theory, help prolong the life of a device, thus reducing the overall impact of a high turnover rate.
Some of the optional standards cover the elimination of certain heavy metals (such as cadmium), modular design, third-party certification of the company's environmental practices and policies, and various percentage levels of recyclability.
Currently, there are four categories of products available: desktops, integrated systems, monitors, and notebooks. The product categories will continue to expand, with server standards slated for sometime in 2009.
And most major manufacturers are participating. This was helped along by Executive Order 13423 of January 2007, which stipulates that any federal agency acquiring electronic products to meet its requirements should meet at least 95 percent of those requirements with an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)-registered electronic product (whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/01/20070124-2.html).
So, if you aren't already addressing the environmental impact of your purchases, you should take the time to check out the EPEAT assessment tool in order to start considering the environmental (and financial) gains that can be made with your next product acquisition.
Use EPEAT to assess the environmental impact of your hardware puchases (Click the image for a larger view)
Windows Vista Administrator's Pocket Consultant
If you are getting ready to roll out Windows Vista® in your organization, the Windows Vista Administrator's Pocket Consultant (Microsoft Press, 2006) by William Stanek can help get you up to speed quickly on the new features and functionality. Those of you who have read other books from the Administrator's Pocket Consultant series will find the format of this book familiar and its depth of content similar to the others in this series. It doesn't give you every intricacy, but it does give a good, broad overview of features and functionality, specific administrative task execution, and refreshers of how things work. And the content is definitely geared toward system administrators, as opposed to general end users.
The book starts out with an introduction to the Windows Preinstallation Environment 2.0, along with a brief overview of the utilities that you'll have at your disposal during automated or interactive installation. Then the book moves into managing Windows Vista systems, showing you how to use tools like msconfig to troubleshoot or tailor your installation, as well as showing you new features like Previous Versions, which allows you to restore a folder or file to a previous state. In addition, you get an introduction to the tools that help you manage the hardware and devices on target systems.
The book then covers how to tailor the Windows® experience for your end users by customizing the interface and desktop. For example, it shows you how to reduce screen-saver resource usage, tailor the startup and start menu programs, and configure the Windows sidebar. And the book also shows you how to create personal toolbars to give your end users quick access to shared folders and files from the taskbar.
The section on installation and maintenance of Windows Vista programs and features discusses tools like the Software Explorer, which allows you to speedily see a system's startup programs, currently running programs, Winsock service providers, and network-connected programs. It then moves on to managing users, profiles, mobility concerns, and computer and user policy, and also disk management, file security, and resource sharing. More specifically, it explains how to create users, manage Windows logon through group policy, and create key ring entries that will make it easier for users to access password-protected resources.
The section on mobility discusses how the new alternate network configuration lets you specify both an "at the office" configuration and an "on the road" configuration. Users are able to easily switch between the two modes.
In the chapter "Managing File Security and Resource Sharing," you get the basics on how to configure permissions on NTFS files and folders as well as how Windows Vista Special Permissions work (and how to control them). Here too, you learn how to create, connect to, and persist connections to shared resources.
In terms of disk management, the book contains an introduction to configuring disk quota, which teaches you not only how to create, view, update, and delete disk quotas but also how to import and export these settings for reuse.
There is a pretty detailed look at how the dual IPv4/IPv6 networking stack in Windows Vista works. Here, you also see how to configure your network adapters for your environment.
The book finishes up with a section on how to optimize Windows Vista to ensure the best experience for your users, followed by a short chapter on general troubleshooting techniques. Here, you can find out how to set up remote assistance, maintain a healthy system through scheduled disk checks and defragmentation, and how to create backups. Overall, this is an easy-to-follow, quick-reference for Windows Vista administration.
Price: $29.99 direct.
(Click the image for a larger view)
Monitor Your Web Site
I've said this before, and I simply can't stress it enough: a proactive approach to systems administration will result in less stress and will help you avoid embarrassing moments, such as when the boss sends you an e-mail saying, "Did you know the site is down?"
A good network monitoring tool is essential to this approach. Most, if not all, of you probably already employ some kind of internal network monitoring server. But what about those of you who are concerned with a global presence in which you need to ensure availability of your Internet-facing services?
Pingdom.com, an application service provider (ASP), provides a simple-yet-effective automated monitoring service. The ASP's servers are distributed across multiple global locations, giving you a much better sense of what your users are really experiencing—as opposed to relying on a single-source external service monitor.
To get going, sign up for an account and set your locality, defining your time zone, country, date format, and the number format that meets your needs. Then set up your contacts by providing names, SMS phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for notification. After that, you create a monitoring check by defining a name, a check resolution, the type of monitoring check to be performed at the resolution, and the type, contacts, and periodic intervals of notifications for the check.
The default account package gives you check resolutions that range from 1 minute to 60 minutes, letting you tailor the requests to the service you are monitoring. Notification can be sent to your contacts via e-mail or SMS. And you can define the number of times the service ping should fail before notification is sent, along with how many failure cycles must pass before you are notified again (up to a maximum of four reminders). In addition, you can also have the pingdom notify you when your service comes back up—this is great for Web site or service maintenance window checks. Speaking of maintenance, you can also pause or stop the checks to avoid false positives during scheduled tasks.
The service offers users four basic types of checks: an HTTP sensor, a TCP port sensor, a ping sensor, and a UDP sensor. The HTTP sensor lets you set the URL/IP, whether the request is over SSL, the port, a basic authentication user name and password combination, or a basic inclusive/exclusive content check string. The TCP port sensor lets you define the service port and IP/domain to be checked. The ping sensor lets you set the IP or domain to check via ICMP. And the UDP sensor is determined by the IP/domain, a port, the string to send to that combination, and the expected response string. In effect, you could check the availability of your Web site, FTP server, SMTP server, and more from multiple locations around the globe.
The service also provides several reports to help you visualize historical data. With these reports, you can see your percentage of uptime for a specified month and the average response time for that time period. You can also get a detailed view of each check instance, displaying the timestamp, status, response time, and the server from which the check was performed. In addition, you get a view of notifications, showing you when, how many, to whom, and by what means they were sent for a specified time period. You can make these reports publicly available, so other members of your organization can see the service statistics. If you have your own tailored NOC, pingdom.com also provides a Web service API that you can query for this information, allowing you to integrate the service into your current dashboard views.
Price: $9.95 per month.
Pingdom.com monitors your Web services with a global perspective (Click the image for a larger view)
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, qa, and development easier for the IT professional.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.