A management tool that lets you connect to a frozen system

What do you do when a process hogs all of a system's resources and locks up the GUI? If the system is a Windows 2000 Professional or Windows NT Workstation system, rebooting could cause you to lose data and might not be a viable option. Heroix's RoboER is a management tool that lets you bypass the GUI and connect to and communicate with the frozen system through a Telnet terminal emulator.

Installing RoboER is fairly straightforward. Heroix supplies the program on a CD-ROM and provides a well-illustrated 10-page quick-start guide and a 47-page user's manual. My only complaint about the installation process is that RoboER requires you to manually enter an annoyingly long 36-character license key.

During the installation, the software runs a configuration tool and installs this tool as a RoboER Control Panel applet (so you can change the software's configuration after installation). You can use this tool to configure the software's connection to the frozen system. RoboER uses a text-based command shell that you access from an external terminal using either a TCP/IP or a serial port connection. In the Active Transport list box, which Figure 1 shows, I selected Serial because I wanted a hardwired solution that would let me bypass any security restrictions that the network hardware or protocols might impose. If you're managing a remote system and you don't anticipate security conflicts, use the TCP/IP connection option. You can also use the configuration tool to define settings such as Event Listing, which controls the reporting format for the NT event logs; Audit Policy, which records RoboER events to the NT Security log; and SAM Bypass Logon and IP Authorization, both of which let you restrict access to the managed system according to the IP address of the RoboER client attempting to make the connection.

To let you test the software, Heroix supplies several test applications that lock up a system. On my NT Workstation 4.0 system running Service Pack 3 (SP3), I ran CPUhog.exe, which commandeers all of a system's CPU resources. I then connected a Windows 95 laptop running ANSI terminal software to my NT system's serial port. To connect to a frozen system, you need a cable that supports the physical port types on each system and swaps the transmit/receive (TX/RX) signals. (You need a cable that matches either the DB9 or DB25 connectors, both of which you can use for a serial port. A standard modem cable doesn't provide the swapped TX/RX signals, but a null-modem cable does.) To start RoboER, I pressed Enter on the terminal system. As a result, my laptop screen displayed RoboER's logon request in a text-based command shell.

RoboER has a short but robust repertoire of commands, many of which have subcommands. To identify the process that was causing my NT system's problem, I typed at a command prompt on the terminal system

process /list

This command returned a list of all running processes and pertinent information such as what percentage of the system's CPU resources each process was consuming. After I identified CPUhog.exe's high CPU usage as the problem, I typed at a command prompt on the terminal system

process /delete <pid>

where pid is the process' ID. This command terminated CPUhog.exe.

I didn't have an opportunity to test Heroix's technical support because RoboER installed, ran, and performed flawlessly. Whether you use RoboER as part of Heroix's RoboMon management package or as a standalone application, this software is an essential tool. However, at $299 per license, RoboER is an expensive solution for small networks.

Contact: Heroix * 617-527-1550 or 800-229-6500
Price: $299 for 1 license; $99 per license for 500 licenses
Decision Summary:
Pros: Consumes no memory and uses no CPU cycles until you access it
Cons: Cost is high
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