Quest plugs in graphical Spotlight on Active Directory

Despite the functionality of Microsoft’s Active Directory, many network administrators have found that migrating their piecemeal Windows NT 4 domains into one hierarchy has been a tricky operation -almost like moving house while blindfolded.

In response, Irvine, Calif.’s Quest Software Inc. has expanded its line of Microsoft management tools to include Spotlight on Active Directory (AD), a visual real-time diagnostics solution that assesses the performance and availability of domain controllers -the core computers that make up AD.

Keith Millar, Quest’s director of product management for Microsoft solutions, views Spotlight as a personal productivity tool to help network administrators simplify and automate the management of user groups and machines within AD.

Based in Halifax at one of Quest’s three Canadian R&D facilities, Millar explained that Spotlight provides graphical flows between the individual components that make up a domain controller, from the network side, up to the operating system and the actual health of the box.

“From the interface you can see quite clearly in green, yellow or red whether the [domain controller] is doing fine, if it’s about to go under, or if it’s already under. Also, if the controller does have problems [Spotlight] will give you some expert information on how to solve them,” he said.

Although he hasn’t yet taxed Spotlight with an enterprise-level system, beta user Marc Sugarman, a principal consultant with the Parsippany, N.J.-based network architecture firm eB Networks, was impressed with the product’s intuitive interface and ease of use.

“Out of the box, when I installed [Spotlight] in our test environment it picked up an AD replication error. When I looked into it through the GUI (graphical user interface) I found out that I was having a problem contacting a replication partner. I checked it out and sure enough -some guys had turned it off the night before and it had failed to come back up,” he said.

Since Active Directory is early in its maturity cycle, a lively market for third-party tools has grown up around it, said Earl Perkins, a New Orleans-based senior program director with the META Group analyst firm. As Quest competes with the other major vendors in this niche -BindView and Net IQ -Perkins says that simplicity and functionality top the list of customer concerns.

“With Windows 2000 there is a great deal of complexity involved in getting it up and running, and when you’re already sending your people through all the training for AD design, deployment, and development, the last thing you want is more training just to use the managing tools,” he said.

Millar is careful to note that the problems diagnosed by Spotlight often have nothing to do with Microsoft’s actual AD software. Rather, he said, they result from the proliferation of sprawling, organically grown enterprise networks.

This is why Spotlight supports MS executables, as well as producing a troubleshooter’s checklist list of possible remedies for afflicted domain controllers, he said.

“There is a lot of cross-referencing within Spotlight -go here, check this CPU, go there, check that one, if that doesn’t work reboot this server, check this router configuration -plus there are a number of additional utilities that you can launch right from the interface,” Millar said.

According to Perkins, the final test for a third-party tool is its price tag.

“Spotlight on AD’s cost of [US]$1,500 per CPU is not a bad entry rate, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it challenged fairly soon. In fact, I think we will see a little price war break out,” he said.

“Even right now, with the high-tech slowdown, this area and others related to network deployment will remain hot. It’s mainly because even with all the hoopla, Windows 2000 is still relatively new, so companies are just now ramping up to numbers that are big enough to warrant serious deployment of these application management products,” Perkins added.

Quest’s Spotlight on AD is available now at a price of US$1,495 per single CPU system. For more information see www.quest.com.