Microsoft IT Environment Health Scanner

It's essentially a server for business.
It's essentially a server for business.
Most people have a fear of taking their vehicle to the mechanic for even the simplest tasks just to find out they need their transfunctioner adjusted because of wear to the driver’s side steering widget.  For many in the SMB market, that same fear can be found in their technology investments.  “Did that last IT guy wrap our SQL server in duct tape and tie it to the web server with shoe string?”  The reality is often not that bad, but it can be unsettling not knowing.

The first thing I want to check when preparing any SMB (or large scale Enterprise) for a project is the overall health of their environment.  I typically use a few custom scripts, the invaluable tools from Joeware and Sysinternals, plus a few others offered by various vendors to collect the data for analysis.  The standard services are checked, like DNS, DHCP, WINS (ugh), Exchange, AD, NTP, Group Policy, CAs, etc. for overall health and misconfigurations.  Even with the rich ecosystem of tools, this process can be time consuming so I am always looking for ways to streamline the process.

It seems a lot of others were looking for a quick method as well; at least one that can get a quick assessment of whether you are dealing with a disaster or limited pieces to fix.  The Microsoft Essential Business Server runs a check on the environment to assess its health before installation.  From this Microsoft Technet blog, “[the EBS team] noticed that Preparation Wizard was widely used, not just by customers who were deploying EBS, but anyone with Active Directory in their network who wanted to verify the health of their environment.” This gave birth to the Microsoft IT Environment Health Scanner in the summer of 2009.

This free tool does the basic checks I’m going to do anyway but it gives that quick assessment that often tells me whether I need to dig further. Microsoft’s download page states:

When run from a computer with the proper network access, the tool takes a few minutes to scan your IT environment, perform more than 100 separate checks, and collect and analyze information about the following:

  • Configuration of sites and subnets in Active Directory
  • Replication of Active Directory, the file system, and SYSVOL shared folders
  • Name resolution by the Domain Name System (DNS)
  • Configuration of the network adapters of all domain controllers, DNS servers, and e-mail servers running Microsoft Exchange Server
  • Health of the domain controllers
  • Configuration of the Network Time Protocol (NTP) for all domain controllers

Whether you have a small Microsoft IT environment or are Enterprise large, this tool is great for catching those things often overlooked during setup or changes or misconfigured. Download link: Microsoft IT Environment Health Scanner.

Aggregate and Translate: Moving to Google Reader

For years, I have been bouncing between RSSOwl, FeedReader and FeedDemon.  I have built the ultimate feed list for the technologies, blogs and news sources I care about.  The real beauty of RSS is it enables one to quickly get up to date on news and industry trends without wasting time.  New posts are there, you pick the ones that interest you, star or share the ones you care about and ignore the rest.  While many of my peers are wasting their time hitting all their favorite sites and going page by page, I have already read it and moved on to real work.

I decided it was time to listen to a good friend and move to Google Reader.  I’ll never look back.

The killer feature that guaranteed my love for Google Reader is their translator.  The one feed I follow that has the most traffic and is most pertinent to me and my job is the Microsoft Technet Blogs‘ feed.  It includes all the technet blogs in one aggregate feed.  I have asked Microsoft over and over for a feed based on language or locality to help filter out all the non-english feeds.  All I have been told is that it is coming…  Well, they can stop working on this (assuming they actually were).

Google Reader - Translate Feed
Google Reader - Translate Feed

So, @niceguyscott sends me an e-mail of a screenshot from Google Reader.  A little option says, “Translate into my language.”  What?!?  Well, ever since I enabled that little option on the multilingual technet feed, I forgot about the fact that about a third of the posts I read are not even natively in english.  I don’t need Microsoft to give an english only option anymore.  Instead of excluding these feeds, I can now track news and trends in any tongue supported by Google Translate. (Note: This isn’t a new feature. It debuted back on Nov of ’08.)

RSS feed readers, whether desktop, mobile or web, all offer their own set of special features.  Some are sexier.  Some are minimalist.  Some have the whole kitchen sink.  Google Reader gives that functionality you need to quickly digest content, share and save what is important to you and gives you a couple killer features without getting in the way.  That has made it my new favorite.

I am excited to explore what other content I am missing due to the language barrier that technology continues to tear down.