Get IT Done: Centralize admin tools with a custom MMC in Win2K

Build your own MMC superconsole, which you can use to centrally manage practically any other Win2K resource you might want to control, all with one custom tool.

For seasoned Windows NT 4.0 administrators learning Windows 2000, one of the most significant differences between the two platforms is the fact that Win2K’s administrative tools now have a common interface—the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). What many administrators don’t realize is that the MMC is highly customizable. In fact, I’m going to show you how to build your own MMC superconsole, which you can use to centrally manage any Windows 2000 server or workstation, domain controller, DNS server, WINS server, and practically any other Win2K resource you might want to control, all with one custom tool. I’ll even show you how to use this tool to control non-Windows resources. Let’s get started.

Setting up a custom MMC
Although you can create a custom MMC from any Windows 2000 machine, the superconsole I’m going to demonstrate must be created from a Windows 2000 Server (or Win2K Advanced Server or Datacenter) to include advanced Windows domain and server tools. However, if you’d like to access this superconsole from your Windows workstation, never fear. You can simply use Terminal Services administrator mode to connect to the Windows 2000 Server where you created this custom MMC.

To create a new MMC console, simply click Start | Run, type mmc, and click OK. You should see an empty console similar to Figure A.

Figure A

Next, click Console | Add/Remove Snap-in (Figure B) and then click the Add button to display a list of modules (Figure C).

Figure B

Figure C

Most of the modules are self-explanatory. Simply select the ones you use most often or need access to. However, some of the modules—such as Computer Management, Device Manager, Event Viewer, and Local Users And Groups—allow you to choose whether you want the module to manage the local machine or another machine on the network (see Figure D).

Figure D

You can use this feature to easily connect to multiple machines. For example, you could set up the Computer Management module for all of the Win2K Servers in your network, allowing you to monitor the Event Viewer and Services for all your servers from one central location.

While not all modules can set up separate entities for different machines, some of the modules, such as DNS and WINS, have this capability built into the module itself. In other words, a single DNS module allows you to connect to multiple DNS servers on your network (rather than having multiple DNS modules with each assigned to a different server).

One of my favorite modules is Link to Web Address. I use it to connect to any machine, device, or appliance that has a Web-based interface. All you have to do is select the Link To Web Address module, type in the URL for the device, click Next, type in a user-friendly name, and click Finish. Below, we’ll take one Web interface I set up using this module.

Once you have selected all the modules that you want, click Close and then click OK. You should see that your MMC is now populated with all of the modules that you selected (Figure E).

Figure E

Working with your custom MMC
After you collect all of your modules in one place, you can use them as you normally would when working with them as separate tools. However, another advantage of the custom MMC is that you can select Favorites for the parts of these modules that are nested deep within the module’s hierarchy and take several clicks to get to. For example, I usually put some of the logs from the Event Viewer in my Favorites. This enables me to have quick access (two clicks) to this module by either clicking the Favorites menu and selecting the log that I want or clicking the Favorites tab and selecting it (Figure F).

Figure F

If you decide to take advantage of the Link to Web Address module mentioned above, you will find that clicking on that module simply turns the window on the right side of your MMC into a browser. For example, I have set up this sample MMC to connect to the Webmin interface on a Linux machine on my local network (Figure G). This is also useful for managing Cisco switches, HP laser printers, server appliances, and other devices that have a strong Web interface.

Figure G

Saving your custom MMC
Before saving and exiting, you need to choose a mode for your custom console. Click Console | Options (Figure H). Under Console Mode, select one of four modes available.

Figure H

You’ve been working in Author Mode. If you plan to regularly add and change your console, and you are the only one working with the custom console, you may want to stick with this mode.

If you will be making only an occasional update, and you or others with the same network privileges as you will be the ones using the console, you’ll probably want to select User Mode - Full Access. This will remove the saving, adding, and editing features from the Console menu bar the next time you open the custom console for regular use. You can still edit your console by opening mmc from the Run menu, clicking Console | Open, and selecting your saved console.

The other two modes—User Mode - Limited Access, Multiple Window and User Mode - Limited Access, Single Window—may be useful if you are a senior administrator creating a custom MMC for your assistant administrators, junior administrators, and other IT professionals or staff members that may need to perform some basic administration functions.

Now it’s time to save your custom MMC superconsole. First, click Console | Save. Then, you will need to provide a name for your console and a location where you want to save it (see Figure I).

Figure I

The default location for saving your console is in the Start | Programs | Administrative Tools folder (the location of most of the Win2K administrative tools). This a good spot for your custom console, although you’ll probably want to create a shortcut to it that you can place on your desktop, your Quick Launch bar, or whatever tool you use for easy access.

The final word
You should now be able to build your own Windows 2000 superconsole for managing the servers and services distributed across your network. Believe it or not, we actually only showed the basics of customizing an MMC. If you have some Visual Basic skills and you want to get really creative, you can even build your own custom modules using ActiveX. But even in its simplest implementation, a custom console can help you manage your network more efficiently.

Do you have tips for simplifying Win2K administration?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.


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