In IT, rarely is one truly developing something from the ground up. In many ways, IT is about making solutions work – disjointed as they may be. Large enterprise class solutions such as Email and messaging platforms, Content Management Systems, CRM’s, Directory Services, and Security Solutions all are massively complex - even if they are well designed. Those of us who are faced with the responsibility to “make it work” must possess the knack to be a deep-dive expert on any number of subjects, while having the big picture perspective of the IT Generalist. It can be a complex mix of factors that determine how well solutions end up working out. It’s usually an assorted mix of experience, technical and organizational skillsets, ingenuity, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck. This is how the seasoned IT veteran separates themselves from those less experienced.
Then, every once in a while a piece of software comes along to make your life in IT easier. Software that helps bridge the much needed gaps that may exist in cross platform integration, connectivity, management, monitoring, or procedural tasks. These are applications that don’t make deploying or managing complex systems easy. They just make it a little easier. Sometimes you stumble upon helpful applications like these almost by accident, as I have. Others you knew of, but just never got around to trying out. So I thought I’d take a brief time-out from my recent focus on all things related to Virtualization, and take a moment to share a few of those applications that are currently making my life in IT a little easier. Some of these listed below are worthy of their own posts, which I hope to get around to. It is a list that is neither complete, nor appropriate for every environment, and their importance really depends on how much you need it. Only time will tell on which solutions become obsolete, and which one’s stand up over time.
This may be the best product you’ve never heard of. If you ever need to transform, manipulate, or convert data from disparate systems, this is the product for you. No, it’s not a “utility” but an enterprise class solution that demands a commitment in time to learn. The results are stunning. Data sources that had no earthly intention of being able to talk to another system can share the same data. Example: Your Sales Department uses a CRM running on SQL, but an ERP or Finance system runs on Oracle, and you need those records to interact on a transaction by transaction basis. Scribe can do that, and much more. Are those systems running on separate networks? No problem. Scribe simplifies the communication channels between autonomous systems. It can insulate the complexity of convoluted database tables, and in some cases will completely eliminate the need for you to use an application’s SDK for data integration. Database Administrators would love this tool, but it’s power extends well beyond just database integration. It’s a true gem.
Tree Size Pro
You have a choice. Spend weeks and weeks trying to get PowerShell or vb scripts to analyze and manipulate your large flat-file storage contents, or spend a few bucks for Tree Size Pro. This product delivers. I’ve used it to generate reports on storage usage, and to automate flat file storage cleanup tasks. When I think about what it would have taken to do it programmatically, I’d still be working on it.
I’ve written about OneNote before, and how it can be utilized in IT. Since that time, I’ve learned how to exploit it even more, and it goes with me everywhere. It could be 10 times the price it is, and I’d still pay for it myself if needed. It’s the pocket knife that should be in every Administrator’s tool chest. The larger your team, the better it works. Design documentation, troubleshooting active issues, project planning, research, etc. It will help you become a better Administrator.
This software allows for Unix, Linux, and Mac systems to authenticate against Active Directory. It will allow for centralized management of these systems using Group Policy Objects in the same way you manage your windows machines. I was one of their first customers, and have been thrilled to see it mature over the years. Their Open Source edition is OEM integrated into Linux Distributions such as Ubuntu, Suse, and other products like VMware vSphere. The free/Open source edition allows for you to join these systems to AD, while the commercial edition allows for centralized management.
If you need a solid windows based SSH client to connect to your Linux clients, this is it. One version (.56b) also supports the “Generic Security Services API” or GSSAPI. This means that if your Linux machines are domain joined using Likewise, you can leverage Active Directory to log in to that Linux system, inheriting your credentials so that it is all passwordless. Included with it is “plink” which gives you the ability to run a *nix command remotely from the windows system. Great for routines initiated from a windows workstation. “Pscp” is the putty SCP client for getting files to and from that connected *nix system.
CionSystems AD Change Notifier
One of the interesting aspects of Active Directory is that there are object changes all the time, but as an Administrator, you have no way of knowing it. AD Change Notifier helps with that. Simple, yet effective. It sends you an email notification of object changes in AD. You can select whether you want all types of changes (modifies, creates, deletes), as well as particular object types (users, machines, OUs, GPOs, etc.). You learn a little about how objects change in AD, and if you delegate AD responsibility, how and what is being changed in AD.
Wyse Pocket Cloud for the iPhone and iPad
Not unique in its purpose, but this RDP (and optionally PCoIP) client for the iPhone and iPad does what its supposed to do flawlessly. Any app that can let you reboot a critical server from the golf course is good in my book. Any app that lets you do that on the golf course, in front of the VP of the company is even better. (True story)
Long before the wonders of virtualization, there were byte-level disk imaging solutions to help you with your system protection and recovery needs. This was like magic at the time, especially as it was becoming obvious file based backups of system partitions were never any good in the first place. While it may not be needed in the Enterprise like it once was, there are still a few good use cases for it. It’s also pretty handy to have on your home system, and every one of your neighbors home systems. …Or the ones that know you’re in IT, and think you are their personalized technical support.
CionSystems AD Self Service
Yet another tool from CionSystems. It takes the burden off of IT for user account related activities. Does the user need to change their cell phone number or their home address? Does a Department Manager need to change the Title of someone’s position? AD Self Service can do this, without ever giving these end users privileges. Updating AD related attributes is especially important if you use other solutions that leverage AD information (Exchange, SharePoint, CRM, etc.). AD Self Service also allows for a secure way for the user to unlock their locked out account. The more users you manage, the more this product will help take the burden off of IT.
SolarWinds Subnet Calculator
Some networking purists would flog me on the side of the head for recommending such a cheater app. But the fact is, I need quick and easy way to review subnetting options in order to make the right decision. I can subnet manually much like I can do arithmetic manually. I just choose not to. I have other projects to allocate my time to, and I need the speed of a calculator to help me visit those options more quickly. Subnet calculators like SolarWinds offer one other ability often overlooked; the ability to visualize the sizing of your subnetting. You can create problems by making subnets too small, or too large. Tools like this give a great visual representation of how you want to split networks. It doesn’t excuse the requirement that every Administrator should fully understand how subnetting works. (I still marvel at how brilliant IP subnetting is). It’s that once they do, an Administrator should be able to use a tool to make it easier and faster for them to make the correct decision.
For as long as FTP has been around, and ubiquitous as it may seem, one might conclude that it all works the same. Not true. FTP Servers will have their own unique behaviors, just as FTP clients will have their own quirks. The firewalls that the FTP traffic pass through add another variable that can frustrate end users and Administrators alike. FileZilla seems to offer the most flexibility when working with remote FTP servers, and is what I use to handle a variety of different FTP needs. FileZilla won’t eliminate inherent complexities with the FTP protocol as it traverses multiple networks, it just makes it easier to negotiate.