Best free server tools for Microsoft admins
Microsoft offers some pretty useful apps free of charge
By J. Peter Bruzzese | CIO US | Published: 13:45, 02 November 2010
Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyser
If you've ever deployed an Exchange server and needed a way to test your remote connectivity without jumping through hoops, this is the tool for you. Whether you want to test mobile connectivity, Outlook Anywhere connectivity (aka RPC over HTTP), auto-discovery, or simply your server's ability to send and receive email, the Remote Connectivity Analyser will assist.
Choose the test you want to run, supply some necessary information, and off this web-based tool goes. If your system fails the test, Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyser (ExRCA) will report back what failed and why. What is amazing about ExRCA is that you can drill through the layers to see exactly what failed, as well as resolutions for your particular problem within Exchange.
SharePoint Foundation 2010
SharePoint Foundation is the latest version of SharePoint Services, a free subset of features for SharePoint Server. Don't be fooled into thinking "free" here means severely lacking in features. Yes, the Standard and Enterprise versions of SharePoint Server offer more, but if you look at what SharePoint Foundation includes you'll be impressed. All the key features, including team workspaces, wikis, blogs, document libraries, and more, are free with Foundation.
Those new to SharePoint will find SharePoint Foundation a great way to get familiar with Site features, which are essentially equivalent to those offered by the SharePoint Server paid version. Where SharePoint Foundation comes up short is on heavy enterprise search features, as well as the ability to reach into external data services such as Excel, Access and Visio. Companies interested in the social networking and media side to SharePoint will also want to look beyond Foundation. Still, SharePoint Foundation eclipses its predecessor WSS v3 in functionality and is a solid choice for those looking to collaborate for free.
Download: SharePoint Foundation 2010
Lync Server 2010 Planning Tool RC
If you've ever attempted to deploy Office Communications Server or any of the communications server Microsoft has introduced over the years, you know how easy it is to get in over your head, thanks to a tremendous amount of new verbiage, an overwhelming list of new server types to learn, and no short list of new telephony features to master at each turn. Microsoft's Lync Server 2010 may reduce some of the stress, providing an easier deployment, but what will really relieve the stress is Lync Server's new Planning Tool.
This free tool asks you a series of questions about your organisation, as well as the Lync Server features you wish to deploy and then provides you with a set of topology plans to make the deployment happen. You can even export your topology to a file that you can use to import into your Lync setup for an even easier deployment.
Download: Lync Server 2010 Planning Tool RC
Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit
This agentless tool reaches out into your environment to inventory all your systems via networkwide automated discovery. It can also perform a variety of worthwhile tests, to yield SQL usage information, for example, or to assess a Windows 2000 Server migration. But where Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP) proves most helpful is in its ability to inventory systems and assess Windows 7 and Office 2010 deployment options in your environment. MAP can also provide server virtualisation scenarios to assist you in determining ways you can consolidate your servers with Hyper-V.