Certs and stuff

September 28, 2007 at 12:48 pm (Active Directory, Exchange, Microsoft, Sysadmin) (, , , , , )

So I haven’t posted in a while, just been too busy to focus much on this blog. I’ve managed to get my MCSA 2003 Certification with both the Messaging and Security specializations so now I’m just three exams short of my MCSE which I hope to have completed in a few months. Alot of people have negative attitudes towards Certifications, pointing to the horders of “Paper MCSEs” ad the like out there.

Personally I’ve found that studying for these certs has been extremely informative for me, and I’ve learned a lot of useful information that I’ve been able to apply to my job. Learning more about things like CAs, IPSec, Securing DNS etc has benefited both me as an Admin and of course the Company I work for. I feel this is an often overlooked aspect of certifications – ideally studying for them means you actually LEARN something.


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The Wonders of Task Manager

May 17, 2007 at 8:19 am (Active Directory, Microsoft, Networking, Sysadmin, Tech, Tech support, Troubleshooting)

Any person who’s done any kind of Windows troubleshooting, from experienced admins down to common end users has probably at some point dealt with the Windows Task Manager. This tool is not only incredibly useful, but also fairly simple to use, even for novices. It can list running applications and processes as well as CPU, memory and network usage. I don’t know a single tech or admin that doesn’t use it close to daily.

However it sometimes surprises me how many techies don’t know some of the more advanced features of Task manager. Some of these features may not get used so often, but they can REALLY help a troubleshooting scenario. So I figured I’d cover some of them here in case anyone’s interested.

The first feature I’d like to mention is known as “Go to process”. This feature is accessed from the application, and can be very useful if you a hung application which won’t shut down when you select “end task”. By right-clicking on the application and selecting “go to process” it will switch you over to the processes tab and automatically select the process that’s being run by the app so you can end the process. This is very useful for applications that run under unusual or generic process names or in cases where you run multiple instances of an app such as MMC consoles (I usually run bunches of these) and you need to know which instance of mmc.exe you need to close.

Another common scenario I witness is a tech or admin that’s looking at the Performance tab to see how much memory is being used and then looks at the Processes tab to determine which processes are consuming the amount of memory that task manager reports being used. Often this leaves them stumped because the amount of memory shown in use seems far greater than the total memory shown used by various processes.

While most Admins know tocheck the “Show processes from all users” check box to show all the processes run on the machine, many fail to realize that the numbers in the “Mem usage” column only show the amount of physical RAM used. In the performance tab both physical as well as virtual memory usage is shown which can be confusing. To get a clearer picture of the total memory being used by a process (both physical and virtual) you can simply go to “View” and “Select columns” then check “Virtual memory size”. This will let you know how much of the pagefile any given process is using. I’ve found that certain apps like virus or spyware checkers can hog up massive amounts of virtual memory while consuming relativly little physical memory.

There are many other options you can select under the “Select column” option such as “CPU time, Page Faults, Thread count” etc, many of these can be incredibly useful in various troubleshooting scenarios, but Virtual memory size is by far my favorite and I sometimes wonder why it’s not selected by default.

The last feature I’ve learned to love in certain situations is “New task”. This feature pretty much duplicates the normal “Start – run” that all techs should be familiar with, the reason I mention this feature is because it can often be used in cases where you just can’t get to the start button. Most often this is the cases when there’s a problem with explorer.exe, say your windows GUI has become unstable or non-responsive, but you can still access the task manager. In this case I’ve found that killing the explorer.exe process through task manager will often correct the problem, but will leave you without a start button or taskbar which of course can be very problematic. Using Task manager’s “New Task” feature to restart explorer.exe will bring everything back to normal and save you the hassle of rebooting the system.

These were a few of my favorite task manager tricks. Anyone else have any they would like to share? Comments and questions always appreciated

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WSUS 3.0

May 9, 2007 at 8:19 am (Active Directory, Microsoft, Sysadmin, WSUS)

Aaaah, the second Wednesday of the month…The day after Microsoft Patch Tuesday…..The day I get to spend testing and deploying all the new critical little patches and fixes Microsoft has released for it’s multitude of products.

Like most smaller Windows shops we used Microsoft’s Windows Server update services (WSUS) to manage our Microsoft automatic updates. This allows us to download all the updates through a synchronization process to our server, then selectivly deploy these patches to the systems that require them. This technology goes back quite aways and is one of my favorite MS products, especially considering it’s free.

This was my first time synchronizing new updates after downloading the latest versions of WSUS (3.0) and I was looking forward to experiencing all the benefits MS has been touting about the new interface. Whereas WSUS 2.0 and earlier forced you to go through a Web interface and could be kind of a pain to Navigate, the new versions is administered through a very snazzy looking MMC console. This makes it much easier to view status of updates and computers, it gives greater reporting capabilites and allows for far more fluid and efficient navigation.

Overall I found the new interface to be very user friendly and intuitive and a great improvement on previous versions. One thing to note is that you will need to uninstall previous versions of WSUS on your update server before installing the new version. Take care and read the uninstall instructions carefully so you don’t end up deleting your database and log files as these can be easily imported into version 3.0. The Installer file will let you install both the administration console and the full server, and the install process is very simple. I recommend it to any Administrator out there who wants to simplify their Patch deployment and make life a little easier the second wednesday of every month.

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First post

May 8, 2007 at 4:04 pm (Active Directory, Exchange, Microsoft, Networking, Sysadmin, Tech)

Welcome gentle readers,

This is my first wordpress blog, and the first time I’ve done something that could be considered a “professional blog”, at least in the sense that this is about my Professional life, not in the sense that I’m a professional blogger (I’m certainly not).

I’ve been a ravenous tech-blog consumer for years now and have learned so much from the various authors who take the time and effort to share their knowledge through their blogs. I decided it would be time to give something back by sharing some of the tools, tricks and insights I happen to come across in my day-to-day life.

Let me start by telling you all a little something about my techie background. I’m no world-renowned expert on anything, I’m no Microsoft MVP or Cisco CCIE (yet), I don’t work for some exciting cutting-edge Silicon Valley company or hold a PhD in Computer Science.

I’m just a rather typical computer geek, the kind of kid who grew up loving computers, from my commodore 64, through various other systems that came and vent until I got on the PC bandwagon and got into Networking.

In my career I’ve done end-user Tech support for both Hardware and software, IT Helpdesk for a number of large companies, Desktop support and Systems Administration. Currently my official title is “Systems Support specialist” for a small company you’ve never heard of. In reality this means I’m a “Generalist”, the guy who deals with anything that’s even remotely connected to computers, phones, printers and other technomalgical thingies.

We have about 100 end-users all using WIndows XP and about 20 servers running Windows Server 2003. Basically I handle All end user support, Active Directory, Exchange, our Routing and switching, some SQL and our Avaya PBX system. It’s a fun job, and immensely challenging, I like the people I work with and for, and overall I’m very happy with my job. However, like any tech job I occasionally run into issues and problems that can be frustrating, annoying or downright maddening. My hope for this blog is to share with others some of the solutions I’ve come across, and to provide some helpful links to sites, blogs and people I’ve found helpful.

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