Best of Open Source Awards 2013

Bossie Awards 2013: The best open source admin tools

InfoWorld's top picks among all the handy open source tools that make life easier for sys admins

The best open source admin tools

Getting familiar with all the open source admin tools out there would be like learning all the stars in the sky. From Linux and Windows server administration to rack and data center management, open source has a whole galaxy of tools to ease the burden on admins. For this year's Bossies, we salute a dozen of our favorite tools for getting the job done faster and easier.

UNetbootin

The first time I wanted to install Linux onto a USB thumb drive, I read a dozen different websites with a dozen different sets of instructions, and I got a dozen times frustrated. The UNetbootin project makes it easy to set up a Live Linux installation on a thumb drive. You can use the UNetbootin thumb drive to boot into Linux or to install Linux as a dual-boot option on a Windows PC. It's an easy way to carry Linux around with you.

-- High Mobley

Process Hacker

Process Hacker provides all the functionality of Windows' Process Explorer utility, plus a whole lot more. You can see all network connections, open/listening ports, and the connected processes. Click the Processes tab to get a tree view of parent-child relationships. No more "hidden" processes -- all processes, services, and threads are on display, to be terminated, suspended, or restarted one at a time, or in a batch when you highlight multiple entries.

Process Hacker is a tool for developers, so it even includes ways to manage real and virtual memory, scan memory for strings, and dump memory contents to a file for analysis.

-- High Mobley

Folder Size

Sometimes the little things make life better. Linux admins have the du command, but hunting down disk usage in Windows can be a pain. Folder Size does one thing, but that one thing can be insanely useful.

Folder Size adds a column in Windows Explorer that shows sizes of both files and folders. The column is available even in open/save windows. Folder sizes are updated automatically; if you add new files to a directory, Windows Explorer will change the display to show the new folder size.

Folder Size is also a good citizen. If other programs are causing high disk I/O utilization, Folder Size will wait for those other I/O-intensive tasks to finish before it starts calculating folder sizes again.

-- High Mobley

Clonezilla

Sys admins will love this open source clone of Norton Ghost. The Clonezilla disk imaging software supports major partition and file system types, and a server edition of the program can clone multiple computers simultaneously from a single disk image. Clonezilla can also take advantage of multicast to push images to large numbers of computers if they support PXE booting and Wake-on-LAN.

For maximum cloning efficiency, Clonezilla saves (and restores) only the disk blocks actually in use on supported file systems. For imaging Windows computers, Clonezilla can use the open source drbl-winroll to handle hostnames, groups, and SIDs on the cloned machines. Like any good open source tool, Clonezilla supports lots of options and can be automated for an unattended installation mode.

-- High Mobley

FileZilla

In our line of work, we upload and download a lot of files -- router images, OS installers, you name it. A good file transfer app is a must.

The cross-platform app, FileZilla, provides support for IPv6, FTP, FTPS, and SFTP protocols. Like any good file-transfer app, FileZilla supports resume and transfer, even for files more than 4GB in size. Other features include transfer speed limits, file name filters, directory comparison, remote file search, and editing

FileZilla is not just a feature-packed client. The FileZilla project also has a FTP/S file server that runs on Windows platforms. Very handy when you need to serve up files to upgrade a router!

-- High Mobley

WinSCP

This open source file transfer app supports SCP, SFTP, FTP, and FTPS protocols for file transfer. Its integration with Windows is impressive. You can use WinSCP in Explorer's Send To context menus and set WinSCP to handle sftp:// and scp:// URLs.

Admins who are responsible for large networks or server farms will appreciate WinSCP's extensive command-line parameters that make it ever so useful for scripting. WinSCP is also available as a plug-in to extend functionality in the FAR and Salamander file management apps.

WinSCP's own SSH client support is pretty basic, but it can use other SSH terminal apps to extend its SSH functionality. WinSCP integrates with PuTTY, KiTTY, and OpenSSH (Cygwin). Check out WinSCP's handy protocol comparison chart.

-- High Mobley

Adminer

Adminer is a great alternative to phpMyAdmin. It's a single PHP file and easy to install. The UI is simpler and more intuitive than phpMyAdmin. Adminer also has full support for features such as foreign keys, grouping Select results, sorting results by multiple columns, easy downloading of blob field contents, and editing fields in multiple rows. Adminer can work with MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle Database, whereas phpMyAdmin supports only MySQL. Adminer works with older versions of MySQL and PHP as well.

-- High Mobley

SQuirreL SQL

With support for JDBC 2.0 database drivers, the cross-platform SQuirreL SQL client works with about 30 database servers. Of course you can edit table structures and perform other administrative tasks, but the best feature of SQuirreL is that it allows you to edit table rows in a query's results.

It includes a SQL query editor with user-activated code completion that stays out of your way until you need it. The oddly named "bookmarks" are user-defined text expansions to save typing frequently used blocks of query code. SQuirreL also lets you create charts of database tables that you can use to graphically build a query or to print or save a copy for documentation.

-- High Mobley

phpSysInfo

Sometimes you just want a simple tool to do a simple job. A set of PHP scripts that pulls data from the /proc file system and lays it out neatly on a Web page, phpSysInfo shows key information about your server, such as RAM and CPU utilization, attached drives and USB devices, available disk space, networking, hard drive SMART (Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) info, and more. For busy admins on the go, there's even an Android client app for phpSysInfo.

-- High Mobley

Artica

More than a great-looking control panel, Artica does the heavy lifting of installing and configuring the various applications needed to create an appliance of your choice: Postfix mail server with all the firewall, antispam, and antivirus trimmings, a Squid caching proxy server, or a NAS device running Samba that can double as a domain controller for your network.

Artica is a huge timesaver for sys admins, and it puts reliable Linux servers within reach of millions of small businesses who can't afford a dedicated admin. You can bolt Artica onto your favorite Linux distro or download an Artica ISO to install Linux with the Artica system preloaded.

-- High Mobley

ISPConfig

Want a Web-based control panel system, but don't like Webmin? Give ISPConfig a try. It not only has a more intuitive interface, but it's better suited for sys admins as it has more support for advanced options such as firewalling and email spam filters and whitelists.

With support for IPv6, the Apache and Nginx Web servers, key-based SSH connections, and the Mailman mailing list server, ISPConfig can handle most of our favorite Linux distros and applications. ISPConfig also has support for my favorite containers-based virtualization solution, OpenVZ.

-- High Mobley

RackTables

Do you have rack upon rack of servers, switches, and routers, and you can't keep up with them all? RackTables keeps a database of each device in each of your racks in each of your data centers and displays them in either a list format or a graphical representation of the racks.

Do you have a team of admins who need an accurate and up-to-date set of documentation to work together effectively? RackTables lets you set up multiple users with permissions to the specific racks or data centers they support.

RackTables also employs a tagging system that helps you search and sort your equipment in the racks and data centers. You can even use RackTables to manage details such as IP addresses or firewall rules.

-- High Mobley