13 Free Tools for Windows Server Admins

Here are some of the best free tools and utilities out there to help you in managing your network.

free tools

There are endless software tools and utilities out there to help you in managing your network. Here are some of the best free ones. They can help you with deploying, maintaining, troubleshooting, and upgrading Window Servers, your domain, and aid with other miscellaneous network tasks. (See story version.)

Best Practices Analyzer
Best Practices Analyzer

Microsoft provides the Best Practices Analyzer tool inside Windows Server, starting with Windows Server 2008 R2, available on each role’s home page in the Server Manager console. It scans and analyzes key settings of the server roles and reports compliance compared to best practices standards. This can help you identify potential issues that may affect security and performance. It scans for a variety of rules, including those relating to pre-deployment, security, performance, and configuration.

Core Configurator
Core Configurator

Starting with Windows Server 2008, there’s a Server Core installation option. It’s great if you want a minimal installation, but it only gives you the Command Prompt for the interface. However, there are tools that give you a GUI on the Core editions of Windows Server. You can setup and configure most features via the GUI rather than being forced to use text commands. Core Configurator 2.0 supports Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 and Corefig is for Windows Server 2012 Core and Hyper-V Server 2012.

Exchange Server Deployment Assistant
Exchange Server Deployment Assistant

Microsoft offers the Exchange Server Deployment Assistant, an online tool that asks you deployment related questions and then generates a custom step-by-step checklist to use during an Exchange install or upgrade. It asks questions about your current configuration, desired deployment environment (on-premise, cloud, or hybrid), migration questions, and desired features/functionality. In the end you’re presented with a wizard type of checklist, which is saved so you can return later and can be printed out as well.

Role-based Access Control (RBAC) Manager
Role-based Access Control (RBAC) Manager

By default, you must use PowerShell commands to manage the new role-based access controls of Exchange, which debuted in Exchange 2010 and eliminates the use of access control lists (ACL). However, the Role-based Access Control (RBAC) Manager provides a GUI to edit these role-based access controls, which gives you the ability to easily add/remove cmdlets and edit cmdlet properties and assignments. The RBAC Manager supports Exchange 2010 SP2, Exchange 2013 Preview and Office 365.

Exchange Reports
Exchange Reports

Exchange Reports provides you with insight on your Exchange server and environment, supporting Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013. It helps keep you up-to-date with the server status, changes, and stats. It provides a group report and details on individual groups, mailbox report and details on individual mailboxes, an environment report, and it supports message tracking. The program doesn’t require any installation, but requires .Net 4.0, Powershell 2.0, and Remote Powershell access to the Exchange Server. You can save reports and also export them to Excel.

Active Directory Explorer
Active Directory Explorer

Active Directory Explorer is an Active Directory viewer and editor, which you can use to browse the AD database. You can view object properties and attributes, modify permissions, and view an object's schema. It supports saving off-line snapshots, creating favorite locations, and saving advanced searches. You can also compare two AD snapshots to see what objects, attributes and security permissions changed between them.

Remote Desktop Manager
Remote Desktop Manager

The Remote Desktop Manager provides a single platform for centralized access to many types of remote connections and remote services, along with the ability to save their passwords and login credentials. It can save you the time and hassle in managing and utilizing all the different types of remote access methods. It can manage remote connections via Microsoft Remote Desktop, Microsoft Windows Azure, Microsoft Hyper-V, Microsoft Remote Assistance, VNC, Citrix, Web (HTTP / HTTPS), LogMeIn, TeamViewer, and PC Anywhere. They offer a premium edition with a free 30-day trial but they also provide a completely free edition with limited functionality.

Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer
Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer

Microsoft provides Remote Connectivity Analyzer, which can help you test and troubleshoot the connectively of Exchange servers, Outlook, Lync, OCS, Office 365, and email (POP, IMAP, and STMP). It’s mostly an online tool, a website where you can input server addresses and login credentials in order to run connectivity tests. It also provides a message header analyzer. You can also download the Microsoft Connectivity Analyzer Tool to run local tests to identify common connectivity issues for Outlook, Lync, and Office 365. And you can download it to locally analyze a Lync deployment to see if it meets the requirements to support connections from Lync Windows Store app for Windows 8 and Windows RT, and from Lync mobile apps.

NetSetMan

As a network administrator you’re likely connecting to different networks or often changing your network settings. NetSetMan can help manage these different settings. You can save and switch between different profiles, which enable you to easily change your IP, DNS, and many more network-related settings. In the profiles you can specify the Computer Name, Workgroup/Domain, and MAC Address. You can set a Proxy, SMTP Server, Browser Home Page, Default Printer, and Network Drives. You can also configure Hosts File Entries, Route Table, Scripts (BAT, VS, JS, etc), and other System Settings. They offer a premium product and a free version with limited functionality.

NetResView
NetResView

The NetResView utility from NirSoft scans for and lists network resources on your LAN. It shows computers, disk shares, and printer shares, including resources from all domains/workgroups and any admin/hidden shares. It even gives you the resource’s name/location, type, workgroup/domain, and its IP and MAC addresses.

ManageEngine Tools
ManageEngine Tools

ManageEngine offers many free tools for Windows, network, and IT management, including those for Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL databases, Hyper-V, and VMware. The ManageEngine Free Active Directory Tools 4.4 package includes 13 different tools. ManageEngine also provides a free set of general Windows Admin Tools, which includes many for server and PC administration. ManageEngine offers a set of free monitoring utilities as well, plus monitoring and management tools for the virtual environment: VM Configuration Free Tool and Hyper-V Configuration Free Tool.

SolarWinds Tools
SolarWinds Tools

SolarWinds provides many free network and IT tools, a handful which are for Windows and Active Directory administration. They include Inactive User Account Removal Tool, User Import Tool, Permissions Analyzer for Active Directory, Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent, WMI Monitor, Exchange Monitor, SNMP Enabler, Kiwi Syslog Server.

Netwrix Tools
Netwrix Tools

Netwrix also offers many free server, network, and IT tools, including Netwrix Auditor,  Password Manager, Account Lockout Examiner, Disk Space Monitor,  Bulk Password Reset, Privileged Account Manager, Active Directory Object Restore Wizard, Logon Reporter and Web-based Password Change for Active Directory.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer—keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter.  He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs, a tech support company.