10 free SharePoint tools to make IT admins smile

These help administer and configure SharePoint farms of various sizes.

Systems management tools galore

The SharePoint software vendor ecosystem has produced many free tools that help you administer and configure a SharePoint farm on a day-to-day basis. The vendors would, of course, love to have you upgrade to their for-pay software products, but until you do there is much utility in these free tools.

Because SharePoint 2013 is so new, many of these tools don't support it yet; we'll note those that do as we go along.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures LLC, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte, N.C. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him at jhassell@gmail.com.

Microsoft's SharePoint Administration Toolkit 2.0 (for 2010 and 2007 versions)

Microsoft bakes a bunch of goodies into this little add-on, including a kit that generates test loads to see how well any SharePoint deployment runs. Also included is a manifest for the Security Configuration Wizard so you can harden the profile of your deployment through Windows Server 2008.

Perhaps most useful of all: The SPDiag 3.0 utility. SPDiag grabs a heap of statistics from all the servers in a SharePoint farm, interprets them and presents them in a very clean report.

You can download the tool from Microsoft's TechNet website; an edition for SharePoint 2007 is available too.

ManageEngine's Free SharePoint Health Monitor Tool

If you've not invested in a lot of systems monitoring tools, or you have a smaller SharePoint deployment, you might want a lightweight tool that gives you just an overall rollup of your SharePoint farm's health status at a glance. The ManageEngine Free SharePoint Health Monitor fits this bill nicely, giving you a convenient dashboard view where you can see details about the CPU, memory and disk space usage for each server running SharePoint.

Then you can drill down into the SharePoint workload itself and see the response time, service status, Web server (Internet Information Services) process details, and even SQL Server details like free pages, cache memory and buffer cache hit ratio.

Microsoft's SharePoint Designer (for 2007, 2010 and 2013)

Designer is like the FrontPage web design tool of the SharePoint world. You can use it to customize the look and feel of SharePoint sites, create and modify simple workflows and otherwise personalize a SharePoint deployment.

One downside: If you have a large SharePoint deployment with multiple versions running at the same time, you must use the Designer version specific to the particular SharePoint edition -- no mixing.

You can download SharePoint Designer in all of its versions from Microsoft's site:

SharePoint Designer 2007

SharePoint Designer 2010

SharePoint Designer 2013

Idera's Free SharePoint Performance Monitor

For a slightly more detailed look at what is happening under the hood of your SharePoint farm, consider Idera's Free SharePoint Performance Monitor. This tool gives you a holistic overview of the performance statistics and metrics for SharePoint itself, the SQL Server instance on any given server and information about the host's operating system and memory configuration.

The tool also can be configured to send simple e-mail alerts when one of the performance indicators goes badly wrong. You can also monitor multiple sites if you have them on your deployment, and you get nifty graphs and charts about connections, response time, requests, pages, disk usage and more.

Idera's Free SharePoint Admin Toolset

This is actually seven tools in one: a site monitor to check up on any SharePoint sites you manage; a space trends report to track how you are using disk space on your deployment for folders, libraries and sites; a handy accelerator that essentially rebuilds the database indexes on the SQL Server instance managing your SharePoint deployment; a report to show you how much SQL database space your deployment is consuming; a permissions analyzer to show what users can access which specific sites and libraries; a tool to compare the configurations of site collections to see where they are different; and a quick admin tool that brings together your most frequently used links to SharePoint Central Administration.

IntLock's CardioLog Analytics Free Edition

If your systems have a quarter of a million page views or fewer per month, you can use this free tool to help you find out which sites employees are using, how long they are typically engaged with those sites and what areas of those sites are most used (or unused).

It installs quickly and is compatible with all versions of SharePoint, even the brand new SharePoint 2013.

If and when you're ready, you can easily upgrade to the paid version; the free edition has all of the same features, with the only differences being the page view tracking limit and allowing for Web-based support only rather than on the telephone.

McAfee's Network Discovery for Microsoft SharePoint

If you have overall responsibility for a network, you might not even know if one of your departments has deployed a SharePoint server. The McAfee Network Discovery Tool for Microsoft SharePoint will scan the network to find SharePoint 2003, 2007 and 2010 environments (2013 is not yet supported) and then display the results of its scan in a nice HTML report that shows in detail which servers have been deployed and what version they're running.

It is a good SharePoint-specific inventory tool.

SharePoint SUSHI

SharePoint SUSHI is an open source project hosted on CodePlex that essentially takes the most common administrative tasks and puts them in one tool. SUSHI, which bills itself as a "Swiss army knife for SharePoint," stands for "SharePoint Utilities with a Smart, Helpful Interface."

You can view the lists and sites any given user can access, which is really helpful for looking at effective permissions; upload user photos as profile images; back up and restore sites; apply a theme to a group of sites with one click and much more.

Simply download the EXE file to a server running SharePoint (it has to be local as it accesses the API) and run it as a user with SharePoint administrator privileges.

Axceler's ViewPoint for SharePoint

This is a great tool for visualizing in a convenient table form exactly which users have what permissions on any given site.

This could be very useful in an auditing scenario or any environment where you are looking to tighten permissions without granting full access to users needlessly. You can choose to work from the graphical dashboard, to run and print reports to provide to your management or to work through with your own administrative tools. It works with both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 deployments, although 2007 is unsupported.

It requires full SharePoint administrator permissions to do its job properly.

Quest's Server Administrator for SharePoint

If you are still primarily on SharePoint 2007 and 2010, then this tool is just for you. It lets you see which parts of your farm configuration are affecting the security, performance and availability of your deployment.

It helps you build PowerShell scripts to maintain your environment. It also helps with a migration to SharePoint 2010 from 2007, required to get to SharePoint 2013 as well, by showing which parts of your deployment are ready for the upgrade and which are not. And it provides an intelligent rating to show you what is most important to upgrade before you begin against what would simply be "nice to have." (Note: Quest is now part of Dell Computer.)