Product Reviews

Spotlight Brightens the Sysadmin’s Day

Here’s a way to light up the mysterious trees in your Active Directory forest.

Ever look around in the dark? What you could use is a flashlight. But if you’re looking in a forest of trees, grab a spotlight! Quest Software offers a lineup of monitoring tools called Spotlights. You can get a Spotlight for SQL Server; Oracle; various Web servers, including IIS and Apache; and for large enterprise solutions like PeopleSoft. For this review, I looked at Spotlight for Active Directory.

Installation was a snap. It took less than five minutes to install the admin console on a Windows 2000 Professional box. The server didn’t even need to be rebooted! The installation footprint is relatively small: only about 10MB. When you first run the console and select a domain controller you want to monitor, Spotlight automatically installs the AD database performance counters on the DC.

The interface has a Web-like feel, offering everything you’d expect to find in a browser. Four key DC performance counters are spotlighted: Network, AD, the AD Store and the OS. The most useful information I found across these were Connected Users, LDAP activity, CPU and memory usage, processor queue, and an interface to Event Viewer. The “idiot-light” format with flashing green and red highlights is great for instant visual acquisitions of problem areas. Right-click on any counter and you can open a quick help dialog. The dialog not only tells you what the counter does, it also gives you advice on what to do if it’s in alert status. This is good news for the novice admin or the experienced one who’s new to AD.

For more experienced AD admins, you can use Spotlight’s drilldown to take a closer look at each counter and get the details, including a graph of changes over time. As with the main status page, each detail monitor window in the drilldown has right-click help that tells you what you’re looking at. This makes Spotlight for AD really easy to learn. It also includes an interface to Event Viewer and Services. Alert thresholds and severity values are customizable, making Spotlight for AD very flexible. The Web-like HTML/XML front-end that interfaces with WMI makes this ideal for monitoring over slower WAN links or where bandwidth is a concern.

Unfortunately, you can’t add or delete counters to the set that Spotlight monitors, nor can you view results from more than one DC at a time, or run more than one instance of Spotlight on the same workstation. So if you’re responsible for a large number of DCs or prefer to have a more global view, this isn’t the product for you. Where it shines is in monitoring single critical servers.

The Spotlight products have a Web-like interface that uses color and motion to communicate server status. (Click image to view larger version.)

The bottom line is that Spotlight provides an intuitive front-end to Performance Monitor and a few other Windows monitoring tools. It takes the most essential AD-related performance counters and puts them right in front of you, in a way that makes trouble spots instantly visible.

About the Author

Joseph Stoppiello, MCSE, is president and CEO of ITwirx, a systems integrator and network architecture company. He's been designing Windows architectures and Windows-based network architectures for 11 years.

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