You want to use the right tools to manage Windows 2000. Make sure this set of documentation is in your toolbox.

Resource Kit Riches

You want to use the right tools to manage Windows 2000. Make sure this set of documentation is in your toolbox.

Have you ever tried to fix a car engine with a butter knife? Of course not. So why would you try managing a Windows 2000 network without the right tools? Thanks to a slew of new features and services Win2K is much more complex than Windows NT. Yes, Win2K is built on NT, and you need prior NT experience to get started. But you also need serious help to learn how to properly administer a Win2K network. That’s where the Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit comes in.

This kit, a collection of massive manuals, will tax your mental abilities. I already reviewed one volume, the Windows 2000 Server Deployment Planning Guide, in May. This month I start a multi-part series on the kit’s remaining volumes. I’ll begin by taking a look at the Distributed Systems Guide, Internetworking Guide, and Server Operations Guide. Next month I’ll cover the three remaining Internet-related guides. Then I’ll get into some useful utilities you should know about.

Product Information
Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit
Microsoft Corp.
ISBN 1-57231-805-8, $299.99

The Mystical World of Networking

It’s 4 p.m. and the phone rings. It’s Bob from accounting—and he’s desperate. “You’ve got to help me! I have a report I have to hand to my boss in 20 minutes—it won’t print! This could mean my job!” You walk to Bob’s office, and just as you’re about to touch the keyboard, the printer whirrs and spits out the report. You accept Bob’s thanks and return to your office, wondering what the heck happened. Was it psychic healing power or just dumb luck?

Welcome to the mystical world of network administration, where many of us stumble through troubleshooting problems to a successful resolution, half the time not knowing how we did it. Rest assured it’s not all smoke and mirrors. Things happen for a reason, and computers do things based on preprogrammed and logical instructions. The key is to know enough about a software process’ inner workings so you understand the whys of successful troubleshooting.

The Distributed Systems Guide helps you understand Win2K’s inner workings. Before studying it, however, make sure you already have a basic understanding of Win2K technologies. This book is loaded with technical details and assumes you’re already familiar with the big picture: Win2K services, Active Directory (AD), Group Policy, and so on.

Roughly half of the 1,650-page guide is dedicated to Active Directory’s inner workings, offering an excellent explanation of AD Logical Structure. To the uninitiated, AD appears to be a magical service, working behind the scenes in a complex dance with other networking services. But the guide demystifies AD’s makeup, from helping you understand the relationship of AD namespace to DNS, to making clear the need for and workings of the Global Catalog Server.

The guide also offers an in-depth look at how AD stores and maintains its own data. You’ll learn about AD database architecture, see how the LDAP protocol does its job, and go through the steps of AD installation and removal.

Then you’ll journey through the intricacies of name resolution, learn to understand and modify the AD schema, and learn about AD service publication, AD replication, monitoring AD performance, and AD backup and restore. Finally, finishing up the AD section are 200 pages dedicated to AD diagnostics, troubleshooting, and recovery. This focus on AD is vital, because without AD, Win2K is nothing more than NT on steroids.

The guide’s next sections cover Win2K security, with a thorough look at authentication and authorization. You’ll learn how the Kerberos protocol facilitates authentication in a Win2K network, and you’ll also learn all the details surrounding the Certificate Server, Win2K public key infrastructure, and the Encrypting File System.

The guide’s final section is divided into “Enterprise Technologies” and “Desktop Configuration and Management.” Here you’ll find technical discussions on the Distributed file system (Dfs) and the File Replication Service (FRS). Following are two chapters on the Microsoft Cluster Service. Up to this point the technical discussion has been focused on technology essential to Win2K’s basic operation and functionality (including AD), but if you don’t plan on load balancing Win2K via the cluster service, you can skip these chapters.

We then take an in-depth look at Group Policy, software installation/maintenance and Remote OS installation, and go into a section on troubleshooting Change and Configuration Management. Finally, in the guide’s appendices there’s a functional chapter on how to use NTDSUTIL.EXE, a tool you’ll need to become familiar with when managing an AD-enabled Win2K network.

The Internetworking Guide

While the Distributed Systems Guide will help you get your Win2K LAN up and running efficiently, the Internetworking Guide will help you get your LAN talking to other LANs, across WANs, and even to non-Microsoft networks. Made up of three major sections, routing and remote access, Win2K interoperability with other operating systems, and Win2K advanced media technologies, the Internetworking Guide is a great connectivity resource for network administrators who work in multi-platform or large inter-network environments.

The bulk of the 1,015-page guide is dedicated to Routing and Remote Access. Indulge yourself in the intricacies of IP and IPX routing, Virtual Private Networking (VPN), demand dial routing, and the details of RIP and OSPF. In addition, learn what changes have been made to Microsoft’s Remote Access Service since its NT 4.0 inception.

The guide’s second part is a course in diplomacy, in other words, learning how to communicate effectively with foreign operating systems. If you need to connect your Win2K users to an IBM mainframe or Novell server, or your Mac users need to access your Win2K resources, this section covers what you need to know in detail.

The guide’s final section deals with optional connectivity services such as ATM and telephony, plus miscellaneous network protocols such as NETBEUI and DLC.

Server Operations Guide

The Server Operations Guide is much smaller than its companion guides and describes a standalone Win2K server’s inner workings. Here’s where you’ll learn in detail about the NTFS file system, disk storage, drive configurations, and network printing. There’s also a good section on performance monitoring, disaster recovery, and troubleshooting.

If you’re administering a small Win2K network using the workgroup administrative model, this may be the only guide you’ll need.

What’s the Payoff for You?

OK, so the question you’re dying to ask is, “Will this resource kit help me pass the Win2K exams?” The answer is yes! And no! Yes, it will prepare you by equipping you with the knowledge you’ll need to intelligently answer exam questions. No, it will not give you a set of canned answers.

The kit isn’t written as an exam prep guide or anything remotely certification-oriented. It’s a collection of technical manuals that describe how Win2K works.

Keep in mind that the new exams are much more difficult than the NT tests, and if you want to pass them, I highly recommend you invest in the Resource Kit. Subscribing to TechNet, which already contains an online version of the kit and much more, also is valuable. Finally, set up a live Win2K network to learn how the product really works. This hands-on experience is vital to mastering the exams.

Administering a Win2K network is no easy task. You can simplify things, though, by crafting a solid plan before installing your network, making well-thought-out maintenance decisions during runtime, and applying knowledgeable and efficient decision-making when troubleshooting problems. You’ll need the Resource Kit and similar technical manuals to help make this happen.

From a certification standpoint, treat the Resource Kit as your Win2K reference bible. Remember, the Win2K exams ask very detailed technical questions and present complex troubleshooting scenarios, so intense preparation is necessary.

If you can get through the kit’s somewhat dry language and absorb the great wealth of technical detail found in it, you’ll be well on your way toward successfully administering your Win2K network and preparing for the Win2K exams.

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