15 must-have open source apps for managing Windows Server

You might imagine that the best place to go for improving yourMicrosoft server-side experience is to the mothership itself. In many cases, you would be right.

But the truth is there are a meaningful number of open sourcetools that go above and beyond what Microsoft has to offer in supportof Windows Server, Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint. Many of thesealternatives provide — for free — more powerful capabilities thanwhat you’d get with third-party retail products.

Microsoft itself has acknowledged this fact, facilitating theavailability of open source tools for Microsoft admins through itsCodePlex site. Microsoft, too, can be relied on for a few clear winnerswhen it comes to free tools.

All in all, it’s never been a better time to experiment with open source tools in yourMicrosoft environment. From networking troubleshooting to security toperformance analysis, we’ve compiled a list of the top open sourcetools for your Windows-based systems. Don’t see a favorite? Feel freeto highlight it in the comments below.

No. 1: Wireshark
Network troubleshooting is a real art, one that requires solid trainingand years of hands-on experience. But a tool like Wireshark helps easetraffic analysis, thanks to many powerful features. Just one look atthis free software-based protocol analyzer’s color-coding features andyou’ll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile toolfor any Microsoft shop.

Download: www.wireshark.org

No. 2: AMANDA
Admins looking to ease the pain of backing up Windows-based systemsshould check out AMANDA, aka Advanced Maryland Automatic Network DiskArchiver. AMANDA provides the ability for an administrator to set up asingle master backup server that can support both Windows desktops andservers over the network to a variety of media, including tape drives,disks, or optical media.

ZMANDA maintains and supports the freely available AMANDA, as well asZMANDA Recovery Manager for MySQL. It also provides network and cloudbackup services that it sells commercially.

Download: www.amanda.org

No. 3: MailArchiva
Email archiving is front and center in Exchange 2010, thanks to theincrease in compliance regulation enforcement across the industry. Butfor those who are not yet using Exchange 2010, MailArchiva provides aworthwhile means for bringing compliance to Exchange 2000/2003 andother mail servers, such as Postfix, Sendmail, Qmail, iMail, and LotusNotes.

MailArchiva comes in both an open source and an enterprise flavor. Tosee a list of features and how the two editions vary, browse theMailArchiva site.

Download: www.mailarchiva.com

No. 4: Exchange 2010 RBAC Manager Exchange 2010 RBAC Manager is a great tool for admins working withrole-based access control and Exchange. RBAC Manager (aka RBAC Editor GUI) helps overcome the lack of a GUI tool to work with the newrole-based administration side to Exchange, enabling admins to connect,whether or not you’re a PowerShell master. The tool is written in C#and uses PowerShell behind the scenes to allow you to create and manage roles in your Exchange 2010 environment.

Download: rbac.codeplex.com

No. 5: Core Configurator 2.0 for Server Core
Offering a command-line version of Windows Server 2008 and WindowsServer 2008 R2 at installation was a great idea. With its lightfootprint, it allows a small attack surface as well. The only problem?It required administrators to crack open command-line books toconfigure their servers. This free tool provides a GUI method formanaging tasks.

Download: coreconfig.codeplex.com

No. 6: AutoSPInstaller for SharePoint 2010
Anyone who has ever installed SharePoint knows that the SQL databasescreated are a mess in terms of naming, resulting in large GUIDdatabases titles that are completely inconsistent. In contrast,AutoSPInstaller utilizes a variety of scripts to install SharePoint andmakes sure database names remain clean in the process.

Download: autospinstaller.codeplex.com

No. 7: OCS Inventory
If you need a cool tool for locating all the devices connected to yournetwork and what software and hardware you have installed on yoursystems, then OCS-NG is the one for you. It requires you install theOCS client inventory agent on your systems; you can then pull all thatinformation into a repository that’s easy to visualize and search.

Download: launchpad.net/ocsinventory

No. 8: UltraDefrag
UltraDefrag is a tool for Windows that can defrag system files,registry hives, and the paging file. It’s continually updated to ensureimprovements in performance.

UltraDefrag is fully compatible with Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000,Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008,Windows 7, and all of the 64-bit editions of Windows. It’s a valuableaddition to any Windows environment.

Download: ultradefrag.sourceforge.net

No. 9: Nmap for Windows
Originally a Unix-only tool, Nmap for Windows has been an importantsecurity resource for Windows shops for more than 10 years. Thissecurity scanner and network mapper can also be used to perform networkinventory, manage service upgrade schedules, and monitor host orservice uptime. It supports Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and 2003,Windows Vista, and Windows XP SP1 and later.

Download: nmap.org/book/inst-windows.html

No. 10: Zenmap
Zenmap is a cool tool for mapping a topology of devices connected toyour network. This security scanner works off of Nmap, providing aninteractive, animated visualization of hosts on a network, configuredin rings. Click on a host and it moves to the center of your networktopology, giving you the ability to easily trace the host’s variousconnections. With Zenmap, information regarding potentialvulnerabilities becomes that much easier to pinpoint, ensuring yourfirewalls and routers are working correctly.

Download: nmap.org/zenmap

No. 11: PowerGUI It’s no secret that PowerShell is taking the Windows world by storm. Itfeels like a retro pleasure for many long-term admins who remember thecommand-line days. But for others, banging on the command line toadminister systems can be a pain.

Those looking for a more graphical means of tapping into PowerShellshould check out PowerGUI, a free graphical user interface and scripteditor for PowerShell. More valuable perhaps is the community builtaround PowerGUI, with its vast store of contributed scripts andlibraries for administering your fleet.

Download: powergui.org

No. 12: Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) Tool
If you’ve ever had a performance problem but had no idea what metricsto collect or even how to analyze the compiled data, PAL is yourfriend. This open source tool helps read performance monitor counterlogs and analyzes them for you, using built-in thresholds that relateto the majority of your Windows products, including Exchange,SharePoint, Active Directory, and more.

PAL has been tested on Windows 7 but should also run on Windows XP,Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and WindowsServer 2008 R2.

Download: pal.codeplex.com

No. 13: ClamWin Antivirus
This open source antivirus solution is a valuable tool forsecurity-minded admins. ClamWin supports Windows 7, Windows Vista,Windows XP, Windows Me, and Windows 2000/98 systems, as well as WindowsServer 2008 and Windows Server 2003.

The tool includes a scanning scheduler that you can use to configureappropriate scan times but does not come with an on-access real-timescanner. It also has the ability to integrate into Windows Explorer andOutlook for easy scanning.

Although it may not work as well as a commercial real-time option forvirus scanning, ClamWin is certainly a worthwhile tool, especially forshops seeking a free solution.

Download: www.clamwin.com

No. 14: Virtual Router
Virtual Router is a nifty tool that turns any Windows 7 or WindowsServer 2008 R2 system into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Using Virtual Router, users can wirelessly share any Internetconnection (Wi-Fi, LAN, cable modem, dial-up, cellular, and so on) withany Wi-Fi-enabled device. Laptops, smartphones, netbooks, wirelessprinters — all can connect to Virtual Router just as they would anyother access point, and the connection is completely secured usingWPA2, the most secure wireless encryption.

Download: virtualrouter.codeplex.com

No. 15: VirtualBox
VirtualBox is a must-have open source virtualization solution for anyadmin seeking to run guest OSes on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, orSolaris machines.

Using VirtualBox, admins can run virtual instances of a wide array ofoperating systems, including Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, OS/2,OpenBSD, and even DOS. To learn more about the extent to whichVirtualBox supports various operating systems as virtual machines,check out VirtualBox’sguest OS wiki.

Download: www.virtualbox.org