Improve your ability to administer services

Active+ Software offers ServiceKeeper 1.4.10 to help you schedule, monitor, and recover Windows 2000 (Win2K) and Windows NT 4.0 services. ServiceKeeper, which installed easily as a service on my Windows 2000 Server (Win2K Server) system, supports local and remote administration and can monitor services throughout a domain. Like Win2K, ServiceKeeper rescues failing services by restarting the service, rebooting the server, or running custom programs or batch files. You can also kill a failed service without rebooting and start the service on another server.

Unlike Win2K, ServiceKeeper works through a services administration utility called Service+ to let you isolate problems by defining service failures in certain situations, as Figure 1 shows. You can set ServiceKeeper to report failures when a service isn't running, when specified events (e.g., certain error IDs) enter the event log, when TCP/IP services produce errors (including protocol-specific errors), when counters produce specific values, and when programs generate user-defined exit codes. Failure-detection and recovery actions can use SMTP or custom programs (e.g., pagers, Microsoft Systems Management Server—SMS) to report to you.

ServiceKeeper can start, restart, stop, and pause services automatically and remotely at predetermined times. This feature can stop services during backups, restrict server access at specific times, and restart services to clean up resources. To schedule services, click ServiceKeeper's Schedule tab and select from the button bar the process (e.g., start, ignore, restart, pause) you want to schedule. Drag the cursor over the calendar template to mark the schedule. You can schedule processes in half-hour increments.

ServiceKeeper can monitor every active service's behavior and pinpoint failures before the service crashes. You can define conditions that constitute a service problem, choose which rescue action the computer needs to take, and specify how often the computer needs to repeat the rescue action if the service resists the recovery action and fails again. You can also specify a different rescue option for the computer to use if the service doesn't run correctly after the specified number of rescue attempts.

The product's documentation is weak. The Help file explains each button's function and illustrates every step with screen shots, but the information doesn't provide details about ServiceKeeper's functions, possible system hazards, or effective strategies for using the tool. The Help file doesn't provide an index or search capability, and an FAQ section on the vendor's Web site didn't add any valuable information. The company also doesn't provide help for using the product from the command line.

Service+, which installs when you load ServiceKeeper on your system, appears in Win2K's Control Panel and provides the GUI that you need to access ServiceKeeper, which is a command-line tool. The desktop never displays the name ServiceKeeper, only Service+. You can access ServiceKeeper's capabilities only through Service+'s service property display function.

Service+ shows all service properties (e.g., short name, account, dependencies, path, process type, error control) on the service-list level, providing a more informative view of services than Win2K's Computer Management service-management tool. Unlike Win2K, Service+ also lets you install and remove services. Service+ lets you attach a debugger to a service process. However, when I tried the debugging option, Service+ warned Debugging this process may result in loss of data. I proceeded, and the debug process corrupted the system event-log file. So I sent an email message to Active+ Software asking how to fix the system event-log file. The company responded promptly, explaining how to restore the corrupted data file and noting that you should use Service+'s debug feature only to debug a service for which you have the C or C++ code.

ServiceKeeper exceeds its Win2K counterpart's functionality and is helpful for systems administrators who need better control of system services than Win2K offers. However, the product's price might be high for small businesses that have only one server.

ServiceKeeper 1.4.10
Contact: Active+ Software * (33) (4) 68-05-4774
Web: http://www.activeplus.com
Price: Starts at $245 for up to two monitored servers; $3995 for an unlimited site license. Includes Service+ 3.0.34 license
Decision Summary:
Pros: Has a more complete set of service features than Windows 2000; lets you remotely schedule, monitor, and recover services; includes efficient email technical support
Cons: Help files and documentation are weak; price is high for businesses that have one server