Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Low-Hanging Fruit: 5 Quick Projects for Your Windows Network

So you have a small business environment with a handful of employees and computers. Maybe you have a few dozen computers. Maybe you’re so busy running around tending to user needs and putting out fires that you haven’t stopped to take a breath and prioritize where to dig your trenches yet.

Fear not. I’ve put together a short list of easy projects you can knock out in a few hours that will help shift the burden of your work either into the computers themselves or bestow your users with powers to solve their own problems ( or at least some of them ). Every minute you save each day adds up. The more time you free up, the more time you have to automate other tasks, thereby freeing up even more time. It’s a win-win-win and can easily turn into an exponential curve of goodness for you.

(1) Implement WSUS

Why? It will do a much better job of keeping your computers updated with current patches and service packs than Automatic Updates can ever do. It’s easy to setup. Easy to administer. It gives you a clear view of your environment.

Whether you have one server or two, you can drop WSUS on one of them and setup your own internal software updates management system. Automatic Updates are nice (aka Windows Update, aka Microsoft Update), but there are many update types that you cannot configure to automatically install (root certificates, optional updates, etc.). Plus, when you get WSUS up and running, you will quickly have a simple, easy, clear and concise view of your environment, including a direct view of which computers are getting updates and which are not.

  1. Download and Install the WSUS 3.0 pre-requisites
    1. Microsoft Report Viewer Redistributable 2008
    2. Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 (or later)
  2. Download and Install WSUS 3.0 Service Pack 2 (x86 or x64)
    1. Do not install on C: (or wherever Windows is installed). Choose a different local drive on the server to install and for storing updates locally.
  3. Configure your WSUS options and run an initial Synchronization
    1. Synchronize against Microsoft Update servers
    2. Set the schedule for off-hours (i.e. 2:00 AM)
    3. Select all the update categories except “Drivers” (my opinion only)
    4. Select only the products and platforms you have in your environment
  4. Configure a GPO to point your computers to the WSUS server for updates
  5. Come back in 24 hours to review the results
  6. Revisit the WSUS console every month to review and approve updates
Or use the TechNet guidance if you don’t trust me: click here

(2) Microsoft Security Essentials

Why? It’s a FREE and easy to deploy anti-virus/anti-virus product from Microsoft which also just happens to be pretty darn good. It’s also low-overhead compared with other vendor products in the same category (doesn’t tend to bog machines down nearly as much).
  1. Download and Install it on each computer
  2. Tip: Configure automatic “definitions” updates via WSUS
(3) VSS and Previous Versions

Why? Instead of users coming to you (email, phone, walk-up) to get deleted or corrupted files restored from backups, you can let them sort through the backups online and get their own restores without bothering you.
How: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Previous-versions-of-files-frequently-asked-questions

(4) Group Policy Preferences

Why? You can easily configure a huge number of settings for your users with little effort.
(5) SharePoint Foundation Server 2010

Why? SPF 2010 has to be one of the easiest to implement intranet portal products ever. And it also happens to be FREE. Totally FREE.
Maybe you’ve tried previous versions of the free SharePoint product line like Team Services or WSS, but SPF 2010 is completely different. You can quickly take advantage of document libraries, discussion groups, forms libraries, custom lists, calendars and scheduling, and e-mail notifications.
  1. Download and Install SharePoint Foundation Server 2010 (read min. requirements)
  2. Get Started building your home page and add new pages/sites to start your journey
Additional Projects to Consider:
  • MDT 2010 (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010) and WAIK
  • Saved Queries in Active Directory Users and Computers
  • More to come… 
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