Free tools for Windows Server admins
There are endless software tools and utilities out there to help you in managing your network. Here are some of the best free ones. They can help you with deploying, maintaining, troubleshooting, and upgrading Window Servers, your domain, and aid with other miscellaneous network tasks.
Best Practices Analyzer
Microsoft provides the Best Practices Analyzer tool right inside Windows Server, starting with Windows Server 2008 R2, available on each role’s home page in the Server Manager console. It scans and analyzes key settings of the server roles and reports compliance of them compared to the best practices standards. This can help you identify potential issues that may affect security and performance.
It scans for a variety of rules, including those relating to predeployment, security, performance, and configuration. Statuses shown in the results include compliant, noncompliant, and warning. (Watch the slideshow version of this story.)
Starting with Windows Server 2008, there’s a Server Core installation option. It’s great if you want a minimal installation, but it only gives you the Command Prompt for the interface. However, there are tools that give you a GUI on the Core editions of Windows Server. You can setup and configure most features via the GUI rather than being forced to use text commands.
Core Configurator 2.0 supports Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 and Corefig is for Windows Server 2012 Core and Hyper-V Server 2012.
Exchange Server Deployment Assistant
Microsoft offers the Exchange Server Deployment Assistant, an online tool that asks you deployment related questions and then generates a custom step-by-step checklist to use during an Exchange install or upgrade.
It asks questions about your current configuration, desired deployment environment (on-premise, cloud, or hybrid), migration questions, and desired features/functionality. In the end you’re presented with a wizard type of checklist, which is saved so you can return later and can be printed out as well.
Role-based Access Control (RBAC) Manager
By default, you must use PowerShell commands to manage the new role-based access controls of Exchange, which debuted in Exchange 2010 and eliminates the use of access control lists (ACL). However, the Role-based Access Control (RBAC) Manager provides a GUI to edit these role-based access controls, which gives you the ability to easily add/remove cmdlets and edit cmdlet properties and assignments.
The RBAC Manager supports Exchange 2010 SP2, Exchange 2013 Preview and Office 365.
Exchange Reports provides you with insight on your Exchange server and environment, supporting Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013. It helps keeps you up-to-date with the server status, changes, and stats. It provides a group report and details on individual groups, mailbox report and details on individual mailboxes, an environment report, and it supports message tracking.
The program doesn’t require any installation, but requires .Net 4.0, Powershell 2.0, and Remote Powershell access to the Exchange Server. You can save reports and also export them to Excel.
Active Directory Explorer
Active Directory Explorer is an Active Directory viewer and editor, which you can use to browse the Active Directory database. You can view object properties and attributes, modify permissions, and view an object’s schema.
It supports saving off-line snapshots, creating favorite locations, and saving advanced searches. You can also compare two Active Directory snapshots to see what objects, attributes and security permissions changed between them.
Remote Desktop Manager
The Remote Desktop Manager provides a single platform for centralized access to many types of remote connections and remote services, along with the ability to save their passwords and login credentials. It can save you the time and hassle in managing and utilizing all the different types of remote access methods.
It can manage remote connections via Microsoft Remote Desktop (RDP, RemoteFX), Microsoft Windows Azure (RDP), Microsoft Hyper-V (RDP), Microsoft Remote Assistance, VNC (RealVNC / TightVNC / UltraVNC / built-in), Citrix (ICA / HDX / Web), Web (HTTP / HTTPS), LogMeIn (Free / Pro), TeamViewer, and PC Anywhere. It also supports management of FTP, FTPS and SFTP (Windows Explorer / Filezilla / WinSCP / built-in) and Telnet, SSH, RAW and rLogin (Putty / Kitty / built-in).
They offer a premium edition with a free 30-day trial but they also provide a completely free edition with limited functionality.
Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer
Microsoft provides the Remote Connectivity Analyzer, which can help you test and troubleshoot the connectivity of Exchange servers, Outlook, Lync, OCS, Office 365, and email (POP, IMAP, and STMP). It’s mostly an online tool, a website where you can input server addresses and login credentials in order to run the connectivity tests. It also provides a message header analyzer.
On the website you can also download the Microsoft Connectivity Analyzer Tool to run local tests to identify common connectivity issues for Outlook, Lync, and Office 365. And you can download the Microsoft Lync Connectivity Analyzer Tool to locally analyze a Lync deployment to see if it meets the requirements to support connections from Lync Windows Store app for Windows 8 and Windows RT, and from Lync mobile apps.
As a network administrator you’re likely connecting to different networks or often changing your network settings. NetSetMan can help manage these different settings. You can save and switch between different profiles, which enable you to easily change your IP, DNS, and many more network-related settings.
In the profiles you can specify the Computer Name, Workgroup/Domain, and MAC Address. You can set a Proxy, SMTP Server, Browser Home Page, Default Printer, and Network Drives. You can also configure Hosts File Entries, Route Table, Scripts (BAT, VS, JS, etc), and other System Settings.
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