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Toolbox: New Products for IT Professionals

This month’s tools help you aggregate application logs, emulate the old Windows 7 interface on your desktops and check SQL Server fragmentation levels.

Greg Steen

Loggly

Most applications do some kind of logging. Logging provides valuable insight into usage, behavior and performance as well as troubleshooting data. Loggly from Loggly Inc. aims to manage all that log data from all of your applications.

Loggly gives you cloud-based, easy-to-use logging endpoints and log data analysis. Loggly takes input from Syslog UDP, Syslog TCP and HTTP/HTTPS. You can use Loggly for application debugging, deployment monitoring, troubleshooting, sending notifications and alerts, and application analytics. It even has an API for developers.

After setting up an account, Loggly will guide you through the configuration process. Establish inputs with a name, description, the protocol/service from which you’ll be sending data, a check box to indicate if the data will be in JSON format, log type definition (such as Web server or Windows events), and specify who can remove and edit the input. Then just start sending data.

You can add devices authorized to log into Syslog based on IP. If that doesn’t work, you can have your developers add a Loggly logging library to your applications. There are modules and examples for all flavors of applications from .NET to Ruby to NodeJS.

Once you start sending data to Loggly, you’ll see the benefits of the Logging as a Service model. You can immediately search across incoming data from the shell-like interface. To tailor searches, select a date range and the specific input. Charting your data is also straightforward. Once you have the shell commands down, you’ll be able to tailor reports and quickly track data. If you prefer a particular view, you can save a search for reuse.

Loggly provides you with Alert Birds for alerts and notifications (you can switch mascots from the happy-go-lucky beaver to a motley crew of birds for notifications). To start receiving notifications via Alert Birds, get your data into Loggly, define search parameters for events that should cause an alert, and then define, via the Alert Birds dashboard, how and to whom to send alerts.

Pricing for Loggly is computed by daily volume and log retention time. It will vary from free to a couple thousand a month. For example, if you log 200MB or less of data a day and only want to keep the history for 7seven days, using Loggly won’t cost you anything. If you want to keep that same data for 90 days, your price would be $29 a month for the service. If you’re a powerhouse logging 12GB of data a day and keeping it available for 90 days, it would cost $1,779 a month. You can use the handy pricing slider to see how much it would cost you or your organization.

Loggly supports multiple accounts within an owning account for larger organizations. If you’re tired of maintaining log data, need a more flexible logging platform or just need better insight into the wealth of information your logs provide, take a look at Loggly. 

Loggly

Start8

There’s mixed feedback on the new Windows 8 Start interface. Some love it, others not so much. Those having trouble adjusting to the new Windows 8 Start screen, or those who just prefer the old Windows Start menu, should consider Start8 from Stardock Corp. This low-cost utility revives the feel of the old Windows Start menu, with some notable enhancements. Start8 is also compatible with Windows Server 2012, so you can keep the familiar Start menu on your server as well.

Start8 combines the Windows 7-style Start menu and the new features of Windows 8. You can pin both desktop and Windows Store apps to the Start menu, plus use the enhanced search capabilities of Windows 8 within your Start menu. You can also jump directly to the Windows 8 Start screen from the Start8 start menu. Some things are revived as well, such as one-click shut down and one-click access to the Control Panel, Devices, Administrative Tools and computer management.

Installing Start8 is simple. Once you’re up and running, you have a number of configuration options through its clean and streamlined interface. First is the style of the Start menu. You can choose from a Windows 7 Style or a Windows 8 Style. With the Windows 7 Style, you can then tailor the theme to look integrated into the Windows 8 feel or bring back the feel of Windows 7.

For the Windows 8 Style, you still get a traditional Start menu. When you click it, though, you’ll see a version of the standard Windows 8 Start Screen. You can choose the size of the Start Screen from small (like the traditional Windows 7 Start menu), tall, wide or even the standard full Windows 8 Start screen.

There are a number of hot key configuration options within Start8 including simulating the right Windows key on older keyboards, and mouse-keyboard combinations for quick access to the Windows 8 menu. You can also choose options such as showing the Start button icon on all taskbars, allowing search to go outside the standard libraries, disabling Windows 8 hot corners when in the Desktop and whether you’d like to go directly to the Desktop when Windows 8 starts up.

Stardock Start8 is priced at $4.99 for a single-user license, with volume discounts of up to 30 percent per license for larger deployments. There’s a full-featured 30-day trial available on the Web site so you can try before you buy. So if you want to bring back the Windows 7 Start menu, check out Start8.

Start8

SQL fragmentation analyzer

Index fragmentation can be a huge drag on database performance. Before you start blaming the hardware, take a look at your various databases and see how fragmented the SQL Server indexes have become. You can do this easily from within the SQL Server Management Studio on a one-by-one basis, or you can query for the data. It’s nice to have a utility you can just point to a server and say go.

The free SQL fragmentation analyzer from Idera Inc. can help. With the SQL fragmentation analyzer, you connect to a SQL Server instance via SQL or Windows authentication, pick a database target, and click Perform Analysis. The tool will scan the target and give you a quick, color-coded report of the table indexes. The results grid shows you the table name, the name of the index, whether the index is clustered or non-clustered, the size of the index, the fill factor and, of course, the percentage of fragmentation.

By default, the SQL fragmentation analyzer is set at 0 percent to 10 percent for normal, 10 percent to 30 percent indicates a warning, and greater than 30 percent is critical. You can change the values to suit your needs. If you prefer, you can also target a specific table and exclude indexes that are smaller than a particular size. The utility has tabs for defragmenting or rebuilding those indexes, but those are really just upsells to other Idera products.

You’ll have to define your own maintenance plan to tackle the issues pointed out by the analyzer, but if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to visualize index fragmentation within your SQL Server databases, take a look at the free Idera SQL fragmentation analyzer.

SQLfragmentationanalyzer

Greg Steen
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur and enthusiast. He’s always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA and development easier for the IT professional.

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