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We're a small company (~50) who outsource the bulk of our IT to an... average quality provider. I am taking on the role of day-to-day IT (think of things that can be fixed in 15 mins or less only). I'm looking for some tools that can make my life easier. Most of our computers are on the LAN, though we do have a couple of remote employees and people do travel quite frequently.

I would like reco's on tools that can help me figure out which PC's are running what versions of Windows (mostly Vista, 7), up-to-date on patches etc., possibly tie into a virus-scanner for a high-level overview of how many threats have been detected, cleaned etc., and then possibly to simplify remote access (RDC is fine when the computer is local, but sometimes is a pain for people outside the office).

Not sure if such a thing exists, but thought this would be the place to ask.

For those who are going to say "Get better IT", "Don't try to do it yourself" etc., I DO have an IT background, but have not made it my focus. My primary reason for taking this task on and looking to audit this stuff is to build a business case about what we do well / don't do well, so that I can justify an increase level of spending and awareness of the importance of a well designed IT infrastructure.

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6 Answers 6

This is a hard question to answer because of all of the unknowns about your environment (including why your IT vendor is failing). You may have a difficult to manage environment, and\or unreasonable expectations of your IT department for dollars spent.

In your question, you ask for very 'point of problem' tools, while also asking for management tools. These are really different area, and you need to understand the differences. Are you going to be the helpdesk guy? or the IT manager?

I suggest you may want to buy the time of a consultant experienced with information systems design (as opposed to providing tech support) to look over your IT, and get advice on how to proceed with all of your goals.

Generally:

  • You'll need an up to date inventory of computers. I've used Open Audit for this purpose on larger networks than yours with regular (daily, weekly, on logon, etc your choice) updates. Simple to set up, simple to use. Rich detail. There are lots of other choices including Spiceworks. YMMV. To underline, manual inventories dont work.
  • Microsoft Group policies. Many problems are caused by users with too many rights on their computers. In particular is the ability to adjust Internet Explorer security settings to the point that anything can gain a foothold on a computer. But the advantages of GPO's dont end here (software updates, who can install software, etc), and you should research this on your own.
  • Command line. You need to become facile at the command line with native microsoft tools, like - ping.exe, route.exe, ipconfig.exe, tasklist.exe, netstat.exe and others. You may want to install tools from Sysinternals like psinfo.exe.
  • Laptops. Do your laptop users have unreasonable business needs for uptime? if so, you may want to just punt these users to a third party.
  • Remote Access. This should be pretty straight forward. If your current vendor cannot create a secure solution, you should be able to find someone who can. Lots of low cost VPN solutions. You want to do this before your users start implementing their own solutions....
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Thanks for the thorough answer. Our vendor is failing partly due to their work ethic, and partly due to years of unspecified expectations on our end. We can't lock down computers (just not how we operate - I know, I know) - I agree it may be worthwhile to bring in a consultant for suggestion. Again, thanks for the tips. I'd upvote you if I could. –  McB Jan 4 '12 at 18:09
    
@McB If you don't have specifications for the vendor ow do you expect to be successful at detemining wether or not you could do better job at it or not? –  Jim B Jan 4 '12 at 20:32

To answer the part about finding out what your environment consists of you could try out Spiceworks. It's a network crawler that will go out and scan the PCs on the LAN and report back OS versions, software versions along with other things. One thing i will note is that it does require the windows firewall to be disabled so it can scan the PC on your network.

Here is a Link to Spiceworks

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Looks very interesting, will give it a shot. Thanks –  McB Jan 4 '12 at 17:05
    
I had tried Spiceworks a long time ago. They left a disfavorable impression, but I don't renember exactly why; it was either upsell attempts or spam... –  gWaldo Jan 4 '12 at 19:37

Microsofts online systemcenter https://www.systemcenteradvisor.com/ is quite good for this along with microsofts intune product.

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This doesn't help his situation with monitoring and reporting on desktops. –  Split71 Jan 4 '12 at 22:00
    
thats what intune is for correct. –  tony roth Jan 4 '12 at 23:13

Your question is mixing services (remote access) with management (how do I tell what versions of windows I have). These are 2 completely seperate entities (and remote desktop solutions will require some level of management)

What you should bring in is an operations consultant or at the very least take a look at ITIL, MOF or COBIT. Each one of these is a framework in order to manage IT. There is no good answer to what tools you need until you can define what it is exactly you need to manage and these framewrorks help define that. As an example you need (as mentioned by someone else) an inventory - unless you have leased machines that get refreshed every so often - then the inventory of hardware is only based on expiration date and location (which an automated tool isn't going to help you with). Once you have decent processes you can then decide on what tools will meet the specific needs.

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To find out which machines are up-to-date on patches, use secunia.com's excellent product. I am not related to them, just a satisfied user.

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My favorite toolset is VBScript / Powershell, and using them to leverage WMI. (Scriptomatic2 is my preferred means of discovering what's available.)

Microsoft has a great section of tutorials called the Script Center. There's also tons of code (submitting by the MS Scripting Guys and Community submissions) in the Script Center Repository.

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