Toolbox: New Products for IT Professionals
The tools in this month’s Toolbox can help you keep track of your scripts and updates, aid you in securing remote desktop connections, as well as assist you in benchmarking new hardware.
You’re undoubtedly writing scripts to help you manage systems and automate tasks to keep your organization running smoothly. How are you keeping track of those scripts, though? How are you tracking the history of changes you’ve made to those scripts? And how do you manage access to those scripts? You could use a standard NTFS file system along with special access control lists (ACLs) and a folder structure to track versions, but this is where source control should really come into play.
You have a number of source control options out there, including Microsoft Team Foundation Server. If you’re using the open source Subversion version control system, you may want to consider the open source and free Windows front-end TortoiseSVN.
TortoiseSVN is a Windows Shell Extension that essentially integrates versioning into your Windows Explorer interface with easy-to-use right-click context menu options to manage your code. It’s available in both x86 and x64 versions compatible with the most recent flavors of Windows.
Once you’ve configured your Subversion repository (check the Apache.org Subversion homepage for details, documentation and downloads) and installed the latest TortoiseSVN on your Windows machine, you can easily create repositories, import folders into the Subversion system, or retrieve the latest versions of files you’ve already committed to your Subversion repository. TortoiseSVN overlays your retrieved code with a template icon set. You’ll see right away if there are changes or conflicts, or if you can use the current version. You can update to the latest version by right-clicking on the local folder path and clicking “SVN Update.” You can also commit updates with “SVN Commit.”
TortoiseSVN has more in-depth commands in its extended context menu. These commands let you perform actions such as branch, tag, merge, revert, update to revision, get and release locks, add files and folders, create or apply patches, and even relocate a repository. There are also useful tools like a log viewer, repository browser and a revision graph. You can compare your local copy to the remote repository with the modification tool, or use the “blame” view to see which user changed which part of a script.
There are a number of options with each of these tools to get to the view you need. The shell extension also has settings to help you tailor the feel and integrate the application as well. You can tailor the context menu to show the tools you most frequently use, change the interface language, configure auto-updating or customize interface dialog options. You can adjust the look and feel of the icon set, set colors for the blame tool and revision graph, and set colors for status and action items when you perform retrievals, commits or merges. You can configure hooks to external tools such as a custom diff or merge tool. You can also integrate with a bug-tracking tool via “hook script.”
TortoiseSVN will cache your frequently used repositories to expedite access and save credentials so you don’t have to type in your username and password every time you connect to the remote repository. You can clear stored credentials or old repositories from the drop-down list.
TortoiseSVN takes a rather antiquated command-line system and turns it into an integrated, easy-to-use GUI-based tool for Windows desktop version control. TortoiseSVN has an active development and user community. There are frequently new features, bug fixes and support for new Subversion features. So if you aren’t currently versioning your administrative scripts, you should. When you do, consider the combination of the open source Subversion with the open source TortoiseSVN front-end.
Are you still running Windows Server 2003, or perhaps even 2000? If you haven’t had the opportunity to upgrade to Windows Server 2008, you might want to take a look at SecureRDP from 2x Software Ltd. SecureRDP is a freeware application that enhances the security features of your Windows Terminal Services Remote Desktop connections on Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003 machines.
You can achieve some of these enhancements through effective use of your network gear, but it’s definitely easier to configure with SecureRDP. Even if you have your network lockdowns in place, a second layer of security can’t hurt. SecureRDP supports Windows servers running in Remote Administration or Application Server modes.
You can use SecureRDP to restrict access using logon filters such as IP address, computer name, MAC address, Terminal Services client version and time of access. You can also restrict sessions by number of connections per IP address or number of connections per username. There are other configuration options, including displaying custom popup messages to inform your end-users when a SecureRDP policy denies a connection, whether to use AND or OR logic between your security filters, and enable a log file to record Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) activity.
If you need a bit more granularity when controlling access to terminal services on your Windows Server 2000 or Windows Server 2003 machines, SecureRDP can help.
Disk I/O is frequently the bottleneck causing performance issues, but you need a baseline to accurately determine performance issues. You need a benchmark utility to measure the impact of a new disk system or controller, or get a baseline of your current disks. One such utility comes from storage connectivity maker ATTO Technology Inc. ATTO Disk Benchmark lets you gather performance statistics on controllers, hard disks, RAID arrays and solid-state drives.
The utility is written as a portable Windows executable. You can easily add it to your USB key drive or CD of sys admin tools and take it with you. Run your benchmark with the default options set by double-clicking the application, selecting the logical drive to test and clicking Start.
There are several options with which you can tailor the test. You can adjust the range of the transfer size (block size) used to read and write from the disk, as well as the total size of the file written to the test drive. You can also choose to force write access to ensure you bypass a drive’s write cache and hit the disk directly. The “Direct I/O” option also ensures there’s no system buffering or caching that could affect your test.
Other configuration options let you choose between an overlapped I/O or I/O comparison test. For the I/O comparison test, you can specify a test pattern for the subject disk. For the overlapped I/O test, you specify a queue depth to determine the maximum number of read/write commands executed at one time. If you don’t want to run either of those tests, simply select the aptly named “neither” option. As your test runs, ATTO Disk Benchmark graphs the results in a simple bar graph.
There are other options, such as adding a description to your test, adjusting the graph scale, selecting a printer-friendly view of the results, and saving the test configuration and results. Check out the free ATTO Disk Benchmark as a valid testing tool for your admin toolbox.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
Greg Steen* is a technology professional, entrepreneur and enthusiast. He’s always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA and development easier for the IT professional.*