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.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD 12 free Microsoft Exchange tools every IT admin will love +
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.
Though they offer a premium product and a free version with limited functionality.
The NetResView utility from NirSoft scans for and lists network resources on your LAN. It shows computers, disk shares, and printer shares, including resources from all domains/workgroups and any admin/hidden shares. It even gives you the resource’s name/location, type, workgroup/domain, and its IP and MAC addresses.
ManageEngine offers many free tools for Windows, network, and IT management, including those for Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL databases, Hyper-V, and VMware.
The ManageEngine Free Active Directory Tools 4.4 package includes the following:
- AD Query Tool queries for specific data in a single view.
- CSV Generator generates a CSV file with the Active Directory attributes you choose.
- Last Logon Reporter lists the latest logon time of users.
- Terminal Session Manager offerss a PowerShell cmdlet to identify and manage Windows Terminal Service Sessions.
- AD Replication Manager replicates the data between Domain Controllers in a Domain / Forest.
- SharePoint Manager reports on Microsoft Office SharePoint Tree Structure and the entire SharePoint Environment.
- DMZ Port Analyzer scans ports for those not opened for application functions.
- Domain and DC Roles Reporter provides details on Domain Controllers and their Roles.
- Local Users Manager offers a PowerShell cmdlet to manage the local user accounts of domain users.
- DC Monitor reports the performance of Active Directory Domain Controllers.
- Empty Password Reporter lists users that have no password set.
- Duplicates Identifier lists duplicate objects in your Domain.
- Password Policy Manager helps you view and manage Password Policies for the entire Domain.
ManageEngine also provides a free set of general Windows Admin Tools, which includes many for server and PC administration:
- Remote Task Manager Tool shows the processes running in a remote computer and allows you to terminate them. It shows details like Process ID, Memory Usage, Session ID, and Priority.
- Wake on LAN Tool can remotely boot WoL-compatible computers on the network, and supports booting multiple computers simultaneously. Specify the IP Address, MAC Address and the Subnet Mask of the computers to wake them up.
- Software Inventory Tool scans computers on the network and shows the software installed on them, including details like the vendor, version, and usage statistics. This information can then be exported via txt and csv formats.
- Remote Command Prompt Tool lets you remotely access the Command Prompt of a remote computer and execute commands. Specified a computer manually or browse the Domain Controller.
- GPO Update Tool enables you to perform on-demand GPO Updates to the computers of a Windows Domain.
- Join/Unjoin Computer Tool helps you move a computer from one domain to another or from a domain to a workgroup or from a workgroup to a domain.
- Currently Logged On User lists the details of users logged on to a remote computer.
- Hard Disk Space Monitor Tool retrieves the hard drive details of remote computers, including partitions, volume names, file system, total size, and free space.
- Local Users/Groups Tool retrieves the list and details of local users and user groups of remote computers.
- Network Share Browser Tool lists the details of network shares, including files, folders and Active Sessions.
ManageEngine offers a set of free monitoring utilities as well:
- Free Windows Health Monitor Tool
- Free Windows Service Monitor Tool
- Free Exchange Health Monitor Tool
- SharePoint Health Monitor Free Tool
- SQL Health Monitoring Tool
- SQL Performance Monitoring Tool
- Free HyperV Performance Monitor Tool
- Free XenServer Health Monitor Tool
- Free Azure Performance Monitor Tool
- EC2 Health Monitor Free Tool
SolarWinds provides many free network and IT tools, a handful which are for Windows and Active Directory administration:
- Inactive User Account Removal Tool scans for users that haven’t logged in for some period of time and allows you to easily remove those you select.
- Inactive Computer Account Removal Tool finds computers that haven’t been used for some period of time and enables you to easily remove those you select.
- User Import Tool enables you bulk add users, along with specified attributes, with a CSV file.
- Permissions Analyzer for Active Directory offers a hierarchical view of the effective permission access rights for a specific file folder (NTFS) or share.
- Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent tests the Windows Update Agent configuration and connectivity.
- WMI Monitor offers monitoring of any Windows application or server via the Windows Management Instrumentation.
- Exchange Monitor keeps an eye on your Exchange server.
- SNMP Enabler for Windows remotely installs and enables SNMP on multiple Windows servers and workstations.
- Kiwi Syslog Server collects, displays and archives syslog messages and SNMP traps from routers, computers or other devices.
- Event Log Consolidator collects Event logs from up to five servers.
Netwrix also offers many free server, network, and IT tools:
- Netwrix Auditor tracks changes to Active Directory objects, servers, VMs, databases, and provides auditing of most system components and applications.
- Password Manager is a self-service password management system for users to troubleshoot account lockouts and reset their password.
- Account Lockout Examiner alerts you of lockouts and helps diagnose why a user account is locked out.
- Disk Space Monitor alerts you when available disk space on servers or computers falls below a certain threshold.
- Bulk Password Reset can change multiple local account passwords across multiple computers.
- Service Monitor tracks all automatic startup services on multiple servers and alerts if they stop unexpectedly and can even automatically restart the server.
- Privileged Account Manager provides a web-based portal for managing and maintaining privileged identities.
- Active Directory Object Restore Wizard restores deleted and modified objects.
- Logon Reporter keeps tabs on successful and failed logons.
- Web-based Password Change for Active Directory offers the ability to remotely change domain passwords for off-line users.
Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer — keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs, a tech support company.