Get a grip on your RAS usage

If your company uses Windows NT's RAS, you know how limiting the service is. Not only do you have few restrictive controls but you have virtually no reporting capabilities. SpartaCom's Acctrol for RAS can help you manage your RAS environment.

Acctrol is an accounting and control system built on client/server technology for NT's RAS. The software lets you easily manage RAS (e.g., organize users and resources into manageable hierarchies to better control who can log on to your network remotely, control security with callbacks, and prevent users from logging on to multiple RAS ports concurrently), control dial-in access (e.g., restrict access to modems to preset times, define inactivity timers), display statistics on usage interactively, and generate reports.

The software has three components: Acctrol Administration, which you use to configure and control the software's operation and features; Acctrol Monitor, which is the monitoring and control module that you install on every RAS-capable system on your network; and Acctrol Database, which stores information about usage and statistics for report generation. Before you install Acctrol, you must have RAS installed and configured on your NT servers, which includes installing and configuring the modems you intend to use with RAS. The vendor recommends that you perform the installation during nonpeak hours because you must shut down the server during installation.

To test the software, I installed a US Robotics Sportster 33Kbps modem and configured RAS to allow remote dial-ins on my dual-Pentium II server. Installing the software was simple. I inserted the Acctrol CD-ROM, and the Autorun utility executed the setup program. I answered a few questions (e.g., registration information, where to install the software), and I provided a username and password for the software to use—this account must have RAS administrator privileges. After I provided all the information, the file copy process completed and I restarted my server.

After I completed installation, I used Acctrol Administration to configure how I wanted the software to control access to RAS. This utility uses an NT Explorerlike interface—the left pane contains an expandable list of objects and the right pane contains specific information about those objects that you select.

The first step in configuring the software is to create a resource pool, which is an identifier where you can place modem resources for easier control. I had only one modem in my test environment, so I created one resource pool and added my modem to it. However, in large environments you can group modems in a resource pool and assign attributes to that pool (e.g., create one pool with a restrictive time limit, whereas other pools have more relaxed usage limits). You can also create a user group and assign individual users to that group. Then, by giving the group access to specific resource pools, you enable the group to log on to the modems within those pools. Screen 1 shows how Acctrol Administration completes this process.

This setup was simple, and everything was operational in a few moments. However, the software's flexibility means if you have numerous users or RAS resources, you must plan your installation.

Viewing the product's reports and graphs is easy and helpful. For instance, within Acctrol Administration, you can view call statistics on any resource by highlighting the resource in the left pane and selecting call statistics. This selection provides a summary of all the calls the modem handled, with details displayed in the right pane. You can resequence the data by clicking the column headers, or you can use one of several toolbox icons to change the characteristics of the display. For example, a sum icon will summarize all the call details by username. The software includes four prepackaged reports for hard-copy printing, and you can use the Acctrol Database to generate your own reports if the stock reports are insufficient.

Acctrol is a smart buy—it is an excellent product that any regular site using RAS can take advantage of. You can download a free trial version of the product at the company's Web site.

Acctrol for RAS
Contact: SpartaCom * 770-622-2820
Web: http://www.spartacom.com
Price: $395 for 10 users; $1500 for unlimited users
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3, 32MB of RAM, 10MB of hard disk space