A year ago I left the world of technology evangelism and became, once again, a full time consultant. It’s true… up until that point a great deal of my recent experience has been in training and talking, rather than hands-on doing. While that is certainly how a lot of people still see me, I can tell you it has been good to get back into the world of doing… first at Rakuten, and now with Yakidoo.
As a Microsoft guy I always talked about the best tools to manage your Microsoft environment as being built in… Windows Server and System Center have been huge for me. However over the last little while – and especially with my VMware environment – I am realizing that a lot of the best tools for the job are not direct from the software vendor – or at least, in some cases, they are separate downloads that you have to go looking for.
I am going to start with the old adage that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. I learned this from an old boss years ago in a former career, and it has served me well over the years. In order to do our jobs properly as IT administrators, you need to be able to see what you have.
There is a gentleman in Holland named Rob de Veij who has been in IT since the mainframe days, and since 2007 has been working with VMware. As near as I can tell, he is a former developer who found that it was easier to manage (or at least measure) his vCenter environment with an easy set of tools. His RVTools is an application (running on Windows) that uses the VMware SDK to display information about your virtual environment (VMware) from the datacenter on down, including clusters, hosts, virtual machines, networking, and down to the virtual CDs that are connected to individual VMs.
For me, the most useful part of this toolkit (which simply connects to your vCenter Server from any Windows machine) is the vHealth screen. When scanning your virtual environment it looks for issues such as inconsistent folder names, active snapshots, VMware Tools versions and more. I ran this report recently in my production environment and it advised me that I had a couple of snapshots (anyone who knows me knows why this is a no-no!) and no fewer than seven virtual machines with low free disk space on the guest OS. Two minutes to run the report, an hour or less to mitigate, and it saved me countless hours of headaches and downtime.
PowerGUI & PowerCLI
I am both happy and disappointed that this tool – once owned by Quest Software – is now a VMware property (since Dell acquired Quest I think). I am happy about it because I was able to download it using my regular VMware credentials and did not have to purchase it. I am sad because I liked that it was a third party tool that did not necessarily follow VMware party lines. Nonetheless the PowerGUI community lives on – albeit on a Dell branded site.
PowerCLI is a tool that allows you to use Windows PowerShell to manage your VMware environment. PowerGUI is the front-end graphical tool that allows us scripting neophytes to do it well (ish).
One of the components I love about PowerGUI is the ability to create, download, and install PowerPacks, which are essentially community-driven tools for the suite. The VMware Community PowerPack gives you a lot of the same functionality as the RVTools, but from a VMware sanctioned product.
With Microsoft I am still a lot more familiar with the management tools that are from Microsoft than I am with third party tools.
The Solution Accelerators have been around for several years, and while I have not used all of them, I am very familiar with most of them, and have lectured on and demonstrated/implemented several of them.
The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit has made my life easier with regard to taking inventory of what I (or a client) have. While not its primary purpose, the MAP Toolkit will perform a complete inventory of your environment, including applications, operating systems, guest virtual machines, and virtualization hosts. I have a number of customers who now have a monthly task to run the toolkit to track changes to the environment.
The tool is more complex than the VMware tools because frankly it monitors more – for example, it will do everything on the operating system and application side (whether physical or virtual) and will also monitor VMware, Linux, and more. However because of that be prepared to provide credentials for all of those platforms, and no, they are certainly not foolproof.
The Security Compliance Manager (SCM) is a great way to build and manage your Group Policy Objects (GPOs) in your Active Directory forest. Not only does it provide recommendations for best practice configurations for all of your servers and clients, it breaks it down into domain, domain controller, Windows versions, Users, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, SQL Servers, Exchange Servers, and even Hyper-V hosts. Spend a few minutes learning the tool and you will realize that even if you don’t need Microsoft’s recommendations, SCM still helps you with documentation by exporting the GPOs into Excel format. Very useful.
There are two tools from TechSmith that I have been using for years, both with regard to demos (Camtasia is screen recording software that I have used in many of my demos, courses, and blogs) and documentation (SnagIt is a screen capture package that offers much better control and editing than Ctrl-PrintScreen). While they may not be, strictly speaking, management tools, I have found them useful for documentation but also sending people screen shots of issues or solutions (drawing those big arrows and typing HERE’S THE BUTTON YOU ARE LOOKING FOR!).
Of course I could go on and on, but that is not the point. I want to know what tools you find helpful? If you make a good enough case (and if I am able to implement it in my current environment) I might even write it up for your fellow readers!