The 14 best tools every sysadmin should be using

Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham|April 7, 2022
the best tools every sysadmin should be using
the best tools every sysadmin should be using

Where would humans be without the tools to farm, hunt, and protect ourselves? Creating and using tools is what separates humans from all other living creatures on earth. Sure, we’ve all seen gorillas using sticks and sea otters using rocks, but let me know when one of them crafts a 20-volt compact cordless impact driver with illuminating LEDs and a built-in belt clip.

As many aspects of our lives transition to a digital environment, we've had to create new tools to support our digital lifestyles. While a disk analyzer and a hammer don't look anything alike, they're both tools needed to support our way of life. And, as with any tool, the most important thing is to make sure you have the right tools for the job.

So let's go over, in no particular order, the tools every sysadmin should have in their toolbox.

Notepad++

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Notepad++ takes notepad.exe and cranks its utility to eleven, making it an easy selection for this list.

If somehow you don't know what it is, Notepad++ is a text and source code editor that can basically do it all. If you've got a log file to open, use Notepad++. Need to edit an XML file? Use Notepad++. Modifying a PHP file? You guessed it, use Notepad++. 

As of version 7.6.3, it supports syntax highlighting of 78 languages. Add to that a sizable list of features, such as autosave, macros, tabbed documents, plus its incredibly small size and power efficiency, and you've got yourself a tool that Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor would be proud of.

Wireshark

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While it's probably not as cool as sharks with frickin’ lasers attached to their heads, Wireshark is definitely awesome and deserves a spot in your sysadmin tool belt. Wireshark can capture and analyze your network traffic, which is incredibly useful when you're troubleshooting network issues. Wireshark supports all major operating systems and allows you to filter and view packets as they travel across the network, helping you identify problem spots.

RDCMan

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RDCMan (Remote Desktop Connection Manager) is one of the first things I install when I get a new workstation. It's been around for years and gives users a simple way to manage multiple remote desktop connections. Unfortunately, Microsoft discontinued it over a year ago because of a security vulnerability. So, why am I adding it to this list if Microsoft no longer supports it? Because it's been revived by the Microsoft Sysinternals team!

Sysinternals is a collection of utilities to help manage and troubleshoot Windows systems. The collection of utilities is pretty epic by itself, but it's even better now that RDCMan has been added. In fact, RDCMan just received its first update from the Sysinternals team while I was writing this article.

If you're already using RDCMan, you should probably go and download the newest version because, technically, the old version had a security flaw.

FileZilla

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FTP (file transfer protocol) is one of those protocols that's been around longer than I have. Though it's been updated over the years to support things like TCP/IP and IPv6, it remains largely unchanged. FTP clients, on the other hand, have changed pretty significantly over the years, and one client, in particular, stands out as the top dog.

FileZilla is an FTP client that has been around for 30 years, and it rocks. Though many have challenged it, FileZilla remains king of FTP clients (in my opinion). With an amazing set of features, a clean interface, fast speeds, and a small resource footprint, FileZilla is a must-have for any serious sysadmin. When I need to transfer 4TB's worth of memes, FileZilla is my tool of choice.

PuTTY

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If you came to this article assuming that PuTTY would be on this list, well, you're not wrong.

PuTTY is an SSH and telnet client that lets you connect to all the things. You name it, and PuTTY can most likely connect to it.

When you first launch PuTTY, you may think you’ve traveled back in time because of its super simplistic menu. But don’t let it fool you.You don't gaze upon the Ferrari 250 GTO and focus on how basic it is compared to today's supercars. Instead, you simply bask in the glory of excellence.

7-Zip

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7-Zip is, in my opinion, the best file archiving application available. It's dead simple to use and integrates perfectly into the Windows context menu. The main draw with 7-Zip is its speed and efficiency — oh, and the massive collection of file types it supports. While I deeply respect the fact that WinRAR gives you a 30-day free trial that lasts forever, I can't live with the guilt of not paying for it. That's why I choose to live guilt-free with 7-Zip.

WizTree

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Do your users love filling up their disk space with family photos, cat videos, and bootlegged movies and music, then come to you surprised when they can't save a PDF with their limited disk space? Well, with the power of WizTree, you get to bask in the glorious satisfaction that comes with easily identifying all those non work-related files and making your users delete them. Evil laughing during the process is optional, though recommended.

WizTree is a disk space analyzer that scans your disk usage and makes it easy to identify which files and folders are hogging all your storage. As you can see from the image below, not only do you get a folder tree that is easy to comprehend and navigate, you also get a visual mapping of all your files and their respective sizes. The visual map allows you to click on any of the boxes, and it will take you directly to the file it represents. So, for example, if I click on that big purple box in the bottom right section, it will take me to my pagefile.sys file.

While there are a few other disk space analyzers that function similarly (my personal favorite being WinDirStat because it uses a PAC-MAN graphic while it scans), I'm highlighting WizTree because of its blazing speed. Seriously, it doesn't matter if you're using an SSD or an HDD; WizTree will scan and map out your entire disk space in seconds.

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While there are a few other disk space analyzers that function similarly (my personal favorite being WinDirStat because it uses a PAC-MAN graphic while it scans), I'm highlighting WizTree because of its blazing speed. Seriously, it doesn't matter if you're using an SSD or an HDD; WizTree will scan and map out your entire disk space in seconds.

Bitwarden

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Digital security is essential in our world of ransomware and complex phishing attacks. A proven tool to help shore up your cybersecurity posture is utilizing a password manager, and Bitwarden comes with high praise from our users and staff alike.

Bitwarden combines two of my favorite things: features, and simplicity. Creating and managing profiles in Bitwarden's secure vault is a breeze; whether it's a login profile, payment card information, identity details, or a secure note, you'll be up and running with Bitwarden in no time. Most importantly, applying those stored details to relevant web pages couldn't be easier.

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If you're in the market for a secure and easy-to-use password manager, definitely give Bitwarden a try.

mRemoteNG

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If you're looking for one utility to connect to all the things, whether via telnet, SSH, RDP, VNC, or more, mRemoteNG is the tool for you.

mRemoteNG is a remote connections management utility designed to help sysadmins connect to networked devices using a variety of connection protocols. Anyone using a modern browser that utilizes tabs to manage your browser windows will feel instantly familiar with mRemoteNG's simple-to-use interface.

If you spend a majority of your day connected to a variety of remote devices, mRemoteNG will help you wrangle all those connections into one place. Best of all, it's free for personal and business use.

Power Automate

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Do you love repetitive, time-consuming workflows? I didn't think so. Neither do the geniuses at Microsoft behind the incredible Power Automate platform.

Power Automate makes it possible to automate the manual workflows that bog down your day-to-day operations. From launching applications and websites to running scripts and pushing out notifications, if you can imagine a way to automate a task, Power Automate gives you the tools to do it.

Power Automate is easy enough that you'll be automating simple tasks in no time. However, there is a pretty steep learning curve, especially as you dive into automating more complex tasks with dozens of steps.

It's also important to note that Power Automate is not free, and as with most Microsoft licensing models, choosing the right plan for you is not always easy. Your best bet is to reach out to your Microsoft licensing agent to identify the best plan for you and your organization.

MTPuTTY

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If you are an avid PuTTY user, but you're tired of launching a new instance of PuTTY every time you start a new connection, then MTPuTTY will be your new best friend.

It's important to understand that MTPutty (Multi-Tabbed PuTTY) is not a PuTTY replacement but a free utility that combines all those separate PuTTY sessions into one tabbed GUI interface. In fact, having PuTTY already installed is a pre-requisite of MTPuTTY as it will utilize your current PuTTY installation. 

If you regularly have multiple PuTTY sessions open, MTPuTTY will help you clear up the clutter of multiple PuTTY windows.

Process Monitor

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As the name suggests, Process Monitor is a process monitoring utility that makes it easy to analyze Registry, file system, and process/thread activity on Windows systems, including those hard-to-track behind-the-scenes operations. While the provided data can be overwhelming, Process Monitor makes it easy to identify processes and events using filters and powerful search functions.

While reimaging a problematic computer is often a tempting quick fix, it's not always an option for critical systems, which is when a powerful troubleshooting tool like Process Monitor comes in handy.

As part of the Sysinternals toolset, Process Monitor is free and should definitely be part of your sysadmin toolkit for those hard-to-troubleshoot issues.

SmartDeploy

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Image management can be a demanding task, especially if you support a variety of hardware makes and models. Keeping up with a constant stream of OS, application, and driver releases is no easy feat. In addition, the increasingly remote workforce has made it difficult for administrators to get quality one-on-one time with the devices they support.

SmartDeploy takes all the pain points of computer imaging and makes them a thing of the past.

  • Golden image: SmartDeploy's unique layered approach enables true, single image management of Windows and applications. Don't manage multiple images when you don't have to.

  • Driver management: Tired of managing device drivers? Let SmartDeploy do it for you. SmartDeploy provides users with over 1500 Platform Packs that are constantly updated and support all major OEM and business class hardware models.

  • Simplified software management: The SmartDeploy agent automatically scans and reports hardware and software information for every endpoint in your environment. Silently deploy pre-built Application Packs from the SmartDeploy library or build your own custom, multi-step packages.

  • Cloud management: Did I mention that all of this can be done remotely from the cloud? With SmartDeploy, managing devices and their imaging needs remotely isn't just possible; it's easy.

As part of the PDQ family of products, SmartDeploy offers customers a simple-to-use solution with industry leading tech, backed by a world class support team. If you're looking for that last imaging solution you'll ever need, SmartDeploy has you covered.

PDQ Inventory

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Now, this may seem a little biased, but come on, you knew this was coming. I couldn't create a list of amazing sysadmin tools and not include PDQ Inventory and PDQ Deploy.

PDQ Inventory scans your environment, collecting hardware and software information, and stores all that data in a central location. It then uses that data to group your inventory into dynamic collections. Your machines will move between collections as certain criteria are met. For example, if you install Google Chrome on a computer, it will be added to the Google Chrome dynamic collection. If a computer has an old version of Google Chrome installed, the computer will be added to the Google Chrome Old dynamic collection. All of this happens automatically.

The true power of PDQ Inventory is that it gives users the ability to customize it to meet their needs. Users can create their own static and dynamic collections. They can also create their own scanners, including PowerShell and WMI scanners, to ensure they collect every last bit of useful information. Users can create custom tools to run on remote computers that can be launched with just a couple of clicks. Custom reports, which can be generated automatically, can be built in just a couple of minutes. PDQ Inventory is one of those applications that gives users the ability to accomplish just about anything they set their minds to. 

PDQ Deploy

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Unlike PDQ Inventory, PDQ Deploy is more specific in purpose. As its name suggests, PDQ Deploy specializes in one thing: deploying packages.

PDQ Deploy comes jam-packed with hundreds of prebuilt packages, including many industry-standard applications. In fact, most of the applications on this list are automatically maintained and included with PDQ Deploy's Package Library.

PDQ Deploy also gives you the ability to create your own custom packages, allowing you to easily deploy just about any EXE, MSI, or script file you have out to your environment in just a few minutes. Check out this helpful guide on building and deploying custom packages.

The cherry on top is that PDQ Deploy makes it incredibly easy to automate your deployments. Are you tired of deploying a new version of Chrome every other week? Sweet, let PDQ Deploy do it for you. Combined with the power of dynamic collections in PDQ Inventory, you can automate just about your entire patch management process.

Check out this YouTube video where Lex demonstrates how easy it is to automate your deployments.

Go forth and optimize your systems administration 

Being a sysadmin can be challenging, which is why it's important to have the right tools for the job. The tools on this list have the potential to make you a better sysadmin and may even help you overcome your next head-scratching IT moment.

If you want to see some of these tools in use, check out part 1 and part 2 of our Sysadmin Tools You Should Use webcast. If you're not already using some of these tools, I encourage you to try them out. An application on this list may very well turn out to be one of those tools that makes you wonder how you ever lived without it.

PDQ helps sysadmins have healthy, up-to-date machines, automatically. Streamline your patch management and software deployment processes — whether you manage 15 machines or 1500. Start your free 14-day trial >>


Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham

Born in the '80s and raised by his NES, Brock quickly fell in love with everything tech. With over 15 years of IT experience, Brock now enjoys the life of luxury as a renowned tech blogger and receiver of many Dundie Awards. In his free time, Brock enjoys adventuring with his wife, kids, and dogs, while dreaming of retirement.

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