by Mike Dailey on June 27, 2011

Being a successful IT consultant requires more than just being a techie who provides professional or expert advice.  To be successful you need not only the technical skills but the technical tools to get the job done.  I could write at length about the times I’ve watched other consultants struggle in front of a client because they were not prepared with the right tools to meet the need.  A client with a critical network or system issue needs the problem tackled head on, right now.  “I’ll need to find a tool to…” or “I’ll have to look for an app that will…” are sure signs to the client that you walked in the door neither informed nor prepared to handle their issue.

Being prepared means having the right tools on-hand at all times.  Here is a top-10 list of the “must have” tools every successful IT consultant should carry:

Wireshark

Wireshark is a network protocol analyzer for Unix and Windows. It allows the consultant to examine data from a live network or from a capture file on disk. You can interactively browse the capture data, viewing summary and detail information for each packet.  Wireshark has several powerful features, including a rich display filter language and the ability to view the reconstructed stream of a TCP session.  Feature rich, yet easy for even the novice to use, Wireshark is an important tool in troubleshooting application, server, and network issues.

Wireshark rivals commercial packet sniffers, yet is freely available.  http://www.wireshark.org/

PuTTY or SecureCRT

I’ve listed both of these good terminal emulation clients because each is equally proficient at either SSH or Telnet connectivity.  Both offer very similar functionality.  The key difference is that PuTTY is a free, open source application while SecureCRT is licensed and costs approximately $99 for a 1-year single user license.

Regardless of which you choose, having a reliable and easy to use Telnet/SSH client is one of the base requirements when installing, configuring, or troubleshooting network and server issues.

PuTTY can be downloaded here, and SecureCRT can be found at the VanDyke Software web site.

TFTPD32

Tftpd32 is a free, open source IPv6-ready utility which provides DHCP, TFTP, DNS, SNTP and Syslog servers as well as a TFTP client.  This simple utility can prove essential in the staging, configuration, and troubleshooting of both network and server hardware platforms. 

TFTPD32 is a freely available Windows 32/64-bit application available here.

NetBeans IDE

The NetBeans IDE is an award-winning integrated development environment (IDE) available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. The NetBeans project consists of an open-source IDE and an application platform that enable developers to rapidly create web, enterprise, desktop, and mobile applications using the Java platform, as well as PHP, JavaScript and Ajax, Groovy and Grails, and C/C++.

While NetBeans is intended as a platform for application developers, for the IT consultant having a full-featured IDE can be key when creating, modifying and deploying scripts and small applets. The ability to quickly and easily create custom data parsers and filters is required in many troubleshooting and implementation engagements.

NetBeans IDE is a free open source tool available at NetBeans.org.  Many additional plugins are available to add support for popular scripting and development languages.

CDBurnerXP

CDBurnerXP allows you to burn CDs and DVDs, including Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs. It also includes the feature to burn and create ISOs, which can be important when building implementation and deployment procedures.  Available with a multi-language interface, CDBurnerXP is free for individual or commercial use and supports most IDE, USB, Firewire and SCSI drives.

CDBurnerXP can be found at http://cdburnerxp.se/.

WinMerge

WinMerge is a differencing and merging tool for Windows. WinMerge can compare both folders and files, presenting differences in a visual text format that is easy to understand and handle.  WinMerge is very useful for determining what has changed between project versions, file updates, or configuration changes and can then merge those changes between versions, if required.  WinMerge can be used as an external differencing/merging tool or as a standalone application.  WinMerge has many helpful supporting features that make comparing, synchronizing, and merging as easy and useful as possible. Several programming languages and other file formats are syntax-highlighted.

WinMerge is a free, open source utility and is available from the WinMerge project web site.

Sysinternals Suite

Whether you’re an admin, engineer or a developer, you’ll find Sysinternals utilities an invaluable set of tools to help manage, troubleshoot and diagnose your Windows systems and applications.  The suite is comprised of over 60 individual tools and provided free of charge by Microsoft.  Available utilities cover all areas of server operations, including networking, security, process and memory utilization, and file and disk management.

Sysinternals can be downloaded the Microsoft’s Sysinternals web page.

WinSCP

WinSCP is an open source SFTP, SCP, FTPS, and FTP client for Windows. Used primarily for the file transfer between a local and a remote computer, WinSCP is also very useful and stable when transferring larger amounts of data via FTP or SCP.  Additionally, WinSCP offers scripting and basic file manager functionality allowing for easy “drag and drop” manipulation of files.  Files can be edited and file permissions can be set and changed directly from the application interface.

When using WinSCP, the user interface can be configured to operate similar to either Windows Explorer or Norton Commander, and can be customized depending on the preferences of the user.

WinSCP can be downloaded from the WinSCP website.

Being an effective consultant requires technical knowledge and having the right tools.  While there are certainly many more useful tools and utilities available to enhance the technical ability of a consultant, those listed here have proven their usefulness in a large number of occasions when in-depth troubleshooting and rapid response is in order.

By combining these tools and the proper amount of preparation you can enhance your effectiveness as an IT consultant and bring your clients technical issues to a speedy and effective resolution.

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