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Microsoft expands reach of best practices tool

Free software that checks the configuration and general health of Windows Server System products will be modeled on the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While Exchange administrators have had the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer tool since September, similar tools should soon be available to those responsible for ensuring that other Microsoft platforms run smoothly.

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News from Microsoft TechEd 2005

Beginning in 2006, Microsoft will release versions of the free tool for all of its platforms, said Paul Flessner, senior vice president of server applications, at the recent TechEd 2005 conference. The system analyzers follow the company's Windows Server System Common Engineering Criteria, aimed at making integration and management of its products easier, he said.

Ed Donnelly, senior systems engineer with Kaplan Inc., in New York City, has been using the Exchange Best

It gives a good baseline for building forward, depending on the server build we do.

Ed Donnelly, systems engineer, Kaplan Inc.

Practices Analyzer and plans to use the other tools as they become available.

"It gives a good baseline for building forward, depending on the server build we do," said Donnelly, whose company provides educational and career services. After matching best practices with Microsoft, he said, you can tailor your own environment as needed, knowing you've met the company's suggested standards. "Each [analyzer tool] should also tell you what you're missing and be updated with each service pack."

In March, the company released an update for the Exchange tool, adding support for Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).

The Exchange Best Practices Analyzer automatically examines a Microsoft Exchange Server deployment, including Active Directory, to check the configuration and general health of the system. To use the tool, administrators need to be running Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 on each Exchange server.

"It's nice to find out what we're supposed to be doing correctly and have some kind of game plan," said Scott Semrau, a network administrator with touch-free car wash system maker PDQ Manufacturing Inc., in DePere, Wis. His organization has downloaded the Exchange tool and is in the process of testing it.

Related links

Microsoft updates Exchange analyzer tool


The 5-minute Exchange Server configuration test


Tip: Features of Exchange Best Practices Analyzer

The challenge of unique environments

Although best practices analyzers have the potential to be useful to Jeff Fantin, a computer analyst with SRP Inc., a Tempe, Ariz.-based engineering company, he wondered how Microsoft was going to make them work in diverse environments. "Every environment is unique, so it's going to be hard for them to make recommendations," he said. "I can see this working better in smaller organizations."

Chris Prime, a systems administrator for the Medmarc Insurance Group in Chantilly, Va., said he hopes the tool will help him pitch IT improvements to executives. "I know we're not [Sarbanes-Oxley Act] compliant, but it's hard to tell the CIO and CEO why we're not and how it affects us," he said. "This can generate a report that can be translated into business-speak."

Systems that will see best practice analyzers in 2006 include SQL Server, Content Management Server and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server. Administrators will have the ability to compare the configuration of their systems against Microsoft's best practices database, monitor system health and access online documentation of reported issues.

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