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Toolbox New Products for IT Pros
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools and methods to help make operations and development easier for IT professionals.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.
Move SQL Server Databases
xSQL Bundle Professional Edition
It doesn't matter if you're dedicated to operational support, application development, quality assurance testing, or configuration management. If you're an IT professional (and I'm guessing you are since you're reading TechNet Magazine), moving SQL Server™ databases around is probably a part of your life. And when moving data and data schemas around, you need to be careful about inconsistencies. To help you avoid such inconsistencies, you need a good toolset to perform schema and data comparison and synchronization.
One tool I've used recently is xSQL Bundle from xSQL Software. The bundle is made up of four different applications: xSQL Object, xSQL Data Compare, and their associated commmand-line utilities.
xSQL Object lets you compare and synchronize database schemas. It provides a number of comparison options for the types and instances of objects you want to compare between databases. The application also allows you to create schema snapshots, which are handy for maintaining version history. This feature also gives you an easy way to rollback to a previous schema state. You can even generate schema scripts with xSQL Object, allow-
ing you to transport or package your database schema.
xSQL Data Compare can equate and synchronize the data contained in two SQL Server databases. It lets you choose to compare either the entire contents of two databases or select a set of tables to compare. In case your tables don't exactly match, you can define a custom table mapping to make sure that the data within those tables is the same. When synchronizing large amounts of data, the application switches to bulk insert mode, saving time on the synchronization process.
Both xSQL Data Compare and xSQL Object let you save your workspace so you don't have to constantly recreate your comparison environment. Synchronization for both applications is transactional, so you can be sure that either all operations are committed successfully or rolled-back as a whole. And all the applications in the bundle also support both SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005 database instances and you can compare and synchronize relevant data and objects between versions.
Perhaps one of the more powerful features of the xSQL Bundle are the two commmand-line utilities that, in effect, let you run your comparison and synchronization tasks via any build, process, monitoring, or automated task scheduler you may have. (In my book, automation of redundant tasks always makes work-life easier and more productive.) The commmand-line utilities slurp in an XML configuration file that you can create via a configuration wizard from the main application UI, and each utility has a number of text-file logging options so you have the ability to track what's happening during your automated execution.
Price: xSQL Bundle Professional Edition starts at $499 for a single user license.
xSQL Data Compare can synchronize the data in two SQL Server databases (Click the image for a larger view)
Enable More Secure Communication
If you're looking at ways to improve security in your organization, you may be considering Secure Shell Handling 2 (SSH2) and Secure FTP (SFTP). Simply put, SSH2 tunneling lets you securely connect to services on remote machines. It can also help you limit exposure to potential hackers by reducing the number of available listening, direct-to-application ports open on your firewall. SFTP is an alternative to your standard FTP server and uses SSH2 to secure your data and commands.
If these protocols sound like something you'd be interested in, you should definitely take a look at WinSSHD from Bitvise. WinSSHD is an SSH2 server designed specifically for Windows.
Installation is straightforward. The app provides an intuitive control panel for managing the WinSSHD service. The control panel is where you find everything from basic start/stop functionality to a customized view of the Windows®Event Log (where you can filter for WinSSHD events). This is also where you go to launch the settings panel, which lets you configure the nitty-gritty details of your setup. You can set interface and port bindings, tweak the logging configuration, specify SSH session encryption methods that you want to enable, configure session timeouts, choose authentication methods, specify proxy configurations, and control who has access to the instance. You can also import and export configurations.
Access control settings give you the ability to restrict access via IP rules (with masking support for subnet control) and by DNS name rules (which are processed after your IP rules).
WinSSHD supports virtualization, which is fantastic for SFTP implementations. This means you can assign thousands of virtual users to one Windows account, simplifying account and security details. The application also supports Windows groups for authentication and access control, so you don't have to define a policy on a per-user basis.
With support for Kerberos 5 and NTLM authentication, WinSSHD can be integrated into a single sign-on environment. Accomplishing this task requires a GSSAPI-enabled SSH client such as Tunnelier, which is a nice companion product that is also available from Bitvise. Tunnelier is, as you might expect, completely compatible with the WinSSHD server. It can also be used to configure your WinSSHD server remotely.
If your SFTP or SSH2 server environment is mission-critical, you can cluster WinSSHD for high availability. This is a fairly straightforward task, but if you find you need some assistance, the company's Web site provides information and configuration guides on setting up clustering, port-forwarding, tunneling Remote Desktop, and so on.
WinSSHD lets you specify SSH session encryption methods (Click the image for a larger view)
Monitor USB Activity
USB Monitor Professional
Here's a product for all types of users. Maybe you're a DIY software junkie who likes to create and modify drivers for your USB devices. Or you might be a hardware engineer who actually creates USB devices. Or perhaps you have simply found yourself staring at the activity light on some USB device wondering what exactly was causing so much activity. If any of these scenarios ring true, USB Monitor Professional from HHD Software can help out. This utility allows you to record, display, and analyze the data being transferred between a USB device and a Windows-based system via the USB host controller.
The UI is a tad convoluted, but once you get used to it you can gather vast amounts of information about the data passing to and from the USB device being monitored. By default, the application records most of the commands and command sets passed to a USB device. With some devices, notably mass storage, this can be quite verbose. Fortunately, you can customize what data you want the app to record for mass storage devices.
Once you record a session, you can then analyze the data in a number of ways. For mass storage devices, you get the Mass Storage View. There are also options for a linear graph of statistics and device throughput, a raw packet and control request view, a data packet decoder view, an HID-specific view, and a Still Image View (which will decode the USB Still Image protocol for applicable devices).
Due to the amount of data recorded by the application, you wouldn't want to leave a USB recording session running for too long. Still, you can restrict the maximum amount of disk space allowed for active recording sessions and compress the recorded data to reduce the space needed.
Price: Starts at $175.99 for a regular license.
USB Monitor Professional records the commands passed to a USB device (Click the image for a larger view)
Manage Virtual Media
Dealing with physical media can be a real drag. Since switching to Windows Vista and losing direct compatibility with the Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel, I have been looking for a replacement to mount CD and DVD images. (By the way, for those of you who are interested, you can find the Microsoft®Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel for Windows XP at go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=94801.)
Sure, it is possible to run the Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel in Windows Vista. The problem is that you always have to run as Administrator and you can only see the mounted drive under the Administrator context, which means via a Run as Administrator command prompt—but not within your user's Windows Explorer context. As a result of this, not only does the tool not work as I need it to work, but it also requires me to run the app in a less secure environment.
One tool I've found that does work within your Windows Vista user context
is Virtual CloneDrive from Elaborate
Bytes. The application installs itself as a GUI management application and a storage controller you can see from the
Device Manager. Once installed, the application has three basic settings. First,
you can specify the number of virtual drives you would like to use, with a maximum of 8 drives in parallel. Second, and perhaps my favorite option, you can choose to set the Virtual Sheep setting which replaces the standard CD/DVD drive icon with an angry sheep, so you know what drives are ISO drives versus real physical drives on your system. Finally, you can choose to automount the last image that you had assigned to that virtual drive on startup.
In addition to ISO files, Virtual CloneDrive can also mount and read .ccd, .dvd, .img, .udf, and .bin files. Also, it integrates into Windows Explorer, giving you quick access to mounting and unmounting images. And one of the best things about Virtual CloneDrive is that it's free. If you've moved to Windows Vista®and have been looking for a new solution to manage ISO files, definitely check out this tool.
The angry sheep of Virtual CloneDrive
SharePoint Products and Technologies Administrator's Pocket Consultant
Today's office may not be paperless, but there certainly are more and more electronic documents to deal with. Managing these documents and how they are shared is a growing issue and many companies are considering Microsoft SharePoint®Services and SharePoint Server as solutions. Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies Administrator's Pocket Consultant, by Ben Curry can help. Whether you are just considering SharePoint, you're knee-deep in the planning stages, or you already have a SharePoint infrastructure in place, this administrative-feature and daily-task reference is a great companion.
For those of you familiar with the Administrator's Pocket Consultant series, this guide will feel very familiar. It is on par with the others in terms of its level of content and structure. This particular book covers Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, SharePoint Server 2007 Standard, and SharePoint Server 2007 Enterprise Edition. It's split into four sections.
The first section, "SharePoint Products and Technologies Fundamentals," provides an overview of the components, versions, requirements, and installation of the SharePoint Server products. This section explains what differentiates Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and the Standard and Enterprise versions of SharePoint Server. Then the section guides you through the installation of each of the three products. It also details what SQL Server databases and IIS Web sites are created during the installation process.
The next section, "SharePoint Core Administration," covers the Central Administration UI and offers references on how to create new Site Collections and sites, how to import, use, and edit Web Parts, and how to configure Group and email settings for the installation. Here, too, you can see how to manage the different Workflow features and monitor those Workflows.
The third part of the book, "Working with SharePoint Server 2007," delves into the features and functionality specific to SharePoint Server Standard and Enterprise versions. It covers such topics as how to configure Enterprise Content Management, how to create and configure SharePoint Portals, how to set up Search and Indexing, and how to configure the Excel®Calculation Services. The Excel Calculation Services section also provides guidance on how to configure services in a multi-server environment to increase performance and availability.
The fourth section expands on the operational aspects of a SharePoint Server implementation, showing you how to scale out SharePoint Server 2007 to a server farm and the different possible configurations for that implementation. Finally, the book shows you the basics of the Backup and Restore operations, how to analyze performance, and how to use the logging features of SharePoint Server to help maintain and improve your site.
While the book labels itself as a daily reference for administrators, I think those of you in the planning stages as well as those just curious about SharePoint will find this a quick way to better understand SharePoint. The structure of the book—beginning with a very basic discussion that details the different SharePoint technologies and what they can do and moving up through increasingly complex topics such as configuring Excel Calculation Services and scaling out to a server farm—ensures that it will be a useful reference for someone just getting to know SharePoint technologies and that it will continue to be a useful reference as that person's knowledge grows.
(Click the image for a larger view)