Product Reviews

One-Touch Smart Reporting

Quickly access your SMS database via Aelita's SnapReports.

Anyone working with Microsoft's Systems Management Server knows that one of its greatest strengths is its vast information database concerning a network's systems. But getting useful information from that database isn't always an easy task. Many organizations find they need a third-party solution to extract that data. This usually means learning to operate a new external program and sometimes even dedicated hardware. SnapReports, however, is unique—it's not an external application. Rather, SnapReports "gently" attaches itself to the SMS Administrator Console, allowing administrators to easily and quickly create customizable HTML reports drawn from the SMS database. These reports can be saved, printed, or searched for desired information.

With SnapReports operating as part of the SMS Administrator Console, the learning curve is reduced. In no time, administrators-who already know the SMS Console-can use SnapReports. What's more, installing SnapReports doesn't modify any SMS-generated reports. SnapReports simply appears as a Report extension under the Queries and Status Messages Queries sections of the Administrator Console.

A really cool SnapReports feature is its one-touch operation. Almost everything that needs to be done can be performed with a single mouse click. There's no need for extra dialog boxes or searching for the correct field in the hierarchy. In addition, because every query gets a Report folder below it, the SnapReports utility is always close at hand.

Creating reports with SnapReports is easy. Simply select the SMS Query or SMS Collection you want to build a report around, choose the attached Report, select the attributes to display and any necessary parameters, click the Run button, and the report is generated. SnapReports also remembers your input so that the next time you choose this report, the previous information will be automatically selected for you. Once a report is created, you can search it by clicking the Find button and entering the search criteria. The search results will be displayed in the console's left pane.

Customizing reports is just as easy. Because all reports are generated as HTML, all you have to do is modify the template. With basic HTML knowledge, your reports can quickly display your company's logo or colors.

SnapReports provides a variety of flexible HTML-based reports that allow you to make sense of the huge amount of information collected by SMS.

I did run into one drawback while using SnapReports: It requires Internet Explorer 5.0 for report display. The program's setup process didn't check to see if I had IE5 installed. What's more, not only did I need to reboot my server after installing SnapReports, but after installing IE5. This procedure could impact any organization running the SMS Administrator Console on an SMS server-many organizations wouldn't agree to reboot a production server twice. I should also note that the SnapReports version I tested failed to display when IE5.5 was installed.

Other than the above minor drawbacks, SnapReports is a solid tool-extremely powerful and easy to use. If your organization requires advanced and customized reports drawn from your SMS database, this is definitely a solution that you should consider.

About the Author

Barry Shilmover, MCSE+I, MCT, owns Shilmover Consulting Services, a Microsoft Solution Provider specializing in Windows NT/2000 and Exchange 5.5/2000 solutions. He has co-authored books that include Windows 2000 System Administrator’s Black Book and Exchange 5.5 Exam Cram, both from Coriolis Press.

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