Navigating the MMC

Windows 2000 (Win2K) offers more tools than Windows NT offered to help you manage your systems. But when you start looking for your favorite NT 4.0 system tools, you'll be surprised. For example, you won't find Server Manager in Administrative Tools, nor will you find Disk Administrator. However, Win2K offers many new features and services, such as Dfs and the Directory Service Migration tool.

In this article, I take you on a tour of Win2K's Microsoft Management Console (MMC), where you'll find some new systems management tools, and new locations for your old favorites.

Win2K will impose a new learning curve on you and your staff. In future columns, I'll describe the OS's new tools in more detail, but here's an overview of beta 3.

Starting at the Top
A good place to start on our tour of Win2K and the MMC is with the My Computer icon in the screen's upper left corner. (I always rename this icon to a specific computer name.) Right-clicking the icon brings up a familiar menu, with options such as Explore, Open, Search (which was Find in NT), Map Network Drive, and Properties. New to Win2K is the Manage option. You select Manage to access a Computer Management window—aka the MMC—which Screen 1, page 164, shows.

You'll see a lot of the MMC in Win2K and in your Microsoft BackOffice software. Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0 also rely on the MMC interface. The MMC isn't a tool but rather a container that you can customize by adding snap-ins. Your computer will have multiple consoles that you've customized for different tasks and different administrators with varying levels of authority. The system stores console configurations as .msc files. The console that Screen 1 shows is named compmgmt.msc, demonstrating that Win2K retains 8.3 filenames.

The management tools that Win2K provides in this console fall into three groups: System Tools, Storage, and Server Applications and Services. In MMC terminology, these groupings are called nodes. Subfolders containing diagnostic or administrative tools reside within each node.

System Tools
The System Tools node contains seven folders. These folders include Performance Logs and Alerts, Local Users and Groups, System Information, Services, Shared Folders, Event Viewer, and Device Manager.

The only entry in the Performance Logs and Alerts folder is one sample log under the Counter Logs object. The sample log includes the counters for Pages/Second for memory, Average Disk Queue Length for all disks, and the percentage of CPU time used. You can add other counters. Oddly, the System Tools node isn't where you start Performance Monitor. However, you can configure Performance Monitor alerts from this folder.

On a non-domain controller system, you can use the next folder, Local Users and Groups, to administer the users and groups for that computer only. Win2K's placement of users and groups under Computer Management (rather than under Administrative Tools) might seem strange, but this placement emphasizes that the listed users and groups are specific to a computer. In a domain environment, the main purpose of this folder is to let you add local groups, to which you assign resource permissions, and add the global groups that need access to those resources. From that point of view, adding local groups and users is a function of computer management.

Win2K makes more system information available than NT does. The first item under the System Information branch of the MMC hierarchy is System Summary. For troubleshooting purposes, the availability of information about interrupts, conflicts, and memory use is helpful. Your troubleshooting department will use System Summary's Hardware Resources and Software Environment folders frequently. The Software Environment folder includes information about which drivers are loaded and which are running. Software Environment also lists active services, network connections, environment variables, loaded modules, and startup programs. The Components folder sits between the Hardware Resources and Software Environment folders—an appropriate place because Components deals with items such as multimedia, printing, and networking, in which hardware and software are interrelated. You'll also find a folder called Problem Devices. I was relieved to see that my system hadn't identified any problem devices.

The Services folder highlights Microsoft's MMC philosophy: to bring together information that NT separated into different applications or folders. On the MMC menu bar, select Services and click View, Detail to access the Services section. The details include which account the system is running under, as Screen 2 shows. In NT 4.0, you could obtain this information only by examining each service. This information is especially useful if you're troubleshooting BackOffice applications because the account under which those applications run can make a difference in their connectivity capabilities. Right-clicking a service lets you examine that service's properties, which includes a list of the services it depends on and the services that depend on it.

Another item that Win2K consolidates into the MMC is Shared Folders. As I mentioned, you won't find Server Manager in Administrative Tools. The share management that Server Manager offered is now in the MMC. Win2K's Active Directory (AD) handles domain computer management and replication. From Shared Folders, you can create, remove, and manage shares, share permissions, and connected users.

Event Viewer resides in the MMC, but you can still find it in the Administrative Tools folder. However you open it, Event Viewer has a new look. Screen 3 shows Event Viewer's new Windows Explorer-like interface, which displays the logs on the left and their data on the right. When you open Event Viewer from Administrative Tools, you'll see a separate instance of the MMC, configured to show the Event Log data. (Opening Event Viewer from the Computer Management MMC shows the same data within the current instance of the MMC.) Before you start pining for NT 4.0's Event Viewer, check out Event Viewer's new features in Win2K. You can sort any column simply by clicking it. You can drag columns to rearrange them, or you can use the menu to choose the columns you want displayed. (You can't add columns, which is unfortunate because I'd like to add one called Cause.) You can still individually configure the size and retention period for each log. One of the neatest features is that you can add new views of the logs—simply right-click Event Viewer, select New Log View, and configure the filters for the new view. Although Screen 3 shows a SQL Server Filtered Apps log, this log isn't in the default Event Viewer. I added this application log and applied a filter to it because I wanted to show only SQL Server error messages.

Device Manager will look familiar if you support Windows 9x systems. In the console's right pane, you'll see a list of your system's hardware components. You can expand each selection to show more detail, including the device's name and model number. Right-clicking a device icon brings up a menu from which you can uninstall or disable the device (a useful feature if you're trying to resolve conflicts), or look at the device's Properties. Device Manager can also inform you about the drivers and resources (i.e., interrupts and memory) that the device uses.

Storage
Disk Administrator's successor is in the MMC under Storage. The concept of removable storage isn't new to Win2K, but the Storage node's Removable Storage item is. Support for removable devices isn't strong in earlier versions of NT, but Win2K lets you manage and track removable media from within the OS. Removable storage lets you move your infrequently used data to a tape or removable disk device but retain the ability to retrieve that data quickly. A robotic storage library would be the perfect complement to this capability.

Disk Defragmenter also resides in the MMC instead of as a separate application. Disk Defragmenter's reporting is extensive, although it doesn't include a built-in scheduler.

The Logical Drives object shows a list of available drives. From this object, you right-click drive letters to check available space and set permissions.

Disk Management calls up the Disk Manager Service and shows an interface reminiscent of Disk Administrator, with more information in a split window, as Screen 4 shows. A new feature, Dynamic Storage, isn't obvious at first but gives you the long-overdue ability to manage disks and volumes without requiring you to reboot the system. However, Win2K changes the way the system handles volumes on multiple disks. I'll discuss this change in a future column.

The Disk Management interface provides another big change that administrators have been clamoring for. Right-click the disk, then open the Properties dialog box. As Screen 5 shows, you can set disk quotas on the Quota tab. Note that you can use this tab to set only the default quota—the Quota Entries button lets you access another dialog box, on which you can configure and monitor quotas for individual users. The Properties dialog box also includes options you'll recognize from NT 4.0, including compression, sharing, permissions, backup, and defragmentation.

Server Applications and Services
The third MMC node, Server Applications and Services, is home to the various services configured on your computer. Like NT 4.0, Win2K adds some services, such as DHCP, WINS, and DNS, to Administrative Tools when you install the services. Other services, such as the Telephony services and Message Queuing, are new to Win2K. You can configure and monitor all these services from the MMC.

Remote Possibilities
The root of the MMC hierarchy is labeled Computer Management (Local), which implies that you can connect to other systems. Right-clicking Computer Management (Local), at the root of the hierarchy, brings up a menu that includes the option to connect to another computer. That computer can be another Win2K computer or an NT computer, although the full functionality might not be available on NT systems. Also, Windows 98 systems don't interact well with the MMC. After you're connected, you can administer other systems—if you have the appropriate

Simplify Your Life
Win2K's convenient grouping of so many tools in the MMC lets you navigate your system quickly and easily. The MMC also keeps the Program Groups list small and easy to navigate. The arrangement and grouping of functions makes all the tools that a systems administrator needs readily available.