Product: Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting
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One of the things that I never understood about Windows Server is why Microsoft chose to require the use of multiple tools for managing the Active Directory. For example, the Active Directory Users and Computers console is used for managing users, groups, and computers, while the Active Directory Sites and Services tool is used for managing the Active Directory topology.
A company called Lepide has set out to simplify Active Directory management by providing a tool called Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting. The tool is designed to facilitate full Active Directory management through a single console. Although there are plenty of third party Active Directory management utilities on the market, Lepide differentiates itself by making a product that is easy to use.
When I first set out to do this review, I did not have a copy of the product’s documentation. As such, I did not have any reference as to the minimum system requirements for installing the software. Out of curiosity I first attempted to install the software to a physical Windows 7 machine that was not configured as a domain member. The installation was successful, but as expected the software was unable to detect my Active Directory environment (no record of the domain exists in the DNS server that the computer was using).
For my second attempt, I installed the software to a Windows 7 virtual machine that was configured with 2 GB of RAM. This virtual machine was configured as a member of my lab domain. This time the installation succeeded and my Active Directory forest was automatically detected.
Overall I found the installation process to be very simple and straightforward. Installing the software consisted of a few mouse clicks within a standard Setup wizard. The thing that really impressed me however, was that the entire installation only consumed 11.8 MB of disk space. Yes, you read that correctly. In this day of super bloated applications, Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting consumes less than 12 MB of disk space. By way of comparison, that’s about the same amount of space that it would take to store three photos from my digital camera.
Working With the Software
All in all, I really like the Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting tool. It seems as though the product is well thought out and could be a significant time saver once an administrator gets past the initial learning curve. Even though the software does not have a sharp learning curve by any means, it does take some getting used to. There were some aspects to the user interface that I found to be completely counter intuitive.
The user interface is based around a console tree that looks and feels similar to the native Microsoft tools. With the Microsoft tools however, when you click on an item in the tree, the relevant details are displayed within the pane to the right of the tree. With this tool however, simply clicking on a tree item does not cause the details pane to be updated. You have to double click on a container before the details pane is populated. I realize that the difference between a single click and a double click may seem trivial, but the native Microsoft tools display information just by clicking on any container within a console. Forcing the use of a double click is really disorienting. If you click on a container, the console will select the new container, but continues to display the contents of the previously selected container. For example in Figure A, the All Users container is selected, but the console is still displaying the contents of the Device container. It’s a small thing, and maybe I’m being overly picky, but I personally found the double click requirement to be frustrating and somewhat disorientating (at least at first).
Figure A: The double click requirement takes some getting used to.
On a different note, the tool also seemed to have trouble telling the difference between servers and workstations. When I ran the Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting tool within my lab environment, the only machine that showed up in the Servers list was my domain controller. All the rest of my servers were displayed in the Workstations category. This included things like Exchange Servers and SharePoint servers, as shown in Figure B.
Figure B: The software seemed to have trouble telling the difference between servers and workstations.
It is important to keep in mind that these were the only two issues that I had with the product. One of the issues is a minor bug and the other is simply a matter of personal preference. Those issues aside, the Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting tool seems to work really well.
From a management standpoint, the product accomplishes two main things. First, it aggregates a number of different management functions into a single console. These functions go beyond just Active Directory management. The console also exposes a number of other functions such as the Registry Editor (which is shown in Figure C), the Service Control Manager, and the Disk Management console. You can even compile a software inventory or manage shares or user sessions for a server.
Figure C: The software makes a number of different tools available through a single console.
The other main benefit to using Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting for Active Directory management is that the tool makes it easy to perform bulk operations through the graphical user interface. For example, you can simultaneously unlock multiple user accounts or reset the passwords for multiple accounts. This type of functionality allows administrators to work more efficiently without having to delve into PowerShell.
The Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting tool’s other major function is reporting. The reporting functionality is one area in which this software really stands out from Microsoft’s native management tools.
The software’s reporting engine contains a large number of built-in reports, all arranged by category. For example, there are reports related to users, groups, passwords, computers, organizational units, group policy objects, accounts, logins, and more. Each report can be customized by adding or removing columns. You can see some of the available reports in Figure D.
Figure D: Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting has a really nice reporting engine.
During my testing I generated a number of different reports. In each case, the reports were produced so quickly that it was almost as if the reports had been prepared ahead of time. As you would probably expect, the software allows you to save or print your reports. Unfortunately, this functionality is disabled in the trial version so I was unable to save or print any of my test reports.
Pricing for the Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting tool starts at $229 US Dollars. Lepide offers a perpetual license, which is a refreshing change since so many software companies require annual license renewals. The actual license cost is based on the number of administrators who will be using the software.
The Bottom Line
I have to admit that I had a hard time deciding how to score this application. The issues that I had with the software were very minor and yet they really bothered me. Even so, I eventually decided to give the product a gold star because I truly believe that it has the potential to help administrators work more efficiently. There were two main factors that influenced my decision.
The first factor was the price. Unlike many of the administrative tools that are available from competitors, Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting has a reasonable price tag that should put it within reach of even small organizations.
The other thing that I really liked about the software is that once you get past the single click / double click thing it is simple to use. Anyone who is familiar with Microsoft’s native tools for Windows should have no trouble using Lepide Active Directory Management and Reporting. This is a refreshing change since so many of the management products that I review are far more complex than they need to be.
Ultimately I really like this tool. It’s lightweight, it works, and it’s affordable. For the price you really can’t beat it.