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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Microsoft. All prices were confirmed at the time of writing, and are subject to change.
Find SQL Server Instances
Quest Discovery Wizard for SQL Server
There are a number of ways to mitigate your infrastructure's exposure to foreign systems and applications. It can help to hunt down rogue SQL servers (here's hoping you know where your own deployments are) and perform some basic penetration testing against a known set of servers. For this, a simple, free tool from Quest Software can help you out.
In Beta at the time of this writing, the Quest Discovery Wizard for SQL Server is a free graphical utility that lets you scan your network segments for SQL Server instances through a variety of "fingerprinting" techniques. Discovery of SQL Server instances can be done via Active Directory domain or by network segment, and you can specify multiple domains and subnets before starting your search to tackle the network in one go if you so desire. In terms of discovery, you can select from four different attempts: network registry connection, WMI connection, SQL Server login, and general TCP connect. Quest Discovery Wizard allows you to specify and store a list of Windows as well as SQL Server credentials to try against each instance it discovers.
In regard to penetration testing, you can also have the application test for the basic blank SA password as well as try brute force logins from a password list of your choosing. As it detects a server, it tries to glean information about the instance, which it then shows you in the Server Baseline view. Here you see the servers' instance names, domain affiliations, IP addresses, and running port, as well as the version, build, and operating system for the instance. It also indicates the discovery method and whether the server's status has changed since the last time you ran the utility.
As you might have guessed from the name of this view, Server Baseline, you can run the utility for an initial baseline of your environment and then schedule it to scan on a periodic basis. This view will also show you differences through four subviews—Unchanged, Changed, New, and Lost—so you can really keep tabs on changes as they happen.
Once your discovery session has been completed, you can export the results to CSV, XML, or PDF for sharing, reuse, and further analysis. So if you are looking for a simple way to keep tabs on your current SQL Server instances or if you are concerned about new rogue instances popping up in your environment, you might want to take a look at the free Quest Discovery Wizard.
Quest Discovery Wizard for SQL Server
A Scripting IDE
Admin Script Editor Enterprise Edition
Whether you like it or not, as a Windows system administrator you also have to be a bit of a developer. UIs are great and can simplify tasks, but there are many times when the Windows PowerShell command line (along with a Windows Sever 2008 Server Core installation) can add a lot of power and efficiency. Even if you could achieve the same tasks with a GUI, you wouldn't want to waste the time repeating all the tedious tasks that a well-written script can do at the click of a button. But you may want some help putting together these scripts. One tool that can help you get your scripts up and running quickly is the Admin Script Editor from iTripoli.
Admin Script Editor definitely has the feel of an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). At the center is a script editing text editor. This is surrounded by toolbar actions, tools, links, output panels, and the like. When creating a new script, you can choose from a number of templates based on the type of script you wish to create. There are templates for VBScript HTAs and WSFs, Windows PowerShell, KiXtart, AutoIt, batch files, INI files, registry files, and more. You can also add your own templates, which is handy if there is a particular format you like and repeatedly use.
Once your file is started, you can use another cool feature called ScriptBits to help you quickly generate the tasks you need. ScriptBits are template code snippets that cover control of flow (such as loops and If statements) as well as commonly used tasks such as executing a stored procedure on your database server. Here, too, the ScriptBits are customizable and you can add your own.
Admin Script Editor Enterprise Edition also supports script debugging and break points so you can test your scripts line by line. The output is piped to the UI for verification, allowing you to stay within the editor while verifying the functionality. Another nice feature for systems management is the WMI Wizard, which generates code stubs to update or enumerate the various features of a system that are WMI enabled—which, these days, is everything from performance counters to processors.
As you type your script, the application's ScriptSense feature gives you basic code-assistance and in-line completion so you don't have to remember or look up the exact details of every command as you edit. The application also automatically indents and formats your scripts so you can keep things tidy, making them more maintainable over time.
If you would like to distribute your script in a user-friendly format, you will probably want to use the ScriptPackager feature, which wraps your script in an executable for portability. Then you can use the ScriptDeploy feature to remotely deploy and execute that package (or script) from within the IDE. The Enterprise edition also has the ScriptForm Designer, which lets you create interactive graphical dialogs (otherwise known as forms) by dragging and dropping elements to the form base within the IDE.
For those of you who manage end users in your environment, you will like the Logon Script Build. This gives you that same drag and drop designing for building logon scripts to map printers and shares or show disclaimers and the like to your users as they log on. Meanwhile, the handy XML Wizard can help you connect to and generate code for XML files (such as an exported Event Log).
Admin Script Editor Enterprise Edition is $299 direct. If you don't need the remote script deployment features offered by ScriptDeploy, the ScriptForm Designer, or the direct XML connect capabilities offered by the XML Wizard, you can opt for the $199 Professional Edition. The Standard Edition, available for $99, also strips out the script debugging and ScriptPackager features—both of these, however, can be very useful for testing and designing your administrative scripts.
Price: $299 (direct)
Admin Script Editor Enterprise Edition
Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide
Windows PowerShell is a very powerful and extensible administrative interface for dealing with Windows systems in your environment. But it is also very different from the VBScript you may be accustomed to. To help you get up to speed with this command line tool, you might want to take a look at Ed Wilson's book, Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide (2008). More than a guide for the Windows PowerShell beginner, this book gives you a reference that you will be able to go back to even as your skills grow. It covers a breadth of real world tasks suitable for scripted systems management, covering topics from log management to network configuration using Windows PowerShell.
The book starts out with the basics of the Windows PowerShell environment, showing you how to install the shell, giving an overview of the cmdlets and parameterization thereof, and detailing the handy Get-Help, Get-Command, and Get-Member cmdlets. The next chapter covers control of flow for your Windows PowerShell scripts, demonstrating how to use If/Then/Else, Switch, and ForEach type statements, as well as how to define and use variables, constants, and other data types within your scripts.
The book then jumps into real world scenarios and tasks in the next 17 chapters, which provides a good reference for when you need to address various common tasks in your own environment. It teaches you how to manage event logs, services, and shares, delving into how you can enumerate, administer, and document each. It also shows you how to install drivers and manage printers remotely. Then it covers desktop maintenance, exploring how to manage logical and physical disks, monitor disk space, and utilize the performance counters, as well as audit and set (or unset) screensavers and power schemes. It details how to shut down or reboot machines. And it discusses how to report on and manage network adapter settings and the Windows Firewall via remote PowerShell scripts.
The book then shifts into user management, explaining how to create, disable, and modify the attributes of both local and domain users and groups. In addition, it explores managing user data, covering backups, offline files, and system restore.
In regard to servers, the book covers configuration and management of the Windows Cluster Service for high availability. And it explains how to manage App Pools, Web sites, and virtual directories in IIS via scripts.
Then the book delves into managing terminal services, certificate stores, and network services (such as DNS and DHCP).Finally, the last chapter covers the new Windows Server 2008 Server Core configuration and some of the basic management features offered for that cool new option. Throughout these chapters, you will pick up basic skills that you can reuse on almost any script, such as how to read and write files, connect to databases, and use WMI.
The appendices of the book are also worth reading. There is a nice overview on how to structure your scripts so they don't become unmanageable "spaghetti-code," a helpful FAQ for script basics, and a view into the patterned naming conventions of cmdlets. Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide includes a companion CD that contains 317 scripts, many of which you will see referenced throughout the book. These give you a great foundation on which you can create tailored scripts to meet your administrative needs in your own environment.
Whether you're looking to get up to speed on managing your systems with Windows PowerShell or you know how to script but just want a task-oriented reference for managing systems, you should consider Ed Wilson's book, Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide
Price: $49.99 (list)
If you have a favorite tool or utility you would like to see featured here, please write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.