One from many
11 Indispensible (but less well known and free) tools for Windows sysadmins
After working in sysadmin and infrastructure management since the mid 90’s, I have established a few favourites.
This one is known, but it is a fantastic tool and always has been. OK there is not a default encrypted password, but it lets you when Windows kicks you out because your 2 sessions are up. Unfortunately, does not work too well on x64, but there is a paid x64 one, they have to make a living somehow!
A great product, been using it on and off since 1996 in one from or another. Before Remote Desktop, vnc was and it still is remote desktop. Thanks from sysadmins all of over the world, for allowing us to access our machines when Windows RD decided 2 sessions was enough and for some reason qwinsta would not work. The people behind VNC are the real liberators of Windows. It was VNC that allowed real remote access, for this many of us should thank them. Just in case you had not thought of the contribution that these pioneers of VNC made. If they had not done it, sure someone else would have, but they did it and continue to do a wonderful job and maintain a great product. It still helps us gives that all important backdoor. It is quite a contribution...
On the plain text password... just do not use it publicly... use it just on the private network or VPN and don't pass the password in plain text across the public network. That solves that.
HealthMonitor (for Windows servers)
A great tool that is part of my standard build. HealthMonitor lets you know every warning and event that happens on your servers, straight to your Inbox. If you happen to have about 40 servers lying around this can tend to be a lot of mail, especially when things go wrong, but that is the point. In many cases HealthMonitor will start spamming you with lots of alerts (default 1 every 10 minutes) or loads if they are from the event log. This can serve to be preventative management in many cases. My CTO fails to understand how getting hundreds of emails a day helps me manage the infrastructure. It takes some time to get to grips with, but after a while you get to “know” your servers and know how many and what emails they should be sending you. There is a pattern and understanding this pattern and watching for changes can go a long way to increasing your infrastructure’s stability. It is not very often that you get to look through your event logs. Usually you do when you are trying to find out what is wrong, by then it is curative. You look at your email all the time. Get to grips with the errors, accept them and know why they are there. Some are important and some are not but knowing each one, will go a long way to helping you to manage your Windows server. Remember the servers are your wards, listen to them.
I put the two hand in hand as they work so much easier together. Fiddler is a local HTTP Proxy which captures all requests made through the browser and captures all the responses as well. FoxyProxy makes Fiddler accessible with a right-click, once Fiddler is running and turns it off with a right click as well. For troubleshooting numerous problems such as load balancing stickiness, response headers and status code from object that do not display the output on error such as Flash and media players. Fiddler allows you to see (in a human readable format, unlike Ethereal/Wireshark) what is happening within the requests and response and indeed the entire browser/player transaction.
This is “your” best friend. Infrastructure people tend to send a lot of time with their machines and at one sitting. WorkRave, tells you to take breaks and you want to take heed. Stay at this job long enough and you will get aches and pains where there were none before. Remember it is only a job! It is not worth your health and the risks are very real, RSI can be extremely seriously. A friend of mine, a developer and active person developed it and was laid out for over a year, about 6 or 7 months of this time spent in India getting treatment that was not available in the UK. His arm began to mottle as his nerves literally died and he was lucky to recover. WorkRave is one of the tools that anyone who works at a computer day in and day out should use. It will constantly nag you and buzz and you’ll tell it to bugger off over and over again, but when you feel that burning between your shoulder blades or ache in your wrist, you’ll listen to it.
My favourite editor, tabbed txt, sh and php files (and much more), tabbed just like Firefox and like Firefox’s session saver, PSPad allows you to do the same, shut down an then open with all the files open you had before. Full search and replace functionality with regex.
Beyond Compare (not free but cheap and worth it)
For syncing files, comparing backups to live, etc. There is no better tool, full stop.
As they say “Every hard disk is too small if you just wait long enough. TreeSize tells you where precious space has gone to. TreeSize can be started from the context menu of a folder or drive and shows you the size of this folder, including its subfolders. You can expand this folder in Explorer-like style and you will see the size of every subfolder.”
Command line and GUI open source compression of choice. Windows/Linux and script friendly. Very good compression ratios as well.
netstat –ano (Windows command)
Indispensible for troubleshooting, especially in the context of hacks, worms and Trojans – the -ano options shows the PID…
nslookup –q=any/ns/mx/a/txt/… (Windows command)
Indispensible for quick DNS troubleshooting.
Win32 open source command line mailer. Script friendly for results/logs from those pesky daily Scheduled Tasks scripts.