GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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FOSE for the system administrator

In this week's issue of GCN, we laid out the rational for picking the winning technologies for this year's Best of FOSE awards. As usual, there were more interesting technologies than prizes. Now that we're back in the office, we can comb through our notes to find a few more of the intriguing entries. In particular, this year we found more than a few good tools for the system administrators. To wit:

Netcordia's NetMRI appliance can discover for itself what devices you have out on the network, such as routers, switches and then watch their performance. It compiles performance data (CPU, fan usage, memory usage), configuration data (which operating system being used) and security data (open ports). It then chunks this information to provide a high level report of overall network performance. Better yet, the appliance also applies its findings against a set of network engineering rules to suss out any potential problems, such as duplex mismatching, or running an unpatched version of the Cisco IOS. You can also check your set-up against the National Security Agency or Defense Information Systems Agency required configurations.

ScriptLogic showed off the beta of the new version of Active Administrator, which is software for managing Active Directory deployments. This software allows administrators to execute complex procedures that tend to be difficult to pull off in Microsoft's Active Directory. Users can test changes in group policy off-line before applying them in production. The software also audits all changes. If a group policy accidentally gets deleted, the software can restore the information.

E-Telemetry showed off its Metron and Locate appliances. Like other network traffic analysts, these appliances gathers information about traffic on a network, but they are unique in that it takes the additional step of associating individuals with IP addresses. They draws data from the organization's Lightweight Directory Access Protocol or Active Directory deployments. In this way, you can tell not only how much network capacity sites like YouTube take up, but also who is watching all those videos.

These products has other uses as well. They can be useful for the help desk. When someone calls with a problem, the help personnel can quickly locate the IP address of the person requesting assistance. Another is with traffic management. Metron can provide summaries of how much bandwidth departments and even individuals use.

Administrators of Microsoft SQL Server databases might find interest in JNet Direct's SQL Farm Combine. SQL Farm Combine allows administrators to manage query or update hundreds of SQL Server databases from one visual or command line interface. The newly-released version 7.2 adds in auditing, which keeps of records of who made what changes to a database. It also has scheduling, so that you can execute common tasks on a routine basis, such as synchronizing multiple copies of a database.

Last year, Splunk won a GCN Best of Award for its log search engine for its eponymously-named software. This software collects the logs from Web servers and then indexes all the transactions, which can be searched. This approach makes it easy to find out where the performance trouble spots are on the network. This year, they showed off the latest version, which provides enhanced reporting capabilities.

The new Splunk also offers the ability to track individual transactions as they move through different machines, from Web server to transaction server to backend database. So, when a transaction fails, the administrator can pinpoint which component is not working properly.

In the storage arena, Spectra Logic showed off a new feature to the next version of its BlueScale tape library operating system. Media Lifecycle Management keeps track of the physical conditions of all the tapes in the library, alerting administrators when a tape is nearing the end of its lifetime. Spectra Logic's Linear Tape-Open (LTO) cartridges have small chips that keep track of the number of reads and writes for each tape, as well as the number of errors that occurred during the reading and writing. The software collects statistics for all the tapes in the library, alerts administrators of any tape that is nearing the end of its life, and can produce a report showing the condition of all the tapes. This feature will work with all Spectra T-series tape libraries, including the T50, T120, T200, T380, T680 and T950.

Those administrators about to set up multiple Polycom video conferencing systems for classified networks might want to take a look at the Trinity Touch touchscreen system from Trinity Video Communications. This setup is particularly handy for those agencies that must keep multiple video conferencing endpoints in a single room, each system for a network of a different security level. The touchscreen console allows users to use a single video screen for different systems. The unit is connected to a switch that controls which Polycom codec gets used. The screen also has a lot of user interface enhancements not found in Polycom's own interfaces, such as the ability to set up user accounts and to audit who sets up conferences.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is already using one of these setups, the Trinity folks told us. The downside is that you can't purchase the touchscreen unit as a stand-alone product. It comes as part of the Polycom video conferencing system installation package from Trinity.

On the mobile side of things, Rove showed off its potentially handy Mobile Admin. Imagine using your Blackberry or Windows Mobile device to access administration services on a Microsoft Windows network server. Client software is installed on the handheld device, which communicates with the Mobile Admin Server software. That server software resides on a publicly-available server on your network, and acts as a proxy between the servers on the network and your handheld device. You can view event logs, stop and restart services and processes, set permissions on folders and files and issue commands to Active Directory and Exchange.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Apr 14, 2008 at 9:39 AM


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