Toolbox: New products for IT professionals

This month’s tools help you troubleshoot Web services, centrally manage automated tasks and elevate remote host signal testing.

Greg Steen


Visualizing Web service responses can be a handy troubleshooting tool for testing service-oriented architectures (SOAs). One free Web-based tool that lets you make HTTP requests of various forms and view the responses in a convenient format is Hurl.

Hurl has a straightforward interface. Enter a URL to test, choose your HTTP method and click the send button. If you’re making a PUT or POST request, you can add standard key/value parameters as well as paste in post body data. For all types of requests, you can also add custom HTTP headers.

Hurl also supports HTTP basic authentication if your service requires it. After you click send, it makes your request and sends the response details back to the interface. Both the request and response detail views show the full HTTP request as it was sent, so you can be sure you transmitted or received.

Both outputs are formatted and colorized as well, making it much easier to read and repurpose the data. There’s also a “view full size” hyperlink that will bring outputs into their own windows. This makes it much easier to copy and paste as well as see large response output.

One of the nicest features of Hurl is the ability to save your HTTP requests by creating an account or referencing a “permalink” to the request you constructed. This way, you won’t have to recreate test requests. So if you find yourself trying to troubleshoot a Web API, give Hurl a whirl. It’s easy, useful and free.



You most likely have a number of scheduled tasks running to automate functions such as archiving logs, transferring data, backing up files and securing resources. As the amount of these jobs increases, having a central management console with notifications and reporting can save you time and headaches.

VisualCron, from, is one such automation console. It consists of three application components: a job-handling Windows service, a GUI client for configuring and monitoring jobs, and a system tray client for quick access to the client and for controlling the Windows service. VisualCron licenses are based on the number of servers you have installed, so you can install an unlimited number of clients to connect to one server instance, further simplifying administration.

Managing multiple environments from one client is straightforward. The client can connect to any number of servers, even across the Internet via a secured SSL/TLS connection (assuming you’ve allowed the connections through your firewalls). You can even copy and paste jobs between servers from within the client application.

Once you’ve connected to a server, use the Add Job wizard to set up new activities. You can name and group activities; define triggers for launching the job; and add time exceptions, timeouts and execution conditions. Then you can set up the tasks to run and any notifications you want to have happen on success or failure.

Triggers are either time- or event-based. For event-based triggers, VisualCron can watch event logs, files, e-mail accounts, processes, services, registry, performance counters, system startup or shutdown, and even RSS feeds. You can also use custom event definition to build a Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) query as an event trigger.

Time exceptions are useful for excluding holidays or backup Windows, for example. Conditions are reusable tests for flow control within your task. Tasks are the steps your job takes in execution. VisualCron has many built-in task types, from file interaction to compression and execution of SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages to FTP transactions and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption. This helps you handle relatively complex workflows. If you can’t find exactly the type of task you need, you can always use the command-line execute, .NET execute, assembly execute or Windows PowerShell tasks to write your own.

VisualCron has a number of built-in notification options to help you stay informed. There are built-in file, e-mail, SQL, pop-up, event log, sound and syslog notifications. You can run tasks as different users as well, so you don’t have to use the same credential set across different machines. You can also set multiple notification types per job.

You could have, for example, an e-mail sent on failure, but have a file notification that gets updated on every execution regardless of the result. Once you have your job set, you can use the Test Job button to make sure that everything is set up as you expect before you release it into the wild.

The VisualCron client also has a graphical flowchart view of your job so you can double-check the logic or save it for documentation. There’s also a graphical calendar view that helps you visualize when the job will execute and any possible conflicts.

VisualCron also has an open API. The client component actually uses the API itself, so you can do anything the client could do via your own code. You can use any .NET language or even any language with COM support to connect to the API. This way you could, for example, create your own Web interface or create jobs via Windows PowerShell.

VisualCron runs $247 for a one-server license with one year of maintenance and support or $197 without support. A five-server license is $897 with support. A site license costs $1,497 with support. There’s a 45-day free trial available on the Web site so you can verify that VisualCron meets your needs.


Ping Tester Database Edition

The “ping” test is the basic method of determining if a remote host is “alive” and checking out the connection latency between the source and target machines. Of course, all Windows machines come with the standard command-line ping utility. One tool that aims to take ping to the next level is Ping Tester from AutoBAUP Ltd.

Much like the command-line version of ping in Windows, you can set the ping interval, the send buffer size, the response timeout and how many pings to send. Ping Tester also lets you save IPs, IP ranges and logical IP groups so you can come back and rerun your ping tests.

You can also log all your results to a database. Ping Tester supports logging to Access, SQL Server or any other endpoint that would support a standard ODBC connection. When you set up the database connection, you can map each data field to a column that lets you port your data to an existing application directly, instead of using an intermediary data table.

You can run your tests once, put them on a schedule or have them run continually. You can also choose the “Scan IP” function, which will show you host names and MAC addresses if they’re available. This is useful for scanning the various subnets in your network for inventory or for checking for unknown hosts. There’s a menu option for “Scan local subnet and save the IP addresses” that could make this a two-click task.

Ping Tester also has a pass-through DOS command feature that lets you save commonly used DOS networking commands and their run history for easier access and reuse. You can save test results to a CSV or as straight text to a file.

Ping Tester Database Edition runs $98 for a single license. If you don’t need to save test results to a database, Ping Tester Professional Edition runs $59.95 and gives you the same features, except logging to a database. If you don’t need to set different intervals, send buffer sizes, or use some of the more advanced reports, the $39.95 Standard Edition may be all you need. There’s a 14-day trial of each version available from the Web site.

Ping Tester Database Edition

Greg Steen

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.