An Overview and Explanation of Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 7

windows 7 startup programsIf you manage several Windows 7 client computers, Microsoft offers several utilities that make it easier to work with remote computers. These utilities are useful in large enterprise networks, but you can also use them to manage home or small office computers. Remote Server Administration Tools include several utilities you use to connect to network servers, but you probably won’t use them all. Some are more useful than others, but it also depends on the size of your network and its configurations.

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Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 7 is a free download from Microsoft.  You can also use these tools to manage a Windows 2003 and 2008 Server environment. After you download the tools, install them on your system. This article covers the most useful tools, although you might find others more useful depending on your environment.

Active Directory Tools

Active Directory was introduced with Windows 2000 and it’s since been a major component in Windows domains for security and asset permissions. Basically, Active Directory allows the administrator to control which users, client computers and hardware such as printers and scanners are accessible on the network. If you have a small Windows domain, you at least take advantage of Active Directory’s user permission template. This template lets you set up users and give them permissions to certain server resources, shared folders and printers. AD is a centralized location for permissions, so you only need to deactivate and activate users in one location.

You can also control the user interface on Windows 7. For instance, you might not want to allow users to install software on the computer. Only the administrator should be able to install applications. This protects the computer from malware and third-party software that can interfere with business proprietary applications.

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DHCP Server Tools

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is one computer on your network that assigns IP addresses to each client computer. A decade ago, you only needed to worry about desktops, laptops and printers. Now, users have tablets and smartphones that connect to the network. Some admins used to manually assign IP addresses, but that process gets too messy when you have dozens or even hundreds or thousands of devices on your network.

In small networks, your hub is typically the DHCP server, but Windows Server operating systems offer a DHCP snap-in tool to assign IP addresses to your client computers.  The DHCP server lets you create ranges. For instance, maybe you want to assign all your client computers with an IP range between 192.168.1.5 and 192.168.1.100. You create a zone for your range and the DHCP server will assign all desktop and laptop computers with the set range of IP addresses. If an IP is used, it uses the next available IP. The DHCP server deals with all leases including expirations and reassigning IPs on a computer.

For your printers, servers and routers, these devices need static IPs assigned. You can also set these IP using the DHCP server, but you need to make sure each of these devices get the same IP. You can also set this with the DHCP Server tools on your Windows 7 machine.

DNS Server Tools

You have two options when working with DNS servers: you can either let your ISP manage DNS or use an internal DNS. When you use an internal DNS server, you can manage how some sites resolve for your internal users. For instance, you might want to display a specific site when a user types an address into the browser’s address bar. The browser does a lookup with the registered DNS server for the IP address. The internal web server is then displayed in the user’s browser.

Technically, using an internal web server even lets you filter sites and change what users see when using certain addresses. You could change sites such as Google.com to resolve to a different address. While this isn’t usually feasible, you might have reasons to filter certain sites with your internal DNS server.

DNS servers are the translation tools on the Internet. When you type a friendly URL into your browser, the browser needs the IP address to connect to the web server. Your internal DNS server deals with hosts within your network, but you’ll probably use your ISP’s DNS servers for Internet web addresses. You can also set up a proxy server for your network, so all Internet traffic gets routed through one server. A proxy server lets you filter and monitor Internet traffic on your network.

Hyper-V Tools

Virtual machines used to be expensive and out of reach for most small businesses. However, virtual machines are now cheap and much more viable than having several physical dedicated servers. Virtual machines are used with virtual private servers (VPS), which are a step up from shared hosting. They are cheaper than dedicated servers and more practical for small business websites.

You can also use virtual machines on your own servers. Hyper-V is the Windows tool for creating virtual machines. You can have several server environments running on the same physical machine. That’s the only down side to a virtual machine environment. The virtual machine is in its own sandbox, but it still shares physical resources with other virtual machines on the server. This means memory, hard drive storage and CPU resources are separated for the virtual machine but this separation is still on one physical server.

Hyper-V on your Windows 7 computer lets you manage all your virtual machines on your Windows 2008 or 2003 server. You can add resources, delete a virtual machine, add a virtual machine or configure the current machines to work with different environments.

Load Balancing Tools

While Hyper-V lets you work with several virtual machines on one physical computer, you might have several dedicated servers that deal with specific client software requests. One of the most typical types of load balancers is for a web farm. A web farm contains several servers that respond to website requests. The load balancing is invisible to the user who views your website, but it’s critical if one of your web servers in the farm goes down.

In a load balancing environment, you usually need to ensure that certain servers are up at all time. If one server crashes, the load balancer transfers all traffic to the working machine. This also works for servers that have too much traffic and can’t take any more requests. The load balancer finds the next available server in the rotation and sends traffic to this machine instead. Load balancers are also great when you want to purposely take a server offline. You can bring down the server for testing, maintenance or just a scheduled reboot and traffic is sent to the next available server without clients losing data or receiving error messages during their connection.

Another good reason to use load balancing is for testing. For instance, you might have an application that has updates. You take the testing server down from production. Install the application and then test the application in a production environment. If the system checks out, you can put this system back into rotation and bring the next server down. Install the tested software and continue this process until all servers are upgraded.

Remote Desktop Services Tools

Remote Desktop or RDP is used to remotely control a server from any machine. Most Windows computers have RDP pre-installed with the operating system. RDP lets you open a remote session for any computer and control it as if you were sitting at its desktop. For instance, if you have several Windows 2008 servers on your network, they are probably in a server room. Instead of managing them in the server room, you can use Remote Desktop to access the server’s desktop and configure the server as if you are standing in front of it.

To manage your servers remotely, you need a client machine. You can use your Windows 7 administrator computer to RDP and manage your servers.

When your server has RDP installed, it’s best to block RDP ports on your router and whitelist connections so only you can connect. RDP requires users to log in, but you don’t want hackers to be able to get to the desktop and attempt to guess or hack your password.

SMTP Server Tools

Simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) has been around since the early years of the Internet. SMTP is how users send email. The email bounces from SMTP server to SMTP server until it finds its destination. The destination is your POP server, which stores your email until you connect using an email client and download it from the server.

SMTP servers usually don’t need much maintenance. However, you have to maintain security on them. Spammers like to use open SMTP servers to send anonymous email without getting their own SMTP servers blacklisted.

You don’t want your SMTP server on a blacklist. When your SMTP server gets on spam lists, your emails no longer reach your customers and they directly go into your customers’ spam boxes. It’s not just one email client either. When your SMTP server gets on blacklists, all the major companies add your server’s IP to the spam list and filter your email.

To avoid the issue, use the Windows 7 administration tools to only allow authorized users to send email using your SMTP server. This means all users should have a user name and password to send email.

Storage Management Tools

It used to be that you had a file server and this file server had several gigabytes of storage space that was plenty of room for your users. Now, you need huge network storage space called NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area network). A SAN is usually a part of a NAS. The NAS is what users connect to when they need to store data on the LAN, which is usually preferred by network administrators so you can back up these files using your automated backup software.

With these tools, you can manage storage in the same way you would manage a client computer. You can ensure that disk space is available, check for any damage, add and remove storage and detach storage if there are any issues or you need to perform maintenance. You can also manage your server’s storage and any maintenance issues such as defragging or segmenting disk space where corrupted sectors exist on the disk.

These tools are some great tools for your network. You should first get familiar with them before you start working with them, especially if you are new on the network. Some of these tools are powerful but the wrong setting can bring down your network.

For instance, if you accidentally delete or change an IP address on your DNS server, your users might not be able to reach an intended destination. If you accidentally delete a DHCP zone or misconfigure your server, your users might not be able to access the network. All of these issues can be widespread on your network, which means you’ll have several dozens of users complaining about your settings.

There is also an issue of security. Make sure when you allow remote administration of your servers, you keep these servers secure. It’s obvious that you need a user name and password to access the server, but other configurations are also helpful. Keep your server’s firewall and antivirus software up-to-date. Hackers also target the client Windows 7 machine, so if you have a laptop, make sure you keep it up-to-date with the latest Windows 7 patches and security updates. This will ensure that hackers can’t access your passwords and gain access to your servers using your own laptop.

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