Tools of the Trade
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Published in NCC Technology Publishing's Windows NT Help Desk Report
The more networks or the larger the network you support, the more you need to have on-hand as many tools as possible. Such tools will simplify your efforts to find the answers to questions and fix problems. In this article, I'll discuss the technical toolkit of CD-ROM products that I keep close by.
A Winning Combination
The solution to a problem frequently requires a combination of tools. For example, I encountered such a situation earlier this year as I began the implementation phase of a multistate area network. I noticed a slowdown in performance on a workstation running Windows NT 4.0 on a Novell network. A technical bulletin on Novell's Support Connection CD indicated that this was a known problem in certain configurations; the bulletin went on to give instructions on how to resolve the problem. Doing so involved getting a special file from Microsoft support. In addition, the bulletin referred to a specific TechNet document number with further details. What follows is a list of the tools I keep in my bag of tricks to help resolve such involved problems.
The Microsoft TechNet binder of 21 CD-ROMs provides everything from the current technical support database to the complete set of service packs. The binder is separated into 4 sections: Monthly Issues, Utilities, Service Packs, and Extras.
The Monthly Issues section holds the TechNet database Cds. The CDs are divided into two groups: business products and the entire Microsoft product line. The Supplemental Drivers And Patches CD provides patches, fixes, and drivers for MS products. The CDs in this section are updated monthly; the remaining sections are updated as needed.
The first CD in the Utilities section is the Software Library Archive. It holds files that have had updates placed on the Utilities CD in the Monthly Issues. The Client Utilities CD contains sample files, evaluation copies, and other tools designed to improve client-level Microsoft products such as FoxPro, Access, and Windows 95. The Server Utilities CD includes sample files, extensions, and other tools for Microsoft server products such as Microsoft Exchange, Systems Management Server, and Internet Information Server.
The remaining CDs in the TechNet binder provide material ranging from service packs to resource kit utility programs. Recently, TechNet also began offering a CD version of the online seminars available on the Microsoft Web site. TechNet's $300 yearly subscription fee is more than justified by the wealth of information contained in the binder, particularly given that the data is kept current with monthly updates.
Novell Support Connection CD
The Novell Support Connection CD is a technical support resource packaged in a binder similar to TechNet's. The two main CDs—numbers 1 and 2—are updated on a monthly basis.
If you're trying to minimize the number of CDs you transport, you'll want to carry CD 1: It contains the support database and a directory of the latest versions of update and patch files for products that are currently shipping. CD 2 has older versions of some of these files as well as updates for products no longer shipping.
From time to time, Novell includes demo CDs provided by some of its business partners. These CDs give additional functionality to shipping Novell products. The subscription cost for this product ranges from $295 for CNEs and Master CNEs to $1,000 for multi-user versions that can run on a network.
Novell CNE Product Link
Initially intended by Novell as a training tool for its cadre of CNEs and Master CNEs, the Novell CNE Product Link has found another purpose. I've used it several times during the course of an installation or upgrade when the customer has lost the media but has the license disk or is still waiting for the arrival of purchased software. Using the CNE Product Link has allowed installations to continue on schedule and upgrades to continue without a hitch. Because the customer will be using a legal license before the installation finishes, there's no license violation—the customer has purchased a legal copy of the software being implemented.
Access to this product is tightly controlled to CNEs and Master CNEs. The main difference between this product and the product Novell ships to its resellers is the license-creation disk, which has a higher license count on the products included in the binder.
A recent change in version 6 really makes the product worth the money. Lanalyzer for Windows—a software-based protocol analyzer—used to ship only with the reseller version of Product Link but is now included in the CNE Product Link. Lanalyzer has proved very handy for me on several occasions by helping identify the source of a problem without my having to decode the data inside each data packet.
LogicSource for NDS
LogicSource for NDS from Novell (support.novell.com/logicsource/nds/, $295) is very handy. This CD contains the knowledge Novell has acquired over years regarding NDS. The project took two people about a year and a half to complete.
To call LogicSource for NDS a treasure trove borders on being an understatement. This CD delves into NDS concepts in considerable detail to going into each errors code from both server and client perspectives. The server-side error codes tell you what the problem is, the problem's probable cause, and the potential fix(es) for the problem. The documentation of the client-side NDS error codes leaves a little to be desired. But, I've found that in practice, you can fix most client-level problems by running DSRepair on the server until no errors are reported during the repair pass.
As you consider all the other tools you need to get, you may have a hard time justifying purchasing the LogicSource CD. All it will take to make ordering this CD worthwhile is the one or two times that you need some low-level information about what a particular process is doing or not doing. You'll decide quickly that this tool should be in your bag of tricks. Novell has indicated that LogicSource for NDS will be the first in a series of reference products to give administrators and developers the information they need.
Compaq Support Software CDs
The Compaq Support Software CDs collection of six CDs makes supporting Compaq Desktop, Portable, and Workstation products easy. The first CD is bootable; it helps prepare the workstation hard drive for an operating system installation.
The remaining CDs support the various categories of non-server products from Compaq. Using Microsoft's IE4 as the installation program interface, you select the model type, model number, and operating system options to steer you to the specific files necessary for the desired product to work at optimum levels with the operating system.
This product is updated as needed by Compaq. The update interval can range from once a month to once a quarter.
The three-CD Compaq Quickfind collection is published monthly by Compaq. It gives you all the information available to properly support the company's products.
The first CD—titled Support Reference Library—provides more than 50,000 pages of documentation in the form of technical support and sales information on the Compaq product line, both past and present. The Illustrated Parts Guide helps you take systems apart and identify part numbers or assemblies that may need to be ordered. The final Software Solution Files CD provides the service packs or Rompaq to fix identified problems or optimize the operation of the products concerned.
The rest of my CD collection consists of copies of just about all the Resource Kits currently shipping from Microsoft, along with copies of NT Server, NT Workstation, Windows 95, Windows 98, and Plus CDs for Windows 95 and 98. The copies of the NT and 9x products are for both original purchase and upgrades, because in some cases a product will ask for files available only on a particular version. I also keep copies of such items as Exchange, SNA Server, and IIS and handy.
My CD resource kit is rounded with copies of everyday things such as HP printer drivers and Intel Netport Manager. You never know when a customer (or a department of your company) will need one of these files and can't seem to locate their copy. In a future article, I'll discuss the hardware tools I use in addition to my CD tools.
Ron Nutter is a senior systems engineer for Lextech Inc., a systems integration firm in Lexington, Kentucky. He's a MCSE, Novell Master CNE, and Compaq ASE. Ron is currently working on installing a 9-state, 31-office WAN utilizing Windows NT, NetWare, and AS/400s for a national utility. He's also the Help Desk Editor for Network World. You can reach Ron at Rnutter@ix.netcom.com.
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