Learn to love Active Directory, soon

You won't pass a single Windows 2000 exam without a solid understanding of Active Directory Services. Erik Eckel has a few tips for learning Active Directory's essentials, which can also help restore order to your enterprise.

I have an uncle who won’t park in his garage. He doesn’t want to get the floor dirty. While I’m not quite that bad, somewhere along the line I inherited an extra clean gene. I like tidiness, and therefore I love Active Directory.
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Instead of having to administer disparate networks patched together over time, systems engineers can now manage printers, users, computers, sites, and much more from a single directory. No more worrying about complex trust relationships and domain models. That’s all old hat.

Windows 2000’s Active Directory Services is a powerful new feature that will change the way you administer an enterprise network. Bet on it. You also won’t pass a single Windows 2000 exam without a solid understanding of the new directory services.

The question really isn’t whether you’ll need to develop Active Directory expertise, but when. I recommend sooner rather than later.

Where to start?
Begin by installing Windows 2000 on a test machine and experimenting with Active Directory. Since there’s much more to installing Active Directory than simply typing dcpromo.exe at a command prompt, TechRepublic has built a download to help guide you through a basic Active Directory install. You’ll find the step-by-step guide here.

Next, consider visiting a testing center near you to attend Microsoft Course 2154. It’s a five-day, instructor-led class. Take the time to sit through the class, and you’ll come out at the end of the week with greater expertise implementing and administering Active Directory.

What if I don’t have time for a class?
If Windows 2000 education hasn’t yet taken priority in your organization, and you can’t skip out of the office for a week, Microsoft offers several self-paced training courses online. You’ll find many devoted to Active Directory instruction.

If books are more your style, I’ve found two I think you’ll find useful. However, the two books—one from O’Reilly & Associates and one from New Riders—are very different animals, despite sharing the same title. Apparently, the publishers were in a hurry to get the books on the shelf, for both are titled Windows 2000 Active Directory.

O’Reilly’s Windows 2000 Active Directory was written by Alistair Lowe-Norris, who worked for Leicester University at the time he wrote the book—and his academic affiliations are unmistakable. His text is straight to the point. He doesn’t waste time exchanging pleasantries but instead gets right to business. He’s now an enterprise program manager for Microsoft U.K.

If academic, no-bull texts are your liking, just look for the book with the cats on the cover. It retails for $39.95.

This book was written for system administrators. The preface states that it doesn’t matter if the reader manages a single server or a multinational network. However, Lowe-Norris recommends that the reader have a Windows 2000 Server and Resource Kit tools available in order to investigate many of the procedures the book covers.

I’d also suggest that readers of the O’Reilly book have more than passing familiarity with VBScript, for you’ll find numerous scripts sprinkled throughout the text. In fact, that’s one of the book’s greatest strengths. In addition to detailed descriptions of the inner workings, design, implementation, and management of Active Directory, you’ll find page after page of handy scripts.

If you’ve been administering NT systems for a few years and you enjoy working with scripts, the O’Reilly selection might be just what you need. However, if you’re newer to NT and haven’t had as much experience with VBScript, you might prefer New Riders’ Windows 2000 Active Directory, written by Edgar Brovick, Doug Hauger, and William Wade.

Looking for the skinny and some personality at the same time? Consider the New Riders’ offering. You should be able to get it for $29.99.

Brovick, Hauger, and Wade inject personality into their writing. In fact, it’s almost conversational. While you won’t find many scripts in the New Riders text, you’ll find excellent descriptions and explanations. They make Active Directory much more understandable, not to mention approachable.

Can you trust what they write? Certainly. Suffice it to say that they all work in the industry. Hauger and Wade also have ties to Microsoft.

Similar to the O’Reilly book, the New Riders selection targets “technical architects and implementers already familiar with Windows NT.” While Brovick, Hauger, and Wade claim their book doesn’t target those IT professionals charged with administering and maintaining an Active Directory infrastructure, I have no doubt that it will answer many network administrators’ questions quickly and with a minimum of reading.

I recommend the New Riders text for those IT pros seeking quick answers to their Active Directory questions. Certainly, it does a wonderful job of covering the essentials. If your NT skills are highly developed, and you’d like to begin examining Active Directory minutiae, you might best be served reaching for the O’Reilly text instead.

Just make sure that if you pick up one of these texts, you keep it clean. And if you ever visit my uncle, remember to take your shoes off at the door.

Erik Eckel MCP+I, MCSE is editor-in-chief of TechRepublic’s IT communities. Previously he’s held communications and product management positions with nationwide long distance and data networking companies.

If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.

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