Microsoft Management Console
Microsoft Management Console (MMC) provides a common environment for the management of various system and network resources. MMC is actually a framework that hosts modules called snap-ins, which provide the actual tools for managing a resource. For example, you manage Exchange Server 2007 using the Microsoft Exchange snap-in.
The Start menu icon that loads the Exchange Management Console essentially creates an MMC and loads the Microsoft Exchange snap-in, and you can do nearly all your administration by selecting this shortcut. However, you may find it useful to add the Microsoft Exchange snap-in to an MMC console you create along with other snap-ins representing common tasks you perform.
MMC itself does not provide any management functionality. Rather, the MMC environment provides for seamless integration between snap-ins. This allows administrators and other users to create custom management tools from snap-ins created by various vendors. Administrators can save the tools they have created for later use and share them with other administrators and users. This model gives administrators the ability to delegate administrative tasks by creating different tools of varying levels of complexity and giving them to the users who will perform the tasks.
The MMC User Interface
When you first load MMC, you might notice that it looks a lot like Microsoft Windows Explorer. MMC uses a multiple-document interface, meaning that you can load and display multiple console windows in the MMC parent window simultaneously. Figure 10-1 shows the MMC parent window with the Microsoft Exchange snap-in loaded. The next few sections discuss the main parts of this window.
The main MMC toolbar holds six menus: File, Action, View, Favorites, Window, and Help. The View, Favorites, Window, and Help menus are pretty much what you would expect. The View menu lets you customize the columns you see in the display and turn on or off visual effects. The Favorites menu lets you add items to a list of favorites and organize that list into categories. The Favorites list can include shortcuts to tools, items in the console, or tasks. The Window menu lets you manage console windows if you have more than one window open in MMC. The Help menu lets you access general MMC Help as well as Help for the snap-ins that are currently loaded.
Figure 10-1 MMC window with the Microsoft Exchange snap-in loaded
The Action menu provides access to commands pertinent to the object you have selected in the console. The commands on the Action menu change depending on what snap-in is loaded and what object within that snap-in is currently selected.
The File menu is where most of the action is. From this menu, you can open and save consoles and even create new ones. You can also add snap-ins to and remove them from open consoles and set general MMC options. Options you can set include the following:
- Console Title Specifies the console name as it appears in the MMC title bar.
- Console Mode Author mode grants the user full access to all MMC functionality. User mode comes in three flavors: Full Access lets the user access all MMC commands but not add or remove snap-ins or change console properties; Limited Access Multiple Window allows the user to access only the areas of the console tree that were visible when the console was saved and to open new windows; Limited Access Single Window works the same as Limited Access Multiple Window, except that users cannot open new windows.
Other options define whether users can access context menus on taskpads, save changes to the console, and customize views.
The Scope pane contains a hierarchy of containers referred to as a console tree. Some containers are displayed as unique icons that graphically represent the type of items they contain. Others are displayed as folders, simply indicating that they hold other objects. Click the plus sign next to a container to expand it and display the objects inside. Click the minus sign to collapse the container.
The Details pane changes to show the contents of the container selected in the Scope pane. In other words, the Details pane shows the results of the currently selected scope. The Details pane can display information in a number of ways, referred to as views.
The View menu also lets you customize the columns that are shown in the scope and details panes. In the Details pane itself, you can rearrange columns and click a column heading to reorder rows alphabetically or chronologically.
In addition to the standard views, for some snap-ins you can also create a taskpad view to show in the Details pane. A taskpad view is a dynamic HTML (DHTML) page that presents shortcuts to commands available for a selected item in the Scope pane. Each command is represented as a task that consists of an image, a label, a description, and a mechanism for instructing the snap-in to run that command. Users can run the commands by clicking a task.
You can use taskpad views to do the following things:
- Include shortcuts to all the tasks a specific user might need to perform.
- Group tasks by function or user by creating multiple taskpad views in a console.
- Create simplified lists of tasks. For example, you can add tasks to a taskpad view and then hide the console tree.
- Simplify complex tasks. For example, if a user frequently performs a given task involving several snap-ins and other tools, you can organize, in a single location, shortcuts to those tasks that run the appropriate property sheets, command lines, dialog boxes, or scripts.
Snap-in Root Container
The snap-in root container is the uppermost container in the snap-in; it is usually named based on the product or task with which it is associated. MMC supports stand-alone and extension snap-ins. A stand-alone snap-in, such as Microsoft Exchange, provides management functionality without requiring support from another snap-in. Only one snap-in root container exists for each stand-alone snap-in. An extension snap-in requires a parent snap-in above it in the console tree. Extension snap-ins extend the functionality provided by other snap-ins.
Containers and Objects
Exchange Server 2007 is a great example of an object-based, hierarchical directory environment. All the little bits and pieces that make up Exchange are objects that interact with one another to some degree. The objects you see in the scope and details panes can be divided into two types:
- Containers Containers can contain both other containers and noncontainer objects. Container objects can also appear in the Details pane. They are used to logically group all the objects that make up a management environment. An administrator uses the container objects to organize the tree and then to navigate through it.
- Leaf Objects A leaf object is simply an object that cannot contain other objects. Some common leaf objects with which an administrator works daily include servers and connectors.
You manage all the objects in an MMC console through the use of property sheets. A property sheet is a dialog box you open by selecting an object and then choosing Properties from the Action menu. It consists of one or more tabs that contain controls for setting a group of related properties. Figure 10-2 shows the property sheet for a server object in the Microsoft Exchange snap-in.
Figure 10-2 Property sheet for a server object
How MMC Works
The MMC interface permits snap-ins to integrate within a common management console. This gives all snap-ins a similar look and feel, although they might perform their tasks in different ways. The console itself offers no management functions; it merely acts as a host to the snap-ins. Snap-ins always reside in a console; they do not run by themselves.
Each MMC tool is built of a collection of instances of smaller tools called MMC snap-ins. A snap-in is the smallest unit of console extension and represents one unit of management behavior. The snap-in might call on other supporting controls and dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) to accomplish its task.
Snap-ins extend MMC by adding and enabling management behavior. They can provide this behavior in a number of ways. For example, a snap-in might add elements to the container tree, or it might extend a particular tool by adding shortcut menu items, toolbars, property sheet tabs, wizards, or Help to an existing snap-in. There are two basic types of snap-ins:
- Stand-alone Snap-ins Provide management functionality even if they are alone in a console with no other supporting snap-ins. They do not rely on any other snap-ins being present. The Exchange System snap-in is an example of a stand-alone snap-in.
- Extension Snap-ins Provide a variety of functionality, but only when used in conjunction with a parent snap-in. Some extend the console namespace, while others simply extend context menus or specific wizards.
Many snap-ins support both modes of operation, offering some stand-alone functionality and also extending the functionality of other snap-ins.
Snap-ins are usually shipped in groups called packages. For example, the Microsoft Windows operating system itself includes one or more packages of snap-ins. Additionally, other vendors might ship products composed entirely of packages of snap-ins. Grouping snap-ins into packages provides convenience for downloading and installation. It also permits several snap-ins to share core DLLs so that these DLLs do not have to be placed in every snap-in.
MMC provides functionality for creating custom management tools. It allows administrators to create, save, and then delegate a customized console of multiple snap-ins tailored for specific tasks. Administrators can assemble these specific snap-ins into a tool (also called a document) that runs in one instance of MMC. For example, you can create a tool that manages many different aspects of the network—Active Directory, replication topology, file sharing, and so on. After assembling a tool, the administrator can save it in an .msc file and then reload the file later to instantly re-create the tool. The.msc file can also be e-mailed to another administrator, who can then load the file and use the tool.
One of the primary benefits of MMC is its support for customization of tools. You can build custom MMC consoles tailored for specific management tasks and then delegate those consoles to other administrators. These tools can focus on the particular management requirements of various administrator groups.
For example, you could create a custom console, as shown in Figure 10-3, that includes the Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory Users and Computers, Disk Management, and Event Viewer snap-ins—several tools that are important to any Exchange administrator.
Figure 10-3 A custom console with various snap-ins
Obviously, there is a lot more to MMC than can be covered in a single chapter, especially when the chapter is really about using the Microsoft Exchange System snap-in. For more information about MMC, start with the Help file available from any console window.
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