With Windows Server, administrators have access to a wide range of tools that can help them manage, configure and troubleshoot Windows Servers and domains, securely. Even the most seasoned admins sometimes don’t know how helpful and effective some of these tools can be. Not only can these tools allow admins to manage a Windows server more effectively, they can also reduce hours of downtime.
Most of the so-called free applications are either outdated or just useless, especially when it comes to the enterprise IT needs. Any IT admin, who has worked with packages like Hyper-V, Exchange Server, SharePoint, and SQL Server, understands that convenience and features come at a price. However, here’s a list some free or free-to-try Windows Server admin tools that are worth their weight in gold when it comes to providing a competent alternative to the paid versions of Microsoft’s server products.
- Hyper-V Server 2008 R2
Hyper-V add-on for Windows Server 2008 has proven itself to be a great way to provide admins server virtualization within their system environment. But all this functionality doesn’t come cheap, unless you’re talking about Microsoft’s free version of Hyper-V, the Hyper-V Server 2008 R2. This free version is a stand-alone product that only features the famed hypervisor, virtualization components and the Windows Server driver model, making for a compact, non-nonsense package.
Don’t let the “free” tag fool you because even in its most basic state, the Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 offers admins all the critical features that they need to perform virtualization, including live migration, host clustering, flexible memory support, octa-core processor support, among other. But being free, the tool has its limitations. This version lacks two notable features, namely the application failover and guest virtualization rights. On the offset, there’s no need to jump to the Enterprise or Standard versions just yet because this free version of Hyper-V can still add a lot of value to your existing IT environment.
- Sysinternals Suite
The Sysinternals Suite is ranked among the top free Windows Server admin tools, especially among newbies. In fact, most IT admins who are new to the Windows Server platform might not even be aware of this versatile tool, or might just not have had enough exposure to it. This free Server Suite features an equally impressive range of tools that aid in performing tasks like managing open files, monitoring active TCP network connections, and even managing your active processes. The best part about Sysinternals is that you can run most of its tools directly via Microsoft’s website, without having to install anything. All these features, coupled with no out of pocket expenses, make this tool a must-have for any Server admin.
Prior to the launch of the Windows Vista operating system and Windows Server 2008, when Microsoft shifted to using the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) boot environment, working on old boot.ini files was a fairly simple procedure. The problem was that BCD, despite making booting way more secure, also made it a literal headache to manage because of its clandestine and somewhat obsolete command-line BCDedit tool. But the EasyBCD admin tool from NeoSmart Technologies gives admins an easy-to-use graphical editor that they can use for their Windows BCD boot files.
- Remote Desktop Enabler
The Windows Remote Desktop is a vital and nearly indispensable tool that allows admins to remotely manage their troubleshooting issues. The Remote Desktop tool by IntelliAdmin lets administrators enable the RDP remotely. It is however, useful to note that you will need to have enabled the remote desktop management option on the computing device that you wish to remotely access. And that is easier said than done!
Another great free Windows Server admin tool is the Wake-On-LAN tool from SolarWinds. As the name implies, it allows admins to send data packets to networked computers that have Wake-On-LAN enabled in via their BIOS. This useful tool makes your networked PCs boot up just the way they would if you had pressed the power button. For this useful application to work properly, you’re going to have to input your MAC, as well as TCP/IP addresses of the system you need to boot.
- Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer
This is the perfect free tool for anyone who has installed Exchange server and needs a way to test their remote connectivity. This tool is ideal if you want to test your server’s ability to send and receive emails, or perform more comprehensive tests like those for mobile connectivity, RPC over HTTP connectivity, and even auto-discovery. To use this tool, all you need to do is choose the desired test, input some vital statistics, and you’ll be testing remote connectivity on the fly, without needing any software installation. The Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer (ExRCA) will perform its function and will report back in case something has failed, and will also tell you why.
- SharePoint Foundation 2010
The latest offering from SharePoint Services, the SharePoint Foundation is the latest free version of an array of fresh features for your SharePoint Server. Despite the free tag, this software application is absolutely feature-packed. Although the Enterprise and Standard versions will obviously offer much more, SharePoint Foundation tool’s features might be good enough to satisfy your needs. It features all of SharePoint’s key elements, including document libraries, workspaces, wikis, blogs, and so on.
- Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit
The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is by far the best host-free tool that branches out into your server environment and takes inventory all your systems through a network-wide automated discovery option. It’s also a great testing tool, allowing admins to test the success of a Windows 2000 Server migration or extract SQL user information. This free tools strength lies in its ability to inventory computer systems and evaluate Windows 7 and Office 2010 start-up options, within your server’s environment.
Author: Rahul Sharma
image courtesy: Stuart Miles/ freedigitalphotos.net