Centralize your systems administration

\[Editor's Note: At press time, Adkins Resource had released Hyena 2.5.2, the release version of Hyena 2.5 beta.\]

If you manage users and systems in a Windows environment, you have undoubtedly noticed that built-in tools within Windows 2000 Server and Windows NT Server can be inconvenient and time-consuming to use. Adkins Resource's Hyena 2.5 beta supplies a rich set of tools and utilities that replace and improve upon the OSs' tools, thus providing an efficient centralized means for managing systems and resources across multiple domains.

You can install Hyena on any computer running Win2K or NT; in my test, I used a custom-built Celeron-equipped system running Win2K Professional. The product documentation recommends that the computer on which you run Hyena be a member of one or more domains and that Hyena's operator have domain administrator rights. Before I could run Hyena 2.5 beta, I had to install Hyena 2.3c from the distribution CD-ROM. Hyena 2.3c installed in about 1 minute and didn't require a reboot or any system modification. To upgrade to the 2.5 beta version, I replaced hyena.exe with an updated version from Adkins Resource.

The User Interface
Hyena's UI, which Figure 1 shows, is similar to Windows Explorer's UI. When I started my test, the left pane (i.e., the tree window) contained icons for NTLABS (the domain to which my workstation belongs), SCUPPY2K (my workstation), Quick Access (which lets you create a custom group of objects), and Enterprise (which lists machines throughout the enterprise in a drill-down format). By clicking the plus symbol (+) next to an icon, I could expand the icon to list subordinate objects. Hyena's Installation and User's Guide contains descriptions of the icon representations for objects. Because the icons are the same as those that represent objects in the native administrative tools, associating icons with their functions was easy. When I double-clicked an object that had subordinates, a list of subordinates appeared in the tree window. When I double-clicked a subordinate object in the tree window, the object's properties appeared in the right pane (i.e., the list window).

You can sort objects in the list window by clicking on the column headings; for example, if you click Name, the window sorts objects alphabetically. You can adjust column widths by dragging column-heading borders left or right. If you select one or more objects in the tree or list window, you can right-click the objects to bring up a context-sensitive menu of operations. For example, if you right-click a user account, the menu provides choices for modifying, copying, and deleting that account. When you right-click a domain controller (DC), the option menu includes choices for managing policy and devices, synchronizing data, and performing other domain-specific tasks. The toolbar along the top of the UI provides shortcuts to Hyena's main functions, and a status bar at the bottom of the UI displays information about current operations.

Customizing the Environment
To add the rest of my network's domains to the list window, I clicked File, Add Domain to View. The resulting dialog box let me type in a domain name or browse for it. I used both methods to add two Win2K domains and two NT 4.0 domains to the list window. After I added the domains, I added a printer and several computers to the Quick Access selection list. Quick Access lets you create a group of objects to which you want easy access (e.g., important servers and computers on remote subnets that you can't access through typical network browsing).

To add objects to Quick Access, I right-clicked the Quick Access icon and chose Manage Quick Access from the pop-up menu. On the resulting Quick Access Configuration dialog box, I had to select either Printers or Computers from the Object Type drop-down list and click Add. In the Add dialog box that appears, you can use an IP address or computer name to specify a path to the new object, and you can give the object a comment and group assignment. You can add a system to Quick Access by right-clicking the system's icon and choosing Add to Quick Access from the pop-up menu.

To configure Hyena's settings and options, I opened Tools, Settings. Settings contains 11 tabbed pages of configurable items. The General tab contains common UI settings that let you control functions such as sorting, refresh rate, and automatic expansion of items. The User tab contains settings that control Hyena's user-management components. For example, Hyena can run a script after you specify the script on the User tab. The Home Dir tab lets you customize how you create, map, and assign permissions to user home directories.

The View tab contains settings for viewing objects that you don't necessarily want to manage through Hyena (e.g., workstations, printers) or that take considerable time to generate (e.g., offline computers, hidden shares). The Focus tab controls whether an object's contents can appear when you select the object for the pending action. The GUI tab contains settings to let the UI display Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0-like controls instead of Windows Explorer-like controls. The Tools tab contains settings for custom user-defined tools. The Display tab lets you customize which columns of information to display in the list window for an object. The Reporting tab contains settings to control how Hyena generates, displays, and prints reports. To generate reports, Hyena requires your system to have Microsoft Access, and I needed to specify paths to the hyenarpt.mdb and msaccess.exe files. Unfortunately, the Reporting tab didn't have a Browse capability to let me browse to these files.

The Licensing tab displays and lets you change Hyena licenses. The tab contains fields for the Standard Edition license and the Enterprise Edition add-on. I entered the Enterprise Edition license key that Adkins Resource supplied to me. This action enabled management capabilities for Microsoft Exchange Server and for Win2K Server Terminal Services and NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (WTS) user-account settings. The Exchange tab let me choose whether I wanted to use Microsoft Exchange Administrator or Hyena's custom Exchange interface when I performed administrative operations on an Exchange server.

As a first-time user of Hyena, I found that some settings weren't self-explanatory, so I needed to try them out to see exactly what they did. Default settings were appropriate on most of the tabs, and the best approach for a user to take would be to adjust individual settings as needed rather than trying to understand all the settings at once.

Using Hyena
Hyena combines the functions of many Windows administrative tools—including User Manager for Domains, Server Manager, and several Control Panel applets—into one UI. This combination made it easy for me to perform routine tasks such as synchronizing a domain, modifying users and groups, and managing services on remote computers. I ran Hyena through several administrative tasks, including managing printers; modifying users, groups, and shares; starting and stopping services; and scheduling jobs on remote computers.

The Logon As option lets credentials pass to a server to which you don't have administrative access. For the option to work, you need to provide an account that has administrative access, but you specify it only once. To configure the Logon As option for a server, right-click the server icon and choose Logon As from the pop-up menu. Hyena prompts you for the domain, username, and password for the account that you want to use. A check box lets you use these credentials one time only or on an ongoing basis.

Hyena's developers seem to have designed the program's tool set by discovering which tasks administrators perform regularly and devising ways to perform those tasks more easily. Hyena's ability to set up detailed templates for user home-directory creation is an example of this insight into the features that administrators need. The product helps users accomplish tasks simply and intuitively.

Hyena can perform several functions that the OS's built-in tools can't. To create a share on a remote server, I opened Hyena, navigated to the server, right-clicked the Shares object, and chose Create New Share from the resulting menu. The dialog box that appeared, which Figure 2 shows, asked for a Share Name, Path, and Comment. The dialog box also let me set up permissions for the share. I clicked OK, and Hyena created the share within seconds.

Hyena also handles open files with ease. To work with open files, you right-click a server in the tree window and choose Open Files from the pop-up menu. In the list window, Hyena displays all open files on that server. When you right-click one or more of the listed open files, Hyena lets you choose to disconnect the user or send a message on the fly to the user's console. I was hard-pressed to find administrative tasks that I could perform with the OS's built-in tools that I couldn't use Hyena to perform. For those few cases, however, Hyena can integrate with third-party tools or you can develop a custom solution. For example, to run Performance Monitor, which Hyena doesn't directly support, you can create a custom tool that has a command string of

Perfmon.exe -c \\%E%

Creating Custom Tools
If you have a homegrown or third-party utility that you use for administration, you can set it up as a user-defined tool in Hyena. Then, you can start the tool by using Hyena's Tools menu or by pressing Ctrl and a function key that you assign to the utility. After the tool launches, Hyena can pass parameters to it and can prompt for user input. From the Tools tab in the Settings dialog box, I configured a custom tool to display parameters that Hyena passes to a utility I use. I consulted the Installation and User's Guide for a list of parameters and their usage syntax. The command string I used was

cmd /k echo %S% %E% %C2% %C3% %G% %P1:Name?%

When I selected an object in the list window and ran the tool, a command window opened and displayed the parameters I asked Hyena to pass to the tool. These parameters were server name, name of the selected object, the content of columns 2 and 3 in the list window, group name, and a user-entered response to a Name? prompt. Except for the group name, which applies only to group members, Hyena displayed the parameters for each object I ran the tool on.

Then, I selected multiple objects and ran the tool. A dialog box asked whether I wanted to wait for each command or tool to finish before the next one began, and I clicked Yes. Each successive command window opened only after I closed its predecessor. When you run a tool on multiple objects, you input the user-entered parameter only once, and the parameter has the same value for each selected object. If you need the flexibility to enter different parameters for each selected object (e.g., if you're using the command line to create user accounts and don't want each user to have the same password), Hyena requires that you select only one object and run the tool multiple times.

Batch Processing and Macros
From Hyena's Settings dialog box, you can specify a batch file to run after additions, deletions, and changes to a user account. You can also configure a batch process for home-directory creation. These batch processes let you set user or group permissions or perform other site-specific tasks on affected objects. Hyena passes nine parameters (e.g., whether the operation was an addition, deletion, or modification of a user account) to the batch file that runs after user modifications and six parameters to the batch procedure for new home directories.

The macro facility in Hyena generates external scripts or batch files according to selected objects and a user-provided command. The same parameters that custom tools use can also function in a macro-generated script. Figure 3 shows the Generate Macro dialog box and the Hyena list window, which displays the services I selected to create a script. After I clicked OK, Hyena created the stopexch.cmd file, which contained a net stop command for each selected service. Batch procedures and macros can help you automate tasks to achieve consistency and efficiency.

A Versatile Tool
Hyena is a must-have tool for administrators who currently rely on the built-in administrative tools in Win2K or NT. The product is easy to learn until you start using advanced features, such as custom tool creation or batch processing. Even then, administrators who are familiar with scripting will find Hyena easy to use. Although the product's Settings dialog box is complex, you can configure most of the detailed tabs on an as-needed basis.

Hyena's biggest drawback is the lack of thorough documentation. Considering the program's extensive functionality, the 21-page user manual serves as only an overview. Adkins Resource is reworking the documentation and online Help to improve their usefulness. The improved online Help and online documentation will appear in Hyena 2.5, but Adkins Resource will no longer offer hard-copy documentation.

For people who perform systems administration tasks daily or weekly, Hyena will quickly pay for itself through productivity gain. Hyena is a useful tool, and I recommend it to any Windows systems administrator.

Hyena 2.5 Beta
Contact: Adkins Resource * 830-779-7008 or
888-880-8861
Web:http://www.adkins-resource.com
Price: One administrator: $199 (Standard Edition), $269 (Enterprise Edition); volume discounts available
Decision Summary:
Pros: Provides centralized administration to save administrators time and effort; is extensible through custom or third-party tools; performs unique and useful tasks
Cons: Incomplete documentation; complex dialog box for initial configuration