ToolboxNew Products for IT Pros

Greg Steen

Automate Tasks

ManageEngine RobolQ 2

Automation of repetitive tasks can be a life-saver for the IT professional. I have seen far too many instances of an Ops crew being bogged down in a never-ending cycle of simple but time-consuming daily tasks. This kind of activity not only sucks the life from the team, but also has the potential to put the staff in a deadly game of reactive catch-up. Automating repetitive tasks gives the team time to think and plan and helps keep the operational staff working in a proactive mode, saving both the spirit of the team and perhaps the livelihood of the company. One tool that can help you automate those pesky, life-sucking tasks is AdventNet’s ManageEngine RoboIQ 2.

Administration of the application is Web-based and uses the integrated Web server and database supplied with the installer. Automation tasks are grouped into workflows, which are sequences of event triggers with subsequent actions. Designing automation workflows is simple and can be accomplished via a wizard-type interface or through a drag-and-drop Web interface within the Administration Web site.

Triggers for actions can be configured as manual tasks, scheduler-based tasks, or monitor/trigger tasks. Manual and scheduler tasks are user initiated and time based, respectively, whereas the monitor/trigger tasks watch thresholds to determine the course of action to take. RoboIQ allows you to create service, process, event log, Perf Monitor, Windows® Management Instrumentation (WMI) notification, ping, port, or URL system monitor tasks to automate. You can also create file, folder, or disk space-based file system monitor/trigger workflow tasks.

Management of automated tasks can be handled through one central management workstation and from there, the application allows you to remotely install (assuming you have the correct permissions, of course) the RoboIQ service on different hosts in your environment. The Web administration interface will show you all the viewable machines on your network segment and can be filtered to show all those with the RoboIQ service installed or those that do not have the service installed. The application can log all workflow events and can send workflow event e-mails for notification. RoboIQ also supports environments with multiple domains and has support for multiple administrative users.

ManageEngine RoboIQ 2 is available as a free edition that will allow you to automate a single host in a network with all the functionality of the professional edition, but with only two defined workflows.

Price: Professional version starts at $295 a year for one machine.

Manage Virtual Disks

Parallels Compressor

Server virtualization is becoming part of everyday life for the IT professional. More and more companies are realizing the potential value and potential cost savings of vir­tualization—from reducing power consumption to creating a diverse QA environment for your software test cycle on a single machine. Toward that end, Parallels Inc. has added a cost-effective tool for managing the virtual disks of your virtual servers to their product portfolio. Parallels Compressor helps you both improve virtual machine performance and manage virtual disk utilization on both the host and the guest operating systems.

The application supports VMWare, Microsoft® Virtual Server, and Virtual PC, and Parallels’ own Workstation virtual disk formats. It can reduce the amount of physical space taken up by your virtual disk and compact the data to help improve disk performance. Compressor also supports all flavors of Windows as your host operating system (in addition to Mac OS X and numerous Linux distributions).

Price: $49.99 for Workstation version, $179 for Server version.

Audit and Analyze Systems

Network Asset Tracker

The WMI interface can be an incredibly powerful gateway to all of the machines on your network. MIS Utilities’ Network Asset Tracker 2.12 utilizes WMI via the DCOM RPC on your computers running Windows to gather detailed system information.

Of course, using WMI via DCOM RPC requires that you are using a Windows account that has the privilege to access the remote machine via RPC, and also that the remote host isn’t blocking RPC via a host-based firewall, which is not always an option for corporate infrastructures. Permission requirements aside, Network Asset Tracker is a quick, easy, and relatively low-cost way of finding out the details of the internals of the boxes on your network for a corporate audit or inventory status report.

The application scans your network segment for machines and adds their information to its XML data repository. It allows you to search for computers in four different ways: across the entire current network segment, by an IP address range, through manual entry of computer names, and by importing text files of computer names. Once you have added your machines to the inventory, you can reach out and gather information individually or for the entire group of machines.

Once you have retrieved the remote system information, the application reports the results as three categories of detailed information: system, software, and processes. The System tab shows you everything from IP addresses to installed service packs to individual memory module types for each system. You can even see current shares, NIC MAC addresses, and a list of all the system hotfixes that have been applied to the machine. This is a great way to see if your patch management solution actually reached out and applied the correct patch sequence to your hosts.

The Software tab shows you every application installed on the system that has an Add/Remove Programs entry, including any Windows patches, hotfixes, or security updates that have been applied (equivalent to clicking the checkbox on your Windows XP Add/Remove Programs list to "Show updates"). Finally, the Processes tab shows you all the currently running processes on the remote machine, which could be a great way to see who’s running what if you are charged with keeping track of such things for your company.

All things considered, MIS Utilities’ Network Asset Tracker is a simple, non-agent-based tool that can be a great help to smaller companies without fortress-like security policies in place.

Price: Starts at $99 for 10 nodes up to $999 for a site license.

Keep Track of Your Time

Working Time Tracker

Have you ever wondered how long you really spend on a specific task or project? Whether you are a contractor or a full-time employee, it’s always a good idea to know how much time you spend on various projects and elements of your job. AllNetic Working Time Tracker 2.1 provides a simple way to keep track of that time.

Working Time Tracker has a nice automatic notification feature that monitors your activity and prompts you if you forget to start or stop tracking your time for a project. The application can run minimized in the system tray. Hovering the mouse over the icon gives you a time summary for the current project and task, and also allows you to stop, start, or add a comment to the current task.

The app also includes a customizable, template-based report builder. With this, you can create time sheets or invoice summaries of time spent on a project or task.

Price: $29.95 (direct) for a single license. Volume discounts are available.

Monitor Connections to Your Machine


Perhaps it is just me, but a certain level of security paranoia comes with being an IT pro. OK, it’s not just me. Every IT professional should be concerned about the security of his systems. The more rights and privileges you have in your environment, the more concerned you should be with protecting the information you have access to. In that regard, if you are worried about who is connecting to the shares on your system, Skyward-Soft has a simple program to give you pop-up notification of when a user connects to a share on your machine.

SessionsMonitor runs in your system tray and shows you who is connected and what they are trying to access on your system. The application allows you to kill sessions and will log all the connection activity on the monitored system. In addition to pop-up notification, you can configure SessionMonitor to send e-mail notifications and generate HTML reports of user activity.

Price: $20.

Book Review

SharePoint 2003 Advanced Concepts

If you have moved beyond installation of SharePoint® Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services and are looking to take your document management and portal sites to the next level, SharePoint 2003 Advanced Concepts: Site Definitions, Custom Templates, and Global Customizations (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) may give you the insight you need to customize your application to suit your business goals. The book is definitely not the be-all and end-all of SharePoint references, nor is it meant to be. The authors, Jason Nadrowski and Stacy Draper, demonstrate the different components of the inner workings of SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services without getting bogged down in line-by-line details. The 240-plus page book is split into five chapters.

The first, Custom Templates, covers the two general types of templates available to those customizing their SharePoint experience: custom site templates and custom list templates. This brief chapter, gives a basic overview of creation of a custom template and the different parts involved in the task.

The second chapter, Site Definitions, gives a more in-depth view into creating custom site definition templates with examples of how to create and customize the different components. For example, the book shows you how to insert your own custom JavaScript file into all the pages in a site definition, and provides such useful tips as how to specify the site’s default document using the ONET.XML DocumentTemplates definition.

The book then covers the architecture behind and creation of list definitions and the SCHEMA.XML element declarations in the third chapter. Here, the book also shows you how to hook into SharePoint library events with custom code and event sinks.

In Chapter 4, Customizing and Implementing Property Types, the book discusses the 10 different property types that can be created for a list and then shows you how to create custom property types. Another great tidbit for all IT professionals shows up in this chapter: make a copy of the defaults and change the copy instead of messing with the native components that ship with SharePoint.

Finally, in Chapter 5, the book covers global customizations including themes, creating online help, and customizing the automated e-mail functionality inherent in the application. In short, this book won’t be your only reference to SharePoint, but it will give you a good place to start in your quest to satisfy the ever-hungry business consumer in your organization.

Price: $39.99.

Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools and methods to help make operations and development easier for IT professionals.

© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.