TechMentor Attendees Bask in Newfound Expertise

Hundreds of Windows IT professionals descended upon sunny San Diego Tuesday for the bi-annual TechMentor conference, put on by Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

A who's who of Microsoft technical experts, the true Windows intelligentsia, greeted attendees from as far away as Germany and Honolulu, and offered insight into new products, critical issues such as security. Attendees left later that week with newfound skills that will improve their organizations, and their own careers.

The dominant theme, coming on the heels of MSblaster and SoBig, was security. The lessons were clear. The best way to protect your network is to use what you've already got, said speaker and consultant Mark Manasi. First and foremost, keep your systems patched. In fact, firewalls often lead to a false sense of security, and IT fails to stay on top of patches, Manasi argued. Most viruses and exploits are stopped cold by properly patched systems, many speakers explained.

In fact, attendees connecting to broadband from their rooms found that a virus was lurking on the hotel network, leading to a mad scramble to update anti-virus software and double check the installation of personal firewalls. Many systems were shut down for hours. It wasn't long afterwards that the elevators mysteriously stopped working.

Chief on attendees' minds was Windows Server 2003, and many sessions hit at the issues and explained the new features. On Tuesday, the hard-core popped into Don Jones' Windows Server 2003 Jumpstart, and spent all day coming to grips with the operating system. The OS will take a major mind shift to install and manage. To heighten security, most features such as file and Web services, are turned off, and won't operate until explicitly activated, Jones explained. No less than ten sessions and seminar tackled critical Windows Server 2003 issues.

Many attendees were Techmentor veterans, and returned with co-workers in tow. Sean Nichols, a corporate sales manager with ExecuTrain of West Virginia, attended with several ExecuTrain techies. This was the first time ExecuTrain sent someone from marketing, and for Nichols, the five-day event was well worth it. Nichols was especially impressed with Todd Lammle's Wireless Networking Secrets half-day seminar. "There are so many wireless technologies, and Lammle explained them all well. Many of the offices I come across are trying to implement wireless. Now I can convey the information I learned at TechMentor, and make intelligent recommendations." Like all TechMentor instructors, Lammle has years of hands-on experience in networking, in his case some 22 years.

The conference also offered an opportunity to learn from, and to teach, Microsoft certification and training executives. There was a 75-minute Q&A session with five Microsoft executives, as well as a focus group.

While the evenings were full of fun, attendees were there to learn. A fire alarm interrupted Bill Boswell's Windows Administration Essentials: Active Directory seminar during an intense discussion of property replication. While the boats in the nearby marina were gorgeous and the sun was in all its glory, attendees beat a path back to Boswell as soon as the alarm clicked off.

Education can solve many, but not all problems. Sometimes it takes a product. The exhibit floor was packed on Wednesday and Thursday by attendees looking for the latest and greatest.

Script jockeys made a bee-line for SAPIEN Technologies booth, where it showed off PrimalScript 3.0, an automated scripting tool released earlier this year. According to Paul E. Lamoreux, vice president of Sapien, PrimalScript is designed to save time by easing editing, automatically generating code in a variety of languages, and helping organize scripting projects.

ON Technology was showing off its latest management tool, ON iCommand. Those familiar with ON may recall that the tool, formerly ON Command CCM, was rebranded some six months ago. iCommand offers unattended control of remote devices such as PDAs, laptops, and servers, and includes a Web self-service portal that allows users to download allowed applications.

High availability vendor Rainfinity had a couple tools on display. RainWall High Availability Platform is designed to insure that gateway applications are always available. IT pros can cluster content security servers and firewalls for performance and fault tolerance. RainConnect works with Microsoft's ISA server, and allows for multi-homing. The tool can aggregate bandwidth and eliminate a single point of failure.

Software packaging, installation, and deployment were hot issues.

InstallShield Software, a name familiar to anyone who has ever loaded software, pitched AdminStudio 5, a tool to help deploy applications on Windows XP and 2000. It tests the application, looks for conflicts, repackages your code, and posts the software to whatever deployment system you have.

Tally Systems, which grew out of Dartmouth College 17 years ago, announced the shipment of TS.Deploy 3.0, a software distribution system that works with servers, PCs, and mobile devices. TS.Deploy is part of the company's new Cenergy client management suite, which features inventory software, and remote control software. According to Tally Business Systems Architect Kevin J. Tombs, MCSE, TS.Deploy can dynamically adapt to changes in bandwidth, making it especially useful and efficient for occasionally connected computers.

Prism, from New Boundary Technologies, aims to simplify the packaging and deployment of software. The tool, which is integrated with Microsoft's SMS, is entirely graphically based, automatically checks for conflicts, can install or not based on configuration, and has full rollback.

Wise Solutions was there with Package Studio 4.5, which shipped this spring. A new rev of the tool is due this fall. Available in enterprise, professional, and standard editions, the tool can identify application conflicts, and then isolate and copy shared .DLLs to applications folders, eliminating the source of many conflicts.

Patch management was a hot topic in the seminars, and on the show floor. Patchlink Update 4.0 does a complete inventory of software, hardware, and drivers across the enterprise, and can determine which systems are missing critical patches. It can automatically patch Microsoft systems, as well as applications from Adobe, and Novell, among others.

IT isn't just charged with protecting networks against intrusions and viruses, but more and more technologists are being asked to block inappropriate content, whether it be spam, confidential information, or vulgar content.

SurfControl, which passed out dozens of "Stop Spam" tee-shirts (make mine an extra-large), has a line of software to filter Web content, instant messages, and e-mail.

CommVault had a range of tools, including Galaxy Backup and Recovery, QiNetix DataMigrator (aimed at storing older files and messages on less costly archival storage technologies), QiNetix Quick Recovery and QiNetix QNet, which tracks how much storage each of your enterprise applications is consuming.

TNT Software heard from its users that third party management of logs, such as security logs, was becoming essential, said Brent Skadsen, marketing director. The company built ELM Log Manager to make it easier for third parties, and internal IT, to track and view log entries. Other tools on display included ELM Performance Manager, which details system performance, and ELM Enterprise Manager, which tracks the health of distributed systems.

Lieberman & Associates, originally formed as a consultancy in the late 1970's, showed a line of administration tools aimed at hard core administrators. Focusing on fast, highly functional tools not bogged down by an abundance of graphical interface elements, Leiberman sells much of its product to large enterprises, said company founder Philip Leiberman. Tools are available to maintain security settings, generate random passwords, manage service accounts, schedule tasks, manage MTS/COM+/DCOM applications, migrate domains, move from IBM LAN/Warp Server to NT, and synchronize passwords across platforms, workstations, and domains.

LANDesk, an Intel spin-off, was there with its LANDesk Management Suite. The suite includes application management, software distribution, support tools, and inventory. The recent OS Deployment tool helps IT do in-place migration to Windows XP and 2000.

Group policy problems got you down? AutoProf hopes it Policy Maker will help. The tool is designed to use group policies to automatically configure Windows desktops, avoiding logon scripts, and visits to user desktops. The tool will ship in October or November, said John Moyer, president and CEO.

Training company Transcender is aiming to have Windows Server 2003 offerings in October or November, said Miguel Jimenez, business development manager. Transcender has flash card style products, exam simulations, and computer based training.

Most vendors interviewed found that the tech market has stabilized, and is beginning to creep slowly back to health.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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