Windows NT 5.0's Microsoft Management Console (MMC) 1.0 lets you manage all aspects of your NT network from one console. MMC currently ships with BackOffice products such as Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0, Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), and SNA Server. MMC will provide an extensible container for NT 5.0 management tools related to the operating system (OS), BackOffice products, and third-party services. Microsoft wants to give you one console to manage your whole environment. The company plans to modify its BackOffice logo terms to require vendors to provide MMC snap-ins that will manage vendors' products.

Adding snap-ins or pluggable modules to MMC lets you custom build a management tool to meet your systems management needs. You can customize MMC to create different views for each systems administrator. Choosing only the snap-ins you want lets you create custom tools (or documents, as Microsoft calls them) to perform a particular management function. In this article, I'll focus on how you can use this feature to create and share management capability on an NT 5.0 network. I'll review MMC's functionality and discuss how you can create custom tools and then distribute them to your systems administrators based on their functional need.

MMC Functions
MMC is a container with no management functionality, but it's expandable. You can potentially add snap-ins to perform any management task. Microsoft plans to leverage MMC to provide systems management tools for all aspects of NT 5.0 networks. MMC's snap-ins will replace existing management tools such as User Manager, Server Manager, Event Viewer, and Disk Administrator. MMC will also consolidate management-related tasks on other parts of the OS. For example, the System Service Management snap-in, or extension, will replace NT 4.0's Services Control Panel applet.

An extension is a kind of snap-in. In general, you can't install an extension by itself; you must first load a parent snap-in. An extension provides additional management functionality that's associated with the extension's parent and that you can enable under the parent's context. However, some extensions can stand alone. For example, you can extend the Computer Management snap-in that comes in NT 5.0 to include Device Manager, Event Viewer, File Service Management, and System Service Management, as Screen 1 shows. You can also load each of these extensions as standalone snap-ins, separate from Computer Management.

In addition to snap-ins and extensions, you can load objects such as folders, links to Web sites, and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) controls into your MMC console to augment management functionality. These objects let you create a custom management tool for direct access to important management information.

Screen 2 shows the management tool I created to monitor my workstation. In this tool, I loaded the Computer Management snap-in and enabled all available extensions. The Computer Management snap-in includes the Storage and Server Applications and Services monitoring utilities. MMC adds these utilities regardless of which extension you enable. I also loaded an OLE control under the Computer Management context called Sysmon Graph. This control is similar to NT's Performance Monitor (Perfmon) tool, and it lets me quickly track key objects and counters for my workstation. Finally, I added a link to Microsoft's Support Online Web site, because I often use this site to troubleshoot technical problems. When I click on this link, the Support Online site appears in my console's right-hand results window.

The Computer Management snap-in shows me information for my workstation only. To manage another server on my network, I need to load another instance of the snap-in and specify the server's name. I can also specify the server's name at the command line when I invoke the saved tool, as Screen 3 shows. For example, you might create and save a tool called events.msc to view event logs on a machine. When you create the tool, you can specify that the system can pass a given workstation or server name to the tool for monitoring. In this case, you'd type events.msc \\myserver, and the event logs for \\myserver would appear in MMC. You can also manage machines directly if you have the Directory Services Manager snap-in added. From this snap-in, you select the Computers container, right-click the machine you want to manage, and select Manage. You'll then see a new window with the Computer Management snap-in focused on the device you selected.

Creating a Custom MMC Tool
The process for creating a tool to perform a specific task is easy. As an example, I'll use the management tool I created in Screen 2.

To start an empty MMC, go to the command line and type

mmc.exe

When MMC appears, you'll start with a clean tool and a Console Root folder. To add a snap-in from the root, go to the MMC menu and select Console, Add/Remove Snap-in. From the Add/ Remove Snap-in dialog box, select Add to see a list of currently available snap-ins (e.g., Computer Management, as Screen 4 shows). The Computer Management dialog box asks whether you want to use the snap-in for your computer or another network computer. After you make your choice, you automatically return to the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box, where you can select the Extensions tab. After you select the extensions you want for the snap-in, click OK to enable them.

You can then add an OLE control to monitor your machine's performance (much like Perfmon does). From the Computer Management snap-in you added under Console Root, right-click to bring up a menu of actions. (You can also click the Action menu above Console Root to see your options.) Select New to add one of four objects--a folder, a link to a Web address, a general control, or a monitoring control. Selecting the monitoring control starts a wizard for inserting ActiveX monitor controls. Select Next to see a list of available monitor controls. To add Perfmon-like functionality, check Sysmon Graph Control and select Next. The final dialog box lets you name this control on your console window. After you add this new control, you can select it and add objects and counters as you would in Perfmon. Right-click the results window, and select Add Counters or Properties. When you save the tool to an .msc file, MMC saves the counters in the same manner as when you create a Perfmon workspace file.

Finally, you can add a link to Microsoft's Support Online Web site. To add it under the Console Root, right-click Console Root or click the Action menu and select Link to Web Address. The Explorer dialog box pops up and asks for a Web address. Enter http://support .microsoft.com/support, and select Next.

You can further customize your tool and make it easier for your users. For example, you can create multiple windows within MMC to separate functionality. To use this feature, right-click the Console Root and select New Window From Here. Selecting this option creates a new window that starts from your current location. In the workstation tool example, you could create a new window from the Sysmon Graph Control. Thus you'd have a second window whose root is the graph control, as Screen 5 shows. You can use this window to separate snap-ins or objects that need an uncluttered window.

Sharing Tools and Delegating Management
You can save your custom MMC tool in a file and retrieve it when you need to manage your NT 5.0 workstation. You save the tool with an .msc extension, and MMC automatically stores them in your NT 5.0 user profile in a folder called My Administrative Tools. This folder is in %userprofile%\StartMenu\ Programs.

You can also create machine-specific administrative tools in %systemroot%\ profiles\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\ Administrative Tools. Tools stored in this file are available to all users who log on to the machine. When you load NT 5.0, you'll see several .msc files in the All Users profile. These files provide the same management functionality as NT 4.0's Administrative Tools group, and they contain information about the snap-ins you've loaded and other customizations such as multiple windows and window position. These .msc files are similar to advanced Perfmon workspace files.

MMC lets you create a tool, save it as an .msc file, and distribute the tool to your users through email or their default profiles. When a user runs the tool, MMC loads the information about which snap-ins the tool contains. MMC by default stores snap-ins in %systemroot%\system32 on an NT 5.0 workstation or server. Snap-ins are DLLs that MMC loads. For example, the DLL that provides the Event Viewer functionality is called els.dll.

You can distribute a tool to users who don't have the snap-ins on their workstations or servers. If the users are on an NT 5.0 network using Active Directory (AD), you can give them the snap-ins. Snap-ins are OLE services, so you can make them available to all AD users via the Class Store. The Class Store is an AD object that lets you provide centralized information about object classes to your applications. In the case of snap-ins, when a user on an NT 5.0 workstation or server opens an MMC tool that contains a snap-in that isn't available locally, the workstation or server can query the Class Store to see whether it recognizes the object class and to learn its location. This functionality makes your tools portable within your NT 5.0 network. If you're currently managing an NT 4.0 network, you'll appreciate this benefit. Because I move from workstation to workstation, I must repeatedly connect to a server that has the correct version of User Manager for Domains or Server Manager. With MMC, I can easily move around on the network if I have my .msc files and AD.

It's All There for the Taking
Systems administrators will embrace MMC because it makes NT network management simple. MMC provides one customizable console to perform numerous tasks on multiple machines, users, drives, and services. Microsoft's challenge with MMC is to provide premium service across the board and convince third parties to develop compat- ible applications. Only time will tell whether Microsoft can convince independent software vendors (ISVs) that writing snap-ins is the best way to manage their products.