Product Review: Cayosoft Admin Assistant
Product: Cayosoft Admin Assistant
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Whether an organization’s IT department is subject to regulatory compliance or is simply responsible for adhering to the organization’s own security policies, administrators need a way of keeping tabs on the Active Directory. Ideally administrators should be able to query the state of the Active Directory to make sure that user and computer objects are configured properly and should be able to perform automated remediation if necessary.
Recently, I heard about a product from Cayosoft (www.cayosoft.com) called Admin Assistant, that claims to be able to do all that and more. Admin Assistant is designed to provide reporting and rule enforcement for Active Directory, Office 365, and Windows Server. Since Admin Assistant seemed like a must have product, I decided to take it for a test drive.
The Deployment Process
For the purposes of this review, I decided to download the free trial version of Admin Assistant. The download page offers a Setup package which includes Admin Assistant for Active Directory, Admin Assistant for Office 365, Admin Assistant for Windows Server, and Cayo Suspend.
One of the things that I especially liked about the download page was that it indicated that the software required version 4.0 of the .Net Framework, Microsoft Management Framework, and Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT).
It was really nice to see the software prerequisites displayed so clearly on the download page (with links no less). So many of the other products that I have reviewed over the years simply leave you to discover the prerequisites after you encounter an installation error.
The Setup package was a mere 10.5 MB in size, and the download completed almost instantaneously. Running Setup caused the screen shown in Figure A to be displayed. As you can see, this screen allows you to set up the product, but it also provides help and support and contact links, which I thought was a nice touch.
Figure A: Running the Setup package causes this screen to be displayed.
When I clicked on the option to run Setup, I was taken to the screen shown in Figure B. As you can see in the figure, the same Setup utility is used to install three different products. The main reason why I wanted to show you this screen however, is that it provides the option to review the product’s requirements or to watch an installation video prior to running Setup.
Figure B: Cayosoft uses a very unique installer.
I was especially impressed with the video tutorials because I review a lot of products and have found that far too many vendors leave the installation process to chance. When I clicked on the video link, I was taken to a Web page containing three short videos (the longest one was only 9 minutes). These videos included an introduction, a Setup and Configuration video, and a Configure and Run Business Rules video.
Given the fact that Cayosoft attempts to provide you with so much help, it would be easy to assume that the installation process is difficult. However, that is simply not the case. The Setup Wizard is very simple and the product can be installed with only a few mouse clicks.
Working With Cayosoft Admin Assistant
Cayosoft Admin Assistant makes use of a fairly simple console. The console contains a large number of built in templates on which rules can be based. For example, the Computers – AD Computers (Report) template is used to compile a list of all of the computer objects in the Active Directory. As you can see in Figure C, there are a few different options for each template. You can perform a preview query, you can run the rule, or you can enforce the rule.
Figure C: The Cayosoft Admin Assistant includes a number of pre-configured templates.
In case you are wondering, the Preview option simply displays the query results within a window. You can view the results on screen, or you can export the results to a CSV file. You can see what a preview looks like in Figure D.
Figure D: This is what a preview looks like.
When you run a rule, the output (assuming that the rule produces output, not all do) is written to an HTML based report. You can see an example of what a report looks like in Figure E.
Figure E: This is what a report looks like.
When you run a report, Admin Assistant displays a message telling you that reports may be E-mailed or they might be displayed in the Reports folder, depending on how the rule is configured. The first few times that I tried running a rule, nothing showed up in the Reports folder. Thinking that the rule might still be running, I checked the Execution History folder. That folder was empty as well. It was then that I noticed the Refresh button. Refreshing the display caused the execution history to be displayed. When I went back to the Reports folder, it was still empty, but I was able to refresh the display to access the reports. Having to use the Refresh button frequently isn’t really a big deal, but it did take me a few minutes to realize that I needed to do so. I have been told however, that version 2.7 (which is to be released in March 2014) will not require the display to be manually refreshed.
Although it is handy to be able to manually run a rule, Cayosoft Admin Assistant is really all about automation. Automation is achieved by enforcing rules. When you select the Enable check box for a rule, you are given the option to schedule the rule to run on a periodic basis. You can see what the scheduler looks like in Figure F.
Figure F: Rule enforcement involves scheduling the rule to run automatically.
Once I got the hang of using the Refresh button a lot, I found Cayosoft Admin Assistant to be very easy to use. I also appreciate that Cayosoft provides dozens of rule templates for things like Active Directory, Office 365, and even Windows Server. However, the thing that I like best about the software is its extensibility.
Admin Assistant is designed so that new rule templates can be downloaded at any time. More importantly, administrators are given the ability to create custom rules. Custom rules can be based on existing templates (but can contain modifications), or administrators can build rules completely from scratch.
The nice thing about the rule creation process is that you can create a rule without having to write any code. If you look at Figure G for example, you can see what the new rule creation process looks like. New rules work very similarly to template rules, but are stored in the Custom Rules folder, which you can also see in the figure. Even though custom rule creation does not require you to write any code, there is still a bit of a learning curve involved. Fortunately, there are enough template rules provided to cover the most pressing automation requirements.
Figure G: Admin Assistant allows you to modify rule templates or to build new rules from scratch.
The one thing that seemed to be missing was a report that could be run in an effort to compile a list of which rules were being enforced. However, when a rule is enabled its icon turns bright green, making it relatively easy to tell at a glance which rules are enabled and which are not.
When I write a review for this site, it has become customary for me to assign the product a numerical score ranging from zero to five (with five being the highest), based on the product’s performance. I decided to give Cayosoft Admin Assistant WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award with a rating of 4.5.
I found Admin Assistant to be a solid product that does exactly what it is supposed to do. Aside from my brief moment of confusion due to not clicking the Refresh button, I did not have any issues with the product.
WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.5/5