Reining In a Mixed NT, Windows 2000 Network

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - Have you ever needed to install a software package onto every Windows NT and Windows 2000 workstation in your company but weren't sure if everyone had the necessary hardware? Perhaps you've had situations in which you needed to temporarily stop all Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol services across your NT-based network. These tasks, and countless others, are difficult and time consuming (and in some cases impossible) to do by hand.

Fundamental Software Inc.'s Enterprise Configuration Manager (ECM) changes that by offering automation of these day-to-day administration tasks.

ECM is a network management package that collects information about every network server and workstation running NT or Win 2000. Once the software has collected this information, it can compare PCs against each other. You can look at every computer in the organization simultaneously or you can look at a select group of PCs. ECM can even run some rather impressive maintenance and disaster recovery tasks.

Overall, we liked ECM 3.0, which began shipping last month. There are many network management products on the market, such as Microsoft's Systems Management Server, that collect information about the computers on your network. So it is impressive to see a product go the extra mile and offer in-depth analytical, maintenance and recovery functions.

Information overload

The biggest problem with the product is it can be difficult to use. The main console screen is packed with features, making it hard to locate specific functions. Learning where everything is and how to use all of the features can take some time.

We were also disappointed by the lack of paper documentation. Although the online help file was well done, it would have been nice to have a printed version as a reference.

The software excelled at its management and maintenance capabilities. The package lets you compare multiple machines. You're limited only by your server's memory and hard disk space. Through such comparisons, you can do tasks such as viewing every NT or Win 2000 server or workstation in the company that has a certain registry key, or that has less than a certain amount of free hard disk space on a given partition. You can even kill a service or a process on every PC that's running it.

Filtering features

Such a large amount of information can be tedious to sort through. To make this task easier, the software lets you filter results. You can also sort according to a variety of criteria, or use one of the many built-in reports to present the information in an easy-to-read format. You can also create custom reports by using the built-in templates. This feature was useful to us but was difficult to find. A technician from Fundamental Software had to point this feature out to us.

You can also use the software to make mass changes across the entire company.

For example, with just a few mouse clicks you can disable every guest account in the entire organization. This feature works perfectly and is easy to use.

You can also easily change commonly used passwords.

This software can also help you address the security holes presented by NT service accounts. Service account passwords can be difficult to change because changing them without making the appropriate system changes (such as changing the password in User Manager for domains but not changing the Service Control Manager to match) can cause various system services to fail. However, ECM detects every place on the network where a service account password has been used and makes all the necessary changes, making it painless to change service account passwords.

Another ECM feature we liked was its ability to generate a NT or Win 2000 emergency repair disk for all the systems on the network. The product collects information on the various machines at preset times so as not to bog down the network. The collected information is then stored in a SQL database so it's possible to create the repair disk even if the PC has already failed. Creating the emergency repair disk for our network took only a couple of minutes.

Reliability counts

ECM is a very stable and reliable product as tested in our environment. It did not negatively effect our production network whatsoever.

The product performed equally well on both NT and Win 2000 clients and servers.

Installation got high marks, mainly because Fundamental Software sent an engineer to install the product for us, something the company provides all customers for free. The engineer spent several hours demonstrating the various features and showing us how to optimize the software for our specific environment. We recommend customers take advantage of this service. There are just too many features to discover and use correctly on your own.

We think that Fundamental Software's ECM would be a valuable asset for anyone who administers a large NT or Win 2000 network. You may find yourself questioning how you ever managed your mixed-Windows network without it.

Posey is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. In the past, he served as the director of information systems for a major healthcare company, and was formerly in charge of supporting the U.S. Army's network at Fort Knox. You can contact him at Brien_ Posey@xpressions.com.

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