Vol. 17, #9 - February 27, 2012 - Issue #868 Top10 freeware tools for IT pros

Seriously SSD

  1. Editor's Corner
    • From the Mailbag
    • Seriously SSD
    • Tip of the Week
    • Recommended for Learning
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Admin Toolbox
    • Admin Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. Webinars & Seminars
    • Conferences, Expos and Other Events  
    • Upcoming Microsoft Webcasts
    • Upcoming VMware Webcasts
    • Upcoming O'Reilly Webcasts
    • Cisco Events
    • Oracle Events
  4. Tech Briefing
    • Intel SSD 520 Review: Cherryville Brings Reliability to SandForce
    • Add To Favorites: Intel Claim/Find a Rebate
    • Crucial m4 SSD RAID Review
    • Data Recovery and SSD Drives
  5. Windows Server News
    • Hybrid cloud management tools and strategies
    • Disaster recovery in a virtual world: No silver bullet
    • Top 5 remote desktop connectivity problems
    • Where Windows managers should spend their upgrade money 
  6. WServerNews FAVE Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff.
  7. WServerNews - Product of the Week
    • Top 10 Freeware Tools for IT Professionals 


Top 10 Freeware Tools for IT Professionals

Award-winning change auditing, identity management and IT security tools. Audit changes in Active Directory, file servers, SharePoint; Exchange and mailboxes, secure end-points, manage passwords and event log, monitor Windows services and more. The tools proved useful in many Microsoft and other environments where native tools could not help. Download Now. 




Editor's Corner

Save this newsletter so you can refer back to itand find helpful tips, tools and other resources that can help you when you face some planning decision, management task or troubleshooting headache!

From the Mailbag

It looks like a lot of readers of this newsletter consider themselves to be "power users" who prefer to use keyboard shortcuts when they might be helpful. For example, Steve offered some cool tips for users of Microsoft Outlook as follows:

I have a couple of all-time-favorite Outlook keyboard shortcuts to suggest. The first has saved me a bunch of time and the second has likely saved me some embarrassment, although it took a while to realize I even needed this and then to find it.

1. CTRL+K to Check Names.

Finding the button to do this is always a pain, especially when you're typing a list of names (bob s; sally j; tim t;)

2. Turning OFF using CTRL+ENTER to send messages.

This caused me grief a couple of times where a message was sent before I had proof-read it. I wasn't even sure why it was sent - it just disappeared from my screen while I was typing and went to my "Sent Items" folder. I suspect my brain thought I was typing SHIFT+Something but my hands had moved off the proper keys so I accidentally typed CTRL+ENTER instead, shooting an incomplete message off. Of course, then you have to quickly finish a real message, proof-read it so you don't look like an idiot twice in five minutes, add an apology, send it again, then try to figure out what happened.

In my version of Outlook this is disabled with Tools/Options/E-mail Options/Advanced E-mail Options.

As for reader responses to our previous issue Apple in the Enterprise, we're still processing the feedback we've received and are looking for more stories we can share with you, so if you have any real-world experience managing Apple devices in a Windows Server-centric environment feel free to send them to me at [email protected]. I will quickly mention that one reader asked for some specific help in this area as follows:

I have an aging 2003 SBS server and replacing the hardware and software components is cost prohibitive for a small network. I have heard of using OS X Lion server as a replacement to SBS for windows workstations. I would really enjoy hearing more about that.

So if any of you have any recommendations for this reader, feel free to contact me.

Seriously SSD

A few weeks ago in the Lengthy Logons issue of this newsletter, I offered my Top Three Tips for Improving Startup and Logon Times:

  1. First, replace the hard drives in your PCs with solid state drive (SSDs) to greatly improve their performance!
  2. Second, replace the hard drives in your PCs with solid state drive (SSDs) to greatly improve their performance!
  3. Third, replace the hard drives in your PCs with solid state drive (SSDs) to greatly improve their performance!

I said "Think of it this way: if IT can shave even a couple of minutes off the time-from-boot-to-usable-desktop for every user in your organization, how much money can your business save over a year by doing this?"

But do SSDs really provide so much benefit when it comes to PC performance? And what about servers? Can you do RAID with SSDs? And is there any downside with using SSDs? Are SSDs really a game-changer or are they just a lot of hype?

But before we discuss these questions, let's first see what XKCD says about THE GAME:

Confused? Check out what the Wiki page on XKCD says concerning THE GAME:

Still confused? Try clicking the link to the rules for THE GAME on the above wiki page, and good luck playing THE GAME...

Wear-Leveling, TRIM and Defragmentation

SSDs consist of cells of flash memory that must be erased before they can be written to. But flash memory wears out with repeated use, so to deal with this SSD firmware uses wear-leveling logic to spread out writes across the full range of the drive's cells. If such wear-leveling is implemented properly, the SSD can last for years under normal PC workloads. In addition, something called TRIM, a command implemented in the SSD firmware, can be used to help further reduce the number of unnecessary writes performed on blocks of cells in the SSD provided the operating system supports TRIM. The good news of course is that Windows 7 supports the TRIM command for most file system operations it can perform on SSDs.

File systems on traditional spinning-platter hard disk drives tend to become fragmented over time which can negatively impact things like the time it takes to start a program or read/write large files. Because of this, it's generally best to defragment these drives regularly, and Windows 7 includes a recurring scheduled task that automatically does this for you. SSDs can also become fragmented over time, but unlike HDDs there's no mechanical seek-time penalty on SSDs. There is some performance hit on a SSD due to fragmentation, but it's much less than on a HDD because the seek time is much less on a SSD (about 1ms on a SSD compared with around 10ms on a HDD). So even if the SSD is heavily fragmented, the performance hit will generally be quite small. And since the unnecessary write cycles performed during defragmentation can significantly shorten the lifetime of a SSD while providing little additional performance benefit, SSDs should generally not be defragmented.

The good news is that Windows 7 generally detects SSDs as non-rotational drives and automatically disables defragmentation which can shorten the usable life of a SSD. (Actually automatically defragmentation will still be scheduled for a SSD drive--what happens is that defrag will start running, enumerate the SSD drive, find that it is not defraggable, and then terminate.) Windows employs a number of different checks to try and identify whether a drive is a SSD or not. For example, if WinSAT determines that the rate of random reads from the disk is greater than 8 MB/sec then Windows assumes the drive is a SSD and disables automatic defragmentation on the drive. In addition, if the drive is a dynamic disk or a VHD then defragmentation is also disabled.

How can you be sure that Windows has correctly detected your system/s drive as a SSD? Type "disk defragmenter" into the Start menu search box and press Enter, then click Configure Schedule followed by Select Disks. If your SSD has been properly detected by Windows, it won?t appear as a selectable disk in Select Disks For Schedule dialog. In fact, you won't even see any volumes listed; you'll just see the Select All Disks checkbox if Windows has correctly identified your drive as a SSD. (Note that the volumes are still displayed in the initial Disk Defragmenter dialog so you can manually defragment them if desired.) If your SSD has NOT been properly detected by Windows however, the drive's checkbox will be selected and you should clear it so that Windows won't try to defragment the drive.

SuperFetch is another performance-enhancing feature in Windows 7 that can negatively impact the usable life of a SSD while providing only a minimal performance boost. If WinSAT determines that the overall disk score (which includes both random reads and writes) is 6.5 or higher then Windows turns off SuperFetch and configures it as a trigger-start service so it can be automatically started or stopped when a specific system event or trigger happens on the system.

For a good overview of SSDs and Windows 7, see this post from awhile back on the Engineering Windows 7 blog:

NTFS Partition Alignment

Key to good performance with a SSD is proper alignment of the first NTFS partitions on the drive. This is especially important for systems that have been upgraded from Windows XP SP2 or earlier to Windows 7 since the first NTFS partition on Windows XP begins at sector #63 which is the middle of a SSD page. If the first NTFS partition is misaligned on a SSD, the performance of the drive can be cut in half. Dominik Heinz has some discussion of this issue in his blog:

What if you have a Windows 7 laptop with a SSD drive and the drive crashes, and you install a new SSD drive in the system and restore everything from a system image backup you previously created using the Windows Backup utility or using some third-party cloning (sector-based imaging) tool. How can you tell if the restored partition is properly aligned on the new SSD drive? The SSD Alignment Calculator found on the TechPowerUp site can be used to determine whether your partition is properly aligned:

Unfortunately if this tool indicates your partition is not properly aligned, there's little you can do about it at this point. The key then is to make sure your partition is properly aligned BEFORE you restore from your system image backup. You can use the built-in diskpart command to do this as shown by this post from the Windows 7 Forums:

Once you've created a properly aligned NTFS partition on your new SSD, you can then restore your system image backup. Because restoring from a system image backup simply lays down a Windows Image (.wim) file (as opposed to a block-level restore) the partition alignment will not be affected by the restore process.

Using SSDs on Servers

You may not be aware of this but SSDs are not just for laptops or high-end workstations--you can also use them in servers. The key thing here is that you should ensure that you're using SSDs that are designed for servers since SSDs rated for SATA 2 speeds will usually become a bottleneck when more than a couple of dozen users need to simultaneously access your server. In other words, you'll generally want to put 6Gbps SandForce-based SSDs in your server hardware. I've seen or heard of SSDs being used on servers in the following kinds of scenarios:

If you've successfully implemented SSDs on any servers in your own environment, let us know how at [email protected] so other readers of this newsletter can benefit from your expertise.

Note by the way that while automatic defragmentation and Superfetch are both enabled by default on Windows 7 computers that have HDDs, on Windows Server SKUs both features are disabled by default even for HDDs, so using SSDs in servers changes nothing in this respect.

For additional reading on using SSD drives in servers (or for demoing server applications on laptops) see the following articles and blog posts:

Tips for SSDs

One of the smartest things you can do to get the best performance from your SSDs is to make sure you keep your firmware up to date. And that includes not just your motherboard BIOS and chipset drivers but also the firmware for the SSD drive controller. That last one is important because SSD manufacturers may release updated firmware that provides improved wear leveling algorithms and/or enhanced trim support that can help extend the life of the drive.

What about drivers for your SSD? If you've replaced the HDD in your PC or laptop with a SSD and re-installed Windows 7, should you just go with the in-box SATA drivers found in Windows 7 or should you download and install the latest SATA drivers from the SSD manufacturer? I've heard opinions on both sides of the fence here, but in general you should go with the manufacturer as they may have the newest (and therefore hopefully the best-performing) SATA drivers.

WARNING: Always perform a full backup (or system image backup) of your computer before upgrading your SSD firmware or drivers. The reason is because occasionally a firmware update may cause more problems (including data corruption) than it was intended to solve. Most SSD updates can be performed without needing to do a secure erase first. A secure erase deletes all data from the SSD and restores the drive to its original factory state. For Intel SSD drives, you can perform a secure erase by using the Intel SSD Toolbox utility:

Best SSDs?

OK so you really like your laptop but you'd like to have it perform better, so you've decided to replace the HDD with a SSD. What SSD should you buy?  I've heard various horror stories of SSDs failing after only a few weeks of use, and from what I can determine Intel SSDs seem to have the best reputation in the market these days. Plus Intel provides the tools you need to support using SSDs in your environment--see the Admin Tools section of this issue for links to these tools.

Some of the Intel SSDs you might want to take a look at include the Intel 320 series (SATA 2) drives and the Intel 510 series (SATA 3) drives. Also see the Tech Briefing section of this newsletter for some news concerning Intel's latest SSDs.

How much should you spend for a SSD drive? Well, the good news is that SSD drive prices have generally been dropping while SSD drive capacities have been increasing. And even though you may be paying a premium for a good Intel SSD, it's important to do so because the bottom line is not how much your computer is worth but how much your data is worth.

Tip of the Week

If you install a SSD drive in your Windows 7 SP1 laptop and it shows up as a SCSI disk under the Disk Drives node in Device Manager, you may find that whenever your system resumes from hibernation Windows displays a message saying that the computer was not shut down properly. If this is the case, you need to install the hotfix described in the this KB article:

Recommended for Learning

This week we review some IT certification guides:

The CCENT/CCNA ICND1 640-822 Official Cert Guide and CCENT/CCNA ICND2 640-816 Official Cert Guide, both from Cisco Press, together cover all the bases needed to help you prepare for your entry-level Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. You can achieve this certification either by taking two exams (640-822 and 640-816 respectively) each covering roughly half the material, or by taking a single exam (640-802) covering everything. Either way, you'll need both of these books if you want to get there. The first book covers stuff that most admins will already have some familiarity with like TCP/IP protocols, IP subnetting, switches and routers, and some basic WAN stuff. The second title addresses the more interesting stuff like VLANs, VLSMs, router ACLs, and routing protocols like OSPF and EIGRP. There?s also a couple of chapters on Frame Relay?yes, Frame Relay is still around in some places. I guess even auto mechanics need to know how to shoe a horse sometime ;-)

RHCSA/RHCE Red Hat Linux Certification Study Guide (Exams EX200 & EX300), 6th Edition from McGraw-Hill is a well-written guide for preparing you for exams EX200 and EX300 as you pursue your Red Hat certification. It?s also a very useful book if you simply need to learn more about administering Red Hat Linux systems in your workplace. I've done some work with various Linux flavors including Red Hat, and I like the conciseness of this book as a reference. Unlike some certification guides that tend to be overly wordy, this one has mostly short declarative sentences that get straight to the point. Let me rephrase that. Some certification guides tend to be overly wordy. This one isn't. It mostly contains short declarative sentences. These get straight to the point. CTRL+D.

Quotes of the Week

"In the absence of clear goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." --Robert Heinlein

"But if I had to pinpoint why I was so successful, I would have to credit my parents for passing on some amazing genes and the fact that from an early age I read and studied everything I could get my hands on regarding training and nutrition. Knowledge is power, and when you combine it with passion and persistence, there is nothing you can't do!" --Eight-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilder Lee Haney in Muscular Development Magazine

Be sure to forward this newsletter to a friend or colleague who might find the tips and tools in it helpful for performing their job. And if you have feedback concerning anything in this newsletter, feel free to send it to my mailbag at [email protected]

Cheers, Mitch Tulloch 
Twitter: @mitchtulloch 
Facebook: mitchtulloch
Website: mtit.com


Admin Toolbox

Admin Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

New Top 10 free tools for IT pros. Audit changes in AD, servers, mailboxes; manage passwords and event log; monitor disc space usage; secure end-points, etc.

rDirectory?s free Community Edition web-based directory deploys in minutes and immediately allows users to search Active Directory data  anywhere, anytime, from any computer.  

Accident or Malicious? Learn whether suspicious activity  on Windows Servers is a result of unintentional actions?or malicious insider. View Demo.

The Intel Solid-State Drive Toolbox lets you optimize the performance of your Intel SSD drives:

The Intel SATA Solid-State Drive Firmware Update Tool provides the latest firmware for your Intel X25 and 320 series SSDs:


Webinars & Seminars

Conferences, Expos and Other Events

March 26 - 29, 2012 - SQL Server 2012 Launch Conference and Expo at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas:

April 16-20, 2012 - Microsoft Management Summit 2012 is where skilled IT professionals can meet to increase their technical expertise through hands-on training, breakout sessions and interacting with industry leaders in desktop and device management, datacenter, and cloud technologies: 

Upcoming Microsoft Events and Webcasts

  • February 28, 2012 - MSDN Webcast: Cloud Computing Soup to Nuts (Part 4): Introduction to SQL Azure (Level 100)
  • February 29, 2012 - TechNet Webcast: Live! IT Time: Private Cloud Chat (Episode 4) (Level 200)
  • March 7, 2012 - MSDN Webcast: Database Development Management (Level 300)

Sign up for these and other Microsoft events and webcasts at:

Upcoming VMware Webcasts

Sign up these and other VMware webcasts at: 

Upcoming O'Reilly Webcasts

Sign up for these and other O'Reilly webcasts at:

Upcoming Cisco Events

Browse the Cisco Corporate Events Calendar to find Cisco at events, trade shows and conferences around the world:

Upcoming Oracle Events

Browse the Oracle Events page to find in-person events and live webcasts for your location:


Tech Briefing

Intel SSD 520 Review: Cherryville Brings Reliability to SandForce

From AnandTech comes news of Intel's latest Sandforce-based SSDs:

Add To Favorites: Intel Claim/Find a Rebate

Before you shell out your hard-earned bucks (or Euros or whatever) for an Intel SSD drive, first see if there's a rebate offer:

Crucial m4 SSD RAID Review

StorageReview declares impressive performance for pair of Crucial m4 SSDs in RAID 0:

Data Recovery and SSD Drives

Data Storage Connection reports Kroll Ontrack develops unique capabilities that dramatically improve data recovery from solid state media:


Windows Server News

Hybrid cloud management tools and strategies

Determining how to manage hybrid clouds can seem daunting. The trick is to identify what you need to manage and the best types of tools for the job. Gain insight into a wide range of tools and strategies that can help ease your management concerns in this expert tip.

Disaster recovery in a virtual world: No silver bullet

Virtualization disaster recovery tools ease the barriers surrounding DR, but an effective disaster recovery plan also requires tough analytical and technical decisions. And while the DR needs for every organization tend to vary, all IT shops should evaluate these key virtualization disaster recovery tools and strategies.

Top 5 remote desktop connectivity problems

Remote desktop connectivity is usually reliable, but things can and sometimes do go wrong. Here are five common remote desktop connection problems that you can prevent and solve easily.

Where Windows managers should spend their upgrade money

Ready to invest in a system upgrade, but unsure where to start? One expert offers ideas on where your funds will be best allocated in this FAQ.


WServerNews FAVE Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Top10 free tools for IT professionals

A 3D LED Cube creates a large moving display in three dimensions:

The ?Diet Coke And Mentos Engine?. Why hasn?t anyone thought of this before?

An abandoned iPhone turns out to be a killer of a deal in the 4 min short film "Psycho Siri":

A Rube Goldberg machine, different from any you've ever seen before:


WServerNews - Product of the Week

Top 10 Freeware Tools for IT Professionals

Award-winning change auditing, identity management and IT security tools. Audit changes in Active Directory, file servers, SharePoint; Exchange and mailboxes, secure end-points, manage passwords and event log, monitor Windows services and more. The tools proved useful in many Microsoft and other environments where native tools could not help. Download Now. 





WServerNews - Editors

Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of WServerNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows administration, deployment and virtualization.  Mitch was lead author of the bestselling Windows 7 Resource Kit from Microsoft Press and has published hundreds of articles for IT pros.  Mitch is also a seven-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his outstanding contributions in support of the global IT pro community. Mitch owns and runs an information technology content development business based in Winnipeg, Canada. For more information see www.mtit.com

Ingrid Tulloch is Associate Editor of WServerNews and was co-author of the Microsoft Encyclopedia of Networking from Microsoft Press.  Ingrid is also Head of Research for our content development business and has co-developed university-level courses in Information Security Management for a Masters of Business Administration program.