Directory assistance

Getting an MCSE takes time. So does becoming an expert in Active Directory. If you don't have time for both, Ed Bott has some suggestions in this week's Microsoft Challenge.

How do you become an Active Directory expert in your spare time, without having to earn an MCSE? That's the Challenge I posed for TechRepublic members two weeks ago, courtesy of the part-time administrator of a small network. He isn't an IT professional and doesn't have the time to study for an MCSE. Where can he turn for an accurate, thorough tutorial and setup instructions to feel confident that he's set up his new Windows 2000 domain correctly?

It never hurts to start with the absolute basics. TechRepublic member sapperpb reminds us that the Windows 2000 Help files can be surprisingly, well, helpful: "The wizards are good, but to tweak out your domain, delve into the Help files. They really are useful if you read them carefully." Following this advice, I poked through the Help index on a Windows 2000 Server box, and sure enough, I found dozens of pertinent Help topics, including one that led to Microsoft's excellent Web-based index of nearly 40 Step-by-Step Guides. The list includes seven Active Directory walk-throughs, including the superb Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Active Directory.

Don't forget to look right here at TechRepublic, too. Download the free Guide to Installing Active Directory. Then search the Technical Q&A pages for Active Directory-related topics. You'll find dozens of hits.

TechRepublic member and MCSE shaneb recommends setting up a small test network so that you can experiment while learning. "We all know there is no better way to learn something than to either play with it or break it. Setting up a server and playing with it is the best way to learn without investing in a new career."

Bookshelf basics
As the author of more than a dozen books on Windows and Office, of course, I'm partial to the printed page. A well-written introductory text can be a huge help in mastering the essentials of networking, and TechRepublic members came through with a handful of well-chosen book recommendations. None of these titles are likely to make Oprah's Book Club anytime soon, but they're ideal for learning about the building blocks of a Windows 2000 network.
  • The most popular recommendation of all was the Windows 2000 System Administrator's Black Book by Barry Shilmover and Stuart Sjouwerman (The Coriolis Group). Four TechRepublic members recommended this title, including rziminski, who called it "the best system admin book I have found, [with] no bull [and] direct step-by-step answers."
  • Mastering Windows 2000 Server by Mark Minasi also won multiple thumbs-up reviews. TechRepublic member repprsn (apparently a charter member of the Minasi fan club) raves: "The ultimate reference...the best $50 you will spend! If he does not cover it, it is not worth knowing."
  • TechRepublic member Lee Scales seconds the nominations for the titles by Minasi and Shilmover/Sjouwerman, calling Minasi "the best." Lee also plugs MCSE Windows 2000 Foundations, a book he coauthored with James Michael Stewart. It may cover too broad a range of Windows 2000 issues to be applicable here, but it sounds like a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any part-time Windows 2000 network administrator.
  • Several TechRepublic members suggested titles from Microsoft Press, including the MCSE Training Kit: Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory Services. That one may be overkill, given this part-time admin's reluctance to dive into the icy waters of MCSE coursework, but the list of Active Directory titles from Microsoft Press is worth exploring after you've laid the proper foundation.

Beyond the books
If you want a clearinghouse of information, including links to tutorials, try the extensive set of Active Directory resources at "They rule!" according to TechRepublic member Carl Ribbegaardh.

Active Directory courses from ZDNet's include a two-parter on Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory Design (marvs). Tuition for these self-guided courses is $99 each. After a bit of searching, I also found three SmartPlanet courses in Active Directory Administration, which may be more appropriate.

Of course, you shouldn’t get so engrossed in the Web that you forget P2P (person-to-person) contact. TechRepublic member Ed Buffaloe says he found help from a user group in his hometown of Austin, TX. "There is a LAN users group that holds regular weekly study sessions—the current one is on Active Directory. There may not be such a group in every city, but they are worth searching for. Such user groups usually contain genuine experts in many disciplines." I'll second that suggestion, especially if you're located in an urban area where there's plenty of government and business computing activity.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week's Challenge. I've divided the 2,000 TechPoints evenly among everyone who was quoted in this week's column.

Here's Ed's new Challenge
While prowling the Technical Q&A boards at TechRepublic this week, I found a dandy of a question that deserves a wider audience. A TechRepublic member wants to assemble daily, weekly, and monthly lists of general responsibilities for the administrator of a small- to medium-size network (up to 500 users). Some tasks are obvious—tape backup and a quick scan of Event Viewer logs, for instance—-but what else should be on a daily/weekly/monthly to-do list? Have you put together task lists for the IT professionals in your organization? Share your secrets with fellow TechRepublic members and earn 2,000 TechPoints. Click here to tackle this week's Microsoft Challenge.

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