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What’s in your toolbox (part 2): essential tools for MSPs and IT Admins

Working in the managed IT services industry you probably realize that the “toolkit” needed more closely resembles an entire hardware store of tools. For example, there’s a set of basic and useful tools freely available from Microsoft like Performance Monitor, Resource Monitor, Process Monitor, and the like. Then there’s indispensable software for functions like creating backups and guarding against malware. Periodically, the day’s task may require a forensic file recovery tool, while another requires a password cracker. On top of that, if you run SQL databases, you will require a whole other layer of specialized tools.

The following is a list of the tools that I turn to every day and couldn’t do without. Some have been around for a while, others have become essential more recently. Keep in mind that depending on how these tools are packaged, there could be some overlap.

1/ Network Monitoring Software Package

Network_management.jpgThis is one tool set I’ve relied on for years. These packages usually include Network Scanning Tools, Network Protocol Analyzers, Process Enumeration Tools, and Wireless Tools. I use them to scan our network and report on usage, latency, and speeds. They are absolutely essential for identifying the reason our network response suddenly starts to lag, for identifying unauthorized external access, and unauthorized internal activity.

2/ Software Deployment Package

In the past these consisted of writing static disk images to workstations and servers, but today they offer so much more. Not only can I automate standard desktop and server deployments, but I can customize the drivers for use on different hardware. I can also modify the add-on software that will be included in that specific implementation. If you are required to reimage machines between users, this software is a must have.

While I have relied on these tools for years, the next three tools are the ones I have come to rely on more recently.

3/ Secure Remote Support Software

remote_support.jpgRemote control, desktop sharing, live chat, and file transfers are functions you can no longer do without if you do any support for remote users. Remember the “old days” when you had to talk an end user through self-support without being able to even see their desktop? Occasionally, I still have bad dreams about such things. In many ways, the “old days” were not that “good.”

4/ Remote Monitoring and Management RMM Software

This tool improves on the functionality of some of the older tools. Remote monitoring and management of machines and networks is done via a small piece of software—an “agent”—that is loaded onto each endpoint. These agents resemble daemons and services in that they run in the background and perform certain actions at predefined times or in response to certain events. They differ from traditional daemons and services in that they also interact and remotely connect to a controlling terminal. From this terminal I can monitor all the functions of the remote networks and computers without leaving my desk. This enables me to remotely track network and device health, as well as respond to alerts with maintenance activities, software installs, and updates. Priceless!

5/ Mobile Device Management Software

MDM.jpgAs the name implies, Mobile Device Management (MDM) is for the administration of devices like smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops. It is another agent-based tool that someday may become a standard component of RMM. However, today it is usually implemented as a related but separate tool. With the business trend of BYOD (bring your own device) we need some way to secure the data on personal as well as company-owned mobile devices. In the case of laptops we use this software to enforce connectivity through the VPN, encrypt the entire hard drive, deliver antivirus updates (something I could also do with RMM), and also to facilitate a remote wipe of the device in case it is lost or stolen. On smart phones (the most common BYOD) it additionally separates the user’s personal apps from the secure browser, secure company email, and the associated encrypted business data via “containerization.” It can do a whole lot more, but those functions suit our business needs.

Where to Go to Get These Tools

SolarWinds has excellent implementations of many of these essential tools. Their network monitoring software has been industry leading since its release in 2001. Add to that the array of products available through SolarWinds MSP like SolarWinds RMM and MSP Anywhere.

So, what’s in your toolkit?

Dan Toth is the IT administrator for a community of 200 end-users who serve in the government healthcare sector. He has been working in the field of IT since 1995. He has variously worked as a technician, administrator, manager, and educator. Prior to returning to active network management two years ago, he worked developing degree programs and curriculum in computer technology for career colleges in Pennsylvania.

For more suggestions on what to keep in your tool box, check on our previous blog from Ian Waters

By Dan Toth

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