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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.
Monitor Your Network
Short of having an absolutely infallible infrastructure and application stack with no single point of failure, one of the best methods for protecting your interests is to know about problems before anybody else does, and that means having a robust and feature-full network monitoring utility on your hands. If one of your services goes down, you want to be able to react quickly and start fixing the problem before your boss bursts through the door of your office with a fistful of angry e-mails (yes, they still print them out).
Alchemy Labs offers an extensible service monitoring application called Alchemy Eye to help you know before your users know. Adding a new service monitor is a simple process and you can duplicate previously created monitors with a couple of clicks. The application calls each service a server, but to monitor multiple IPs and services on the same machine, you will have to create multiple application "servers."
Alchemy Eye is a Robust Network Monitoring Utility(Click the image for a larger view)
One feature I particularly like is the ability to add maintenance windows for each service. It will pause monitoring of the server resources during these windows, so you can avoid false alarms due to scheduled down times. You can also attempt to restart a Windows® service when an event is triggered, though this would require a remote RPC call and execution by an account that has privileges to restart the application (which may not be an option for your infrastructure).
If you have a ton of services to monitor, you can organize your service groups into folders to manage the list a bit easier. If you have to turn in those uptime reports to your boss, the application provides a set of HTML reports for you as well. You can generate reports on service availability, event log statistics, error types, and fault counts.
Price: $299 per license.
Map Your Site's Structure
PowerMapper Professional 4.0
Creating site maps and link checking seem to be part of every Internet engineer's task list. Electrum Multimedia Ltd.'s PowerMapper Professional 4.0 gives you a simple way to spider your sites (check for bad links) and produce nice-looking visual reports of your site's structure.
After you have created your map, you can customize it by choosing a map style that fits your needs. The application gives you seven built-in map styles such as a page cloud, a treeview, or a table of contents. The resulting maps are also clickable, so you can walk-through your site map. For larger sites, the multi-page printing functionality gives you the ability to print out a large format view for presentations or information architecture meetings.
PowerMapper Gives You a Simple Way to Spider Your Sites(Click the image for a larger view)
Another nice feature of PowerMapper Professional 4.0 is that it lets you export to third-party formats such as Microsoft® Excel® and Google's sitemap format.
Process automation is a key element of any successful IT operations environment. Without it, IT pros get too bogged down in repetitive day-to-day operational tasks to get ahead of the curve. And from my experience, a truly proactive IT operations staff leads to happier employees.
In that light, Microsoft Windows Script Host along with VBScript gives you powerful and customizable automation tools, and Microsoft Windows Scripting Self-Paced Learning Guide by Ed Wilson (Microsoft Press®, 2004) shows you how to rid yourself of those mundane repetitive operational tasks.
The book is tailored to the Operations perspective, so if you are not a developer, don't worry. For example, the second chapter, "Getting in the Loop," shows you how to programmatically declare variables, connect to the file system and registry, as well as how to use for and while loops.
Once you have mastered the syntax, the book moves on to systems administration and shows you how to master use of the FileSystemObject for file and directory manipulation— great for automating the archives of your system or Web logs.
Next, the book introduces the power of the Windows Management Interface (WMI) and how to gather and manipu-late data via Windows Script Host and VBScript. You could use VBScript along with the Windows Task Scheduler to perform actions based upon disk thresholds that are tested by querying the WMI.
Part three of the book moves into the Active Directory Service Interfaces (ADSI), showing how to connect to Active Directory and perform tasks such as importing a list of users and changing their passwords or mapping drives based upon a user's OU membership. The book also explains how to work with the registry and create, modify, or delete registry keys.
The last part of the book shows how to manage IIS 6.0 with VBScript, automating repetitive tasks like Web site or virtual directory creation, as well as how to connect and work with Exchange Server 2003 to check queue status.
All in all, this book deserves a spot on the bookshelf of any operations IT pro.
Use a Powerful Text Editor
A good editor that shows you exactly what is in a file, gives you fast and powerful editing tools, and has support for any type of character set is an absolute necessity for the IT professional. Helios Software Solutions' TextPad offers all the features you need. And unlike other editors that I have tried, TextPad allows you to open and modify huge files without bogging down your machine or the application process. This application is limited only by the amount of virtual memory on the machine you are running it on.
You can have multiple files open at the same time; the UI makes it simple to switch between them, giving you a selectable tab or list view. TextPad has another great view called the Clip Library that gives you a simple and fast method of adding control, MS-DOS®, or ANSI special characters with a double-click. The Clip Library also has your clipboard history, allowing you to easily drop in text from previous cuts in addition to HTML tag and HTML character selections that let you drop HTML into your text file. The undo-redo feature of the application is virtually unlimited as well, allowing you to trace back all the steps you made with a document since you opened it.
One of the best features of TextPad is Document Class, an extensible color-coding syntax file for document types based upon their file extension. This allows you to easily color code your special file formats like HTML and VBScript. You can create syntax files for virtually any file type imaginable and a simple Internet search will usually yield what you are looking for if you don't want to go through the process of creating your own (which is a relatively easy process).
Another helpful feature of TextPad is that it lets you add-in your favorite tools to the editor's menus. For example, there is a tip on the TextPad Web site that demonstrates how to use the tool integration feature to edit and run VBScripts directly from within the application, allowing you to speed up your administration tasks.
TextPad Lets You Open and Modify Huge Files Without Bogging Down Your Machine(Click the image for a larger view)
TextPad's user interface is localized into seven languages and it comes with a spell-checking dictionary for ten different languages. All the basics are covered as well, giving you easy-to-view line numbers, column locations, and word wrapping.
You can also search, sort, and indent with a click and without adding anything weird to your file. The find/replace functionality offered by TextPad is fantastic, giving you a powerful yet simple way to make document-wide changes. You can find by text or hex values, match whole or partial words, or, saving the best for last, use regular expressions to quickly find and replace what you need. The scope is customizable between selected text, the current document, and all the documents you currently have open.
TextPad also includes macro functionality, so if you find yourself having to do the same keystrokes over and over again, you can easily record a macro to make those steps happen for you.
If all that wasn't enough, TextPad integrates with the Windows Explorer, giving you quick edit access via a right-click context menu on any file.
Price: $29 per single-user license.
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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Microsoft. All prices were confirmed at press time and are subject to change.