All-in-one remote-management tool

As companies grow and cross geographical boundaries, so do the companies’ networks. Today’s systems administrators need the ability to consistently support their networks, without sending personnel into the field every time a problem crops up. When you’re in this situation, you need a cost-effective means to monitor and manage all your network’s computing resources, be they down the hall, across the country, or around the globe. Remote administration is quickly becoming a requirement for today’s enterprise networks. A good remote-administration tool can help you provide high-quality, timely support; diagnose and resolve problems quickly; and reduce support costs.

Remote Task Manager (RTM) 3.5.2 is SmartLine’s answer for remote management and support. The product lets you perform a range of remote-environment administrative tasks for Win2K and Windows NT computers from a Win2K or NT computer. The straightforward interface, which is similar to the Windows Task Manager interface, gives you intuitive control of any system with as many as 64 active CPUs.

I installed RTM on an NT Workstation 4.0 machine running Service Pack 6a (SP6a) to test RTM’s management of seven Win2K and NT servers. Installing the product was simple. I downloaded the code from SmartLine’s Web site, ran setup.exe, then chose the target directory for the installation. To install RTM correctly, you need administrative privileges: local administrator privileges to use the program on your computer and domain administrator privileges to use the program throughout your network. After I installed and launched the program, I could select the remote computers that I wanted to manage. To connect to a computer, I selected File, Connect (I also could have pressed the F3 key). I could then specify the computer I wanted to manage by typing in the computer name, clicking NetBrowser to choose a computer on the network, or selecting the computer from a list populated by previous RTM connections. Because I hadn’t made any previous RTM connections, I clicked NetBrowser and selected a computer. I needed to launch individual sessions for each remote server I wanted to manage.

Connecting to a computer you want to manage brings up a systems control interface. Initially, the interface didn’t paint properly. The panel that shows Processes, CPU Usage, and Memory Usage appeared in the middle of the window, covering the text and graphics. To fix this annoyance, I maximized the window, and the panel moved to its proper location at the bottom of the screen. The name of the server to which I had connected appeared in the caption of RTM's systems control interface.

If you don't have administrative privileges for the computer you select, the Enter Network Password dialog box appears and you can connect under the account of an authorized user. When I tried to connect to a remote server on which I hadn’t installed the RTM Service, the tool prompted me to install the service executable file on the remote machine. I selected Yes, and RTM copied the file to the remote server, then ran the executable. I found the remote-installation feature useful; I didn’t need to go to the servers to install the RTM Service on them.

The interface separates environment elements onto tabs: Applications, Processes, Services, Devices, Events, Performance, and Shares. The Applications tab provides information about the programs that the selected computer is running. You can make a selection to end a task or create a new task. You then specify the path to the task’s executable file, as Figure 1 shows.

The Processes tab’s functions are similar to Task Manager’s functions. The tab shows information about processes running on the computer: process identification, CPU usage, processor time, memory, page faults, handles, and threads. The tab’s SmartTerminate option, which I first enabled through the Options menu, lets you close 32-bit processes correctly. If you right-click a process that the Processes tab lists and select to end that process, SmartTerminate closes any handles that the process had opened and unloads the DLLs that the process had loaded. (You need proper permissions to terminate certain processes.) Task Manager can’t end processes as gracefully as RTM can.

The Services and Devices tabs function similarly to the Control Panel Devices and Services applets, but offer more granularity. I could select Create New to create new services and devices. RTM also provides information about errors, dependencies, and security permissions of the service or device you select.

If a service or device fails to start during startup, you can select the service or device to view the Error Control parameter. The parameter, on the General Tab, specifies the magnitude of the error, as Figure 2 shows. The error control feature determines the actions for the startup program to take if such an error occurs.

If you select a service or device, you can then select the Dependencies Tab. Dependency means that certain services need to be running before other services or devices can run. The Dependencies tab lists services and load ordering groups that a selected service or device is dependent on.

The Security tab for services and devices lets you change the default permissions for the service and device objects. Auditing these permissions can inform you of security threats and identify accounts that are interfering with the execution of a service or device. When an audited event occurs, RTM adds an entry to the Win2K or NT Security log. I could also view or take ownership of a service or device by clicking Ownership in the Security tab.

I could view the remote server’s System, Security, and Applications logs from RTM’s Events tab, which displayed the same information as NT Event Viewer. The Performance tab, which Figure 3 shows, displayed the same information and graphs as Task Manager’s Processes and Performance tabs.

The Shares tab gave me information about shared resources available on the remote computer. This information is similar to the Shared Resources information that you can access through NT Administrative Tools, Server Manager. From RTM’s Shares tab, however, I could delete an existing share and create and assign permissions to a new shared resource.

Aside from the GUI’s tabs, RTM’s File menu includes several task options. I could create a new process and shut down, reboot, and lock the remote system.

If you’re familiar with Win2K and NT Administrative Tools, you’ll find RTM easy to use. You can also turn to the product’s online Help if you need more detail about a specific command or feature. RTM’s online documentation is complete and clear, although documented descriptions are occasionally inconsistent with what you see on screen.

This stable product doesn’t use a lot of virtual memory. The application’s CPU impact was about 1 percent, and memory usage was about 2500KB. RTM Service’s memory usage averaged about 3000KB on the remote machines.

In one product, RTM possesses the core functionalities of Task Manager, the Control Panel Devices and Services applets, Event Viewer, Server Manager, and more. RTM simplifies task and process administration of remote computers and offers unique features, such as SmartTerminate. Despite a few minor shortcomings (i.e., needing an open window for each computer you want to monitor, documentation inconsistencies, and initial screen-painting problems), RTM is a great product. The tool’s ease-of-installation, ease-of-use, and ease-of-manageability far outweigh the product’s inadequacies. For the manpower and time resources RTM saves, the product is reasonably priced and deserves a place in your arsenal of remote-management tools. You can download an evaluation copy of RTM from SmartLine’s Web site.

Remote Task Manager 3.5.2
Contact: SmartLine * (49) (0) 221-31088-20 or 800-903-4152
Web: http://www.smartlineinc.com
Price: $23.95 for a single-user license; $1095 for a site (single-domain) license; $5195 for a world (networkwide, multiple-domain) license
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy installation; intuitive UI; strong management features; remote installation of Remote Task Manager Services
Cons: Inability to monitor multiple servers from one window; inconsistencies in online documentation