SolarWinds, the new owner of DameWare NT utilities, raffles off a two 2-seat license worth $680 USD. If you want to take part in this contest, please fill out this form. Notice that your data will be submitted to SolarWinds. The deadline of this contest is May 22, 2012.
DameWare NT Utilities
The Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Active Directory management utilities that are included in Windows Server 2008 R2 are okay, but the tools are somewhat scattered and non-intuitive to use. Windows PowerShell 2.0 is certainly a potent method for administering Active Directory. However, who has time to learn the cmdlet syntax?
In the name of addressing these frustrations, please allow me to introduce the DameWare NT Utilities (NTU) and DameWare Mini Remote Control (MRC) software. These products represent a unified Windows systems administration solution in a lightweight, easy-to-use package.
By using a single Windows Explorer-style interface, we can manage every single one of our domain servers and workstations. Moreover, the NTU utilities give us power to query, manage, and export just about every conceivable hardware or software-related statistic from our server and client systems.
The NTU product family also includes a powerful configuration export tool called Exporter, as well as a lightweight, world-class remote access platform called Mini Remote Control (MRC).
Let’s have a closer look at what could prove to be the most frequently accessed utility in your AD administration tool belt.
DameWare NT Utilities is a simple 32-bit or 64-bit server/agent software solution. The software setup workflow looks like this:
- Install the management binaries on your administrative server or workstation
- Install the client agent binaries on every system to be monitored by NTU
The NTU management tool is nothing more than a small-footprint Windows application and corresponding service. Accordingly, there is no need for a cumbersome SQL Server back-end, application server middle tier, and IIS front end. What a luxury this is!
Specifically, two agent services comprise the client side of the equation. One service allows for NTU management, and the other service hosts incoming MRC connections from a management console.
What’s cool is that you don’t even need to download the agent software separately from the DameWare Web site. Instead, we can simply fire up the NTU management console, select the appropriate workstation from the Browser tree, and then click either Install NTU Service or Install MRC Service from the Service menu. This interface is shown in the following screenshot.
Installing the NTU service
Note in the screenshot that you can use built-in batch processing tools to deploy the agent services to multiple target systems at once.
NOTE: Alternatively, we can use the DameWare Mini Remote Control Installation Package Builder utility to build a Windows Installer (MSI) package that installs or removes the DameWare Mini Remote Control Client Agent service.
DameWare NT Utilities
So what exactly can we do with DameWare NT Utilities? Well, let’s begin by reviewing some of the tasks that we Active Directory administrators do every day.
Find and manage AD user and computer accounts? Check.
Manage Microsoft Exchange Server mailboxes for our AD users? Check.
Administer Group Policy. Check. Et cetera et cetera. The theme here is that after you begin using NTU, you should only very rarely (if ever) need to use an in-box MMC console ever again.
Take a look at the following screenshot and behold the depth to which we can access NTU-enabled workstations.
NTU object browser
With a few clicks of the mouse, we can accomplish the most advanced of client management tasks, such as:
- Executing remote PowerShell cmdlets
- Issuing remote Windows command shell operations
- Manipulating Registry entries
- Enumerating client-side processes
- Managing remote services and installed software
- Creating, editing, and deleting Task Scheduler tasks
- Listing full hardware and software metadata
This final point concerning NTU’s ability to enumerate agent system metadata bears further discussion. Your shop may be required to account for the hardware and software profiles of all systems; typically this requirement arrives by dint of government/industry regulation or internal inventory control processes.
The DameWare Exporter utility included with NT Utilities address this very issue. Let’s have a look at this tool next.
DameWare Exporter is a GUI tool with which we can build and export reports that display the following system property types:
- AD schema properties
- Standard Windows properties
- WMI hardware properties
From the DameWare Exporter we can click Tools => Options to open the Exporter Options dialog. We can then navigate to the appropriate tab (Active Directory, Standard, or WMI) to select a default output type for each data classification. Choices include the following file formats:
- UTF-8 or UTF-16 XML
- Comma-delimited text
- Tab-delimited text
- Unicode text
The DameWare Exporter user interface is shown in the following screenshot:
DameWare Mini Remote Control
Remote access of client systems gives us Windows systems administrators, as well as our help desk personnel, far more efficiency in helping our users. You are probably leveraging Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to some measure already, whether through the Remote Desktop Connection utility, or via Windows Remote Assistance.
Although DameWare Mini Remote Control fully supports Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), MRC actually uses a proprietary remote access protocol that is evidently called MRC.
Helpfully, the MRC agent auto-configures an appropriate exception in the client’s Windows Firewall. You can read a comparison between the two protocols on the DameWare Web site.
Here are some reasons why I prefer the MRC to traditional RDP:
- Support for end-to-end data encryption
- Support for interactive and remote smart card logon
- Screenshot capture and save
- File transfer
- Multi-monitor support
- Support for more than one active client connection
- Support for IPv4 and IPv6
Those of you who have used Windows Remote Assistance may immediately see some similarities between it and MRC. That is certainly true, although I dare say that you can’t beat the elegance of the MRC solution. For instance, to establish a MRC remote session with a target host, we can simply right-click the target system and select Mini Remote Control from the shortcut menu; this is shown in the following screenshot:
Making a remote connection to a client
This action opens the Remote Connect dialog box, from which we can set our connection properties and establish the remote access connection. A live MRC connection between two Windows Server 2008 R2 systems is depicted in the following screenshot.
A live MRC remote session
The NTU license model is interesting to me because NTU is licensed per administrator, not per computer. Moreover, there is no cost for agent licenses. To those of us who are accustomed to the blisteringly expensive license requirements of, say the Microsoft System Center suite, this licensing friendliness comes as great news.
DameWare customers are also granted 12 months of software assurance. Thus, we won’t get dinged for an upgrade charge if SolarWinds revises the software within that year period.
DameWare allows a licensed administrator to install the NTU software on up to three devices. Thus, a shop with 5 administrators and 1,000 client systems requires 5 NTU licenses. Moreover, each administrator can install the management tools on (for example) their administrative workstation, their home computer, and one additional station.
If there exists one weakness in this software, it is its sparse documentation. The application help does a passable job at describing in brief the functionality of every NTU and MRC user interface control. However, fundamental questions like, “How do I install the agent software on client devices?” and “How do I query AD schema properties with NTU?” appear to be completely missing from the documentation. Frankly, I was unable to find good, general answers on the DameWare Web site, either.
All things considered, I am a devoted user of the NTU and MRC tools. As far as I am professionally concerned, NTU is a must-have utility for any Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, or Windows Server 2000 Active Directory administrator.
Looking forward, what is interesting to me is to observe how SolarWinds plans to evolve the NTU and MRC tools in order to accommodate the PowerShell-centric Windows Server 8 administration model. The SolarWinds people strike me as extraordinarily intelligent, dynamic people–I’m sure they are figuring this out at this moment.
If you have any questions, curiosities, or personal experiences to share concerning this software, please be sure to leave a comment and I will respond.
If you want to have the chance to win a two 2-seat license of the DameWare NT Utilities, worth $680 USD, please fill out this form. Notice that your data will be submitted to SolarWinds. The deadline of this contest is May 22, 2012.