Windows

10 must-have Windows server tools

The right tools can make your server administration chores much easier. Here's a list of the ones Brien Posey finds indispensable.

Over the years, Microsoft has given us a staggering number of tools to help with server administration. Since there are so many tools available, I decided to talk about some of my favorites.

Note: This article is also available as PDF download and as a photo gallery.

1: System Center Capacity Planner

It might seem strange to start out by talking about a tool that Microsoft has discontinued. But I've found System Center Capacity Planner (Figure A) to be so helpful, I wanted to mention it anyway. In case you are not familiar with this tool, it's designed to help make sure your proposed server deployment will be able to handle the anticipated workload.

According to Microsoft, the System Center Capacity Planner is being replaced by the System Center Configuration Manager Designer (which I have not yet had a chance to use). The end of life announcement for System Center Capacity Planner indicates that it is no longer available, but at the time of this writing, you can still download it from TechNet, as well as from other third-party sites.

Figure A

System Center Capacity Planner

2: PowerShell

Microsoft's Server products have evolved to the point that you can perform almost any administrative action from the command line by using PowerShell (Figure B). Most of the newer Microsoft Server products include management tools that are actually built on top of PowerShell. This means that any management tasks that can be performed through the GUI can also be performed from the command line or performed through a PowerShell Script. You can download PowerShell 2.0 from Microsoft.

Figure B

PowerShell

3: Best Practices Analyzer

The Best Practices Analyzer(Figure C) isn't really a single tool, but rather a series of tools designed to analyze your server deployments and ensure that they adhere to Microsoft's recommended best practices. Microsoft provides versions of the Best Practices analyzer for Exchange, SQL, Small Business Server, and other Microsoft server products.

Figure C

Best Practices Analyzer

4: Security Configuration Wizard

The Security Configuration Wizard (Figure D) is designed to help you to reduce the attack surface of your servers. It analyzes the way in which your servers are configured and then recommends how you can change various aspects of the configuration to make them more secure. The Security Configuration Wizard is included with Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2, but you can also download a Windows Server 2003 version.

Figure D

Security Configuration Wizard

5: ADSI Edit

Another of my favorite tools is ADSI Edit (Figure E). ADSI Edit allows you to manually edit the Active Directory database. Whenever someone asks me about ADSI Edit, I usually compare it to the registry editor. The registry editor allows you to manually change various configuration parameters within a system, but if you use it incorrectly, you can destroy Windows. ADSI Edit is similar: It gives you free rein over Active Directory, but if you make a mistake, you can destroy it.

I have found ADSI Edit most useful for working with Exchange Server deployments. It is sometimes impossible to remove Exchange public folders through conventional means. When this happens, you can use ADSI Edit to get rid of the folders that the Exchange Server management tools leave behind.

Figure E

ADSI Edit

6: DCDIAG

Although domain controllers are usually fairly reliable, problems do occasionally occur -- particularly with regard to Active Directory replication. The DCDIAG utility (Figure F), which is included with Windows Server, lets you run a full series of diagnostic tests against malfunctioning domain controllers.

Figure F

DCDIAG

7: Microsoft File Server Migration Wizard

As time goes on, server hardware continues to improve. Some organizations are finding that they can decrease management costs by consolidating their aging file servers. The Microsoft File Server Migration Wizard (Figure G), which is included in the File Server Migration Toolkit, helps organizations merge the contents of aging file servers into DFS root.

Figure G

Microsoft File Server Migration Wizard

8: LDIF Directory Exchange

The LDIF Directory Exchange utility (Figure H) isn't exactly a tool I use every day. But it has gotten me out of a couple of jams, so I wanted to include it on my list of favorite tools. LDIF Directory Exchange is a command-line tool for importing and exporting Active Directory objects. As with ADSI Edit, you have to be careful when using this tool because you can really mess up your Active Directory if you use it incorrectly. Even so, it's worth its weight in gold because it allows you to do some amazing things. For example, you can export all the user accounts from a domain and then use the resulting text file to create those same user accounts in a different domain.

The LDIF Directory Exchange utility is built into Windows Server. You can access it by entering LDIFDE in a command prompt window. Windows will display the command's full syntax along with the various command-line switches you can use.

Figure H

LDIF Directory Exchange utility

9: Server Core Configurator

So far, all the tools I've talked about are provided by Microsoft. However, there is one third-party tool I want to mention. Server Core Configurator (Figure I) is an open source tool written by Guy Teverovsky.

Any time you perform a server core installation of Windows Server 2008, you must perform certain post installation tasks before the server is ready to use. Microsoft offers some PowerShell scripts, but performing the initial configuration process from a command line can be tedious. The Server Core Configurator simplifies the provisioning process by providing a simple GUI you can use for the initial configuration.

Figure I

Server Core Configurator

10: Microsoft Application Compatibility Manager

The Microsoft Application Compatibility Manager (Figure J) is part of the Application Compatibility Toolkit. It's designed to ease the transition from one version of Windows to the next by compiling an inventory of the applications running on your desktops and determining whether each one is compatible with the new version of Windows.

Figure J

Application Compatibility Manager


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About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

4 comments
steve
steve

I've programmed as an administrator on all sorts of machines and OSes for 30 years. IBM JCL, CLIST, rexx, some old Reality PROC, korn shell, perl and half a dozen others. PROC looked like line noise and had its own twisted logic and was probably the worst of the bunch. My current favourite is Ruby which espouses the principle of least surprise and by-and-large delivers. Powershell on the other hand is the precise opposite. Nothing works as expected and everything has hairs on it. If I could get at those APIs any other way I certainly would.

SorinD
SorinD

ADSIEdit is a great tool, but I rather prefer AD explorer (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963907.aspx - also included with the sysinternals suite). It allows you to search for objects and you don't have to right-click to see their properties. Also has a much wider view of the properties, so less scrolling. :)

codepoke
codepoke

If perl and .NET had a baby, it would be Powershell. It takes a lot of getting used to, but you have to admit the tool is wonderfully powerful. When I was first starting with it, I kept getting caught out trying to find a way around some limitation that just wasn't there. Perl won't let me do X, so I'd spend a couple hours searching docs trying to find away around it only eventually to find out Powershell had already done X for me and I'd just never looked at the output correctly. I think Powershell surprises everyone, so yeah, I buy the anti-Ruby moniker for it. But once you do get the hang of it, it's slick. I use it more than anything else these days.

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