In this issue Greg discusses how to wipe disks clean with Eraser, streamline backups with SQL Backup Pro and map out projects and ideas with MindManager.
Eradicate Sensitive Information
As most IT pros know, when you delete a file from a Windows system, it doesn’t take the time to wipe all the data from that file on the disk. Instead, it simply erases the first letter of the file name and marks the cluster as free space. This capability is great for performance, but it also leaves open an alarming opportunity: If someone can access the drive, either physically or via a different user account, they can scrape your disks for sensitive information.
If you really want to wipe clean a disk or file—or if you’re required to do so by, for instance, U.S. Department of Defense or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations—you need a tool to help you do the job right. Eraser is one such tool.
Eraser is free, open source and released under the GNU General Public License. And because it’s open source, you can feel more confident that the product is doing what it’s supposed to do, rather than sending your deleted files to some Web service in a far-off land.
Once you’ve installed Eraser, you can launch it from its system-tray icon or use the right-click context menu-extensions in Internet Explorer as well as the normal start-menu launch. The context menu gives you options to securely delete or move the target file or directory (moving files can leave imprints of their contents on the file system in the same way that deleted files do).
The Eraser application is task-based, allowing you to create tasks for either on-demand or scheduled use. You can set up a task to wipe clean all the unused space on a disk, which is useful for ensuring that the only files on the system are the ones you intended to have there. Or if you have a more specific target—such as an FTP directory—to protect, you can set up a task that erases the files within a specified folder, choosing whether to also wipe the subfolders’ contents. With this option, you can also preserve the actual folders, but not the contents—which is again useful for FTP sites or swap space. Another task target is to wipe a particular file or set of files that you can specify by complete or wildcard name, again choosing whether you wish to follow subfolders from that particular wildcard file location.
Finally, with long-running tasks (such as a 37-pass wipe on a couple terabytes of unused space), you can have the system restart, shut down or hibernate on completion. Tasks can be scheduled to run every day, on a specific day or on every reboot of the system. Each task can also have its own erasure algorithm option. The predefined options include Gutmann at 35 passes, two versions of the U.S. DoD 5220.22-M erasure standard, pseudorandom data fill, the first and last 2KB wipe and Schneier’s 7-pass. In addition to the included algorithms, you can define your own overwriting pattern, setting the number of passes and which byte patterns (defined or pseudorandom) should be written to the disk and whether the passes should be done in random order on each execution.
General preferences for Eraser include whether statistical and error reports or logs should be generated, what to do with locked files, which shortcuts you want in your context menu along with what erasure technique should be used as a default, and whether the scheduler should run at Windows startup.
So whether you need help with regulatory compliance or just want to protect your old, “deleted” sensitive information from prying eyes, you might want to consider adding Eraser to your toolbox.
Streamline SQL Server Backups
SQL Server Backup Pro
Ideally, systems maintenance tasks should be invisible to your end users so that they don’t affect the workflow of normal business activities. But the more global your company becomes, the more time zones your servers reside in, and the harder it becomes to keep your systems management windows from overlapping and colliding with end users’ activities. Speed, resilience, size, security, transport and centralization of management all play a role in helping minimize the impact of your Microsoft SQL Server backup windows.
One management tool that can help with all those elements is Red Gate Software Ltd.’s SQL Backup Pro. Of course, SQL Server Management Studio has its own built-in wizards for setting up database backups. But SQL Backup Pro integrates the backup with compression, encryption and a “network resiliency” feature as well as visualization of the estimate management windows across your whole infrastructure in a centralized management UI.
Once you’ve installed the application, you add your managed SQL servers to groups based on the time zone in which they reside. When you connect to a server, the software installs its management agents on the host, and then you’re ready to set up your backup tasks. The five-step backup task wizard guides to first choose which type of backup you want to perform—full, differential, transaction log, file groups or files—followed by which databases on the server you want to back up. Next, you define a schedule at hourly, daily, weekly or monthly intervals. Then you can choose the backup destination, the filename pattern to be followed, how many backups you want to keep and whether you want backups to be dumped to a single file, split across multiple files or copied off the SQL server to another network location.
Then, you choose your encryption, compression, verification and optimization settings for the task. SQL Backup Pro lets you choose from four different compression levels balancing speed with size (if you choose to compress the backup). To gauge how an individual database can be compressed, you can use the Compression Analyzer, which gives an accurate estimation of time and size for each compression level. Encryption can be set to either 128- or 256-bit key Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with Rijndael encryption of the data files with the password key. (Note that the strength of your password key really determines how secure your backup will be—so choose a strong one.)
For optimization, you can choose how many concurrent threads should be used to back up your databases. Here, you’ll have to balance out your CPU and disk I/O impact with the speed of an increased number of threads. Here, too, you can set the “network resiliency” by choosing a number of retries and how long to wait before retrying after a failure. Finally, you can choose whether to have the tool verify your backups.
Of course, you can restore databases from any point in the backup history as well. SQL Backup Pro also has a transaction log shipping feature in which you specify a source and target SQL database along with the compression, encryption and threading choices of a standard backup task. The application also has integrated e-mail notification to keep you up-to-date on the backup, log shipping and restoration tasks as they occur.
SQL Backup Pro also includes Red Gate’s SQL Object Level Recovery Pro, which allows you to retrieve and restore individual items to a server with Backup Pro installed on it. This is great when troubleshooting—for example, letting you see the state of a particular table at a particular time without having to restore the whole database. For auditing purposes, there’s also a simple report-generation tool that shows you the backup history for a particular server.
SQL Backup Pro costs $795 for a single server license or $600 per server for a 10-pack. If you like Red Gate Software’s other SQL tools (such as SQL Compare, SQL Prompt and SQL Response), you may want to consider a bundled package, which offers additional discounts.
SQL Backup Pro
Map Out Ideas, Notes and Projects
Taking meeting notes, diagramming implementation plans or just getting your mind around the facets of a large project all require more than linear document-editor applications to encompass and capture the details of the session in real time.
Of course, tried-and-true pencil and paper will do the job. But those traditional tools aren’t as forgiving as an application with Un-Do and Re-Do functionality, nor is it easy to archive, transport or copy handwritten notes to your colleagues.
One tool that can help you map out ideas, projects and meeting notes is MindManager software from Mindjet LLC. MindManager lets you quickly diagram and rearrange your thoughts in the UI’s workspace by dragging and dropping tasks, images, icons and connectors into your notes. A diagram starts from a central topic and because the layout isn’t linear, like text editors tend to be, you can branch out as topics, concerns and details emerge from your meeting or brainstorming session.
MindManager has a complete set of hotkeys as well, so as you get used to the application, you’ll be able to match your diagramming to the speed at which ideas come up. Once your meeting or brainstorming session has finished, you can use the built-in formatting, spellcheck and review settings to clean up the diagram. You can also tie your diagram to Outlook appointments, tasks, contacts and notes in the UI. MindManager also has several export options for transmitting your ideas to your group, including export to Word, PowerPoint, Outlook (via the tasks you defined in your diagram), HTML, image and PDF. So if your text editor isn’t cutting it or you want to save a few trees by dumping pencil and paper, consider using MindManager to map your ideas.
MindManager costs $349 for a new license and includes free Web-based training on using the tool effectively. For team use, there’s also Mindjet Connect, which allows you to collaborate online via MindManager; this option is $10 per month per user.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Microsoft. Prices were confirmed at the time of writing, and are subject to change.
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Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA and development easier for IT professionals.