SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - The internet has not only propelled rapid and radical changes in the way we communicate, but it has also significantly altered how enterprises are able to deploy mission-critical applications.
For example, instead of sending system administrators from desktop to desktop to manually install and update mail clients, word processors, spreadsheets, and other applications for users, corporations can simply post the software on an intranet or extranet and let users download files and perform the installations themselves. Even better, corporations can use Marimba Inc.'s Castanet to install software on desktops automatically throughout the enterprise.
Castanet not only delivers applications and documents to remote desktops, but it also automatically updates just those parts of applications and data files that have changed. As a result, it cuts desktop support costs, reduces calls to the help desk, and frees up bandwidth on constrained networks. A recent upgrade, Castanet 4.5, gives administrators more flexibility when packaging and distributing programs and data, improves the underlying delivery infrastructure, and offers IT staff better ways to inventory software installed throughout the corporation. With its strong distribution and management foundation, as well as its Internet-savvy features to support e-commerce, Castanet 4.5 received a score of Excellent.
Castanet's core components include a server called the Transmitter and a client application called the Tuner. The Transmitter delivers applications and data, or channels, to users' desktops. The Tuner allows end-users to subscribe to and run those channels.
Setting up my test Windows 2000 Advanced Server infrastructure was fast and straightforward. Within an hour, I'd run the Castanet Installer and subscribed to channels that let me access the publishing and administration modules of this Java-based suite. After a few more minutes, I finished creating a custom version of the installer that let members of my organization subscribe to channels delivered by my test Transmitter.
Of course, I needed to build business content for those channels, a task that let me exercise Castanet 4.5's new application packaging capabilities. I used well-designed property sheets to specify what happens when software is loaded on users' PCs. For example, by setting installation policies, I made sure that Castanet only installed a particular DLL file if the existing one was older.
Additionally, administrators can now define prerequisites, such as minimum disk space, or run scripts or macros before or after an installation.
Although Windows 2000 applications have more intricate installation requirements than previous Windows applications, the Packaging module handled them with ease.
Castanet accurately tracked DLL and Registry changes when I loaded a custom program on workstations running Windows 2000 Professional.
Application, repair thyself
Castanet 4.5 offers several auto-repair options, which should help reduce hands-on work by support staff. The Verify/Repair deployment option, which checks if the application or content update was successful, is particularly useful for users of iffy dial-up network connections. To test Verify/Repair, I purposely disconnected a download session; at the next log-in, Castanet automatically found the corrupted DLL files and re-sent them.
What's more, the Undo and Rollback features let IT administrators reinstall the last version of an application or revert to a specific previous version, respectively. These options, as well as the Verify/Repair option, worked great.
Castanet is inherently scalable; growing organizations can support additional applications simply by creating new channels, and they can support additional users simply by rolling out more Transmitters. Version 4.5 improves this scalability in two ways. First, it allows you to deploy in stages. For example, I created a development Transmitter in which several applications were tested by a small group of users. Afterward, the channel was sent to a staging Transmitter for final approval, and then ultimately published as a channel on a production Transmitter. Second, you can now create proxy Transmitters to securely distribute content outside your firewall.
Easy asset management
Castanet 4.5 significantly improves channel publishing. For instance, it allowed me to exclude certain users in a group from receiving an application revision. Conversely, Castanet used information gathered from the Inventory module to make sure every user who had an older version of an application received a critical update.
In the end, Castanet 4.5 gets applications and changes into the hands of employees and customers with little or no work on the part of IT staff or end-users. Improved deployment controls help ensure error-free installations while asset management assists IT groups in maintaining correct versions across an enterprise or client base. This upgrade makes Castanet even harder to resist for corporations that must keep large numbers of remote desktops up-to-date.
Mike Heck (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing editor at InfoWorld and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys Corp., in Blue Bell, Pa.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
Business Case: Castanet automatically distributes applications and documents, helping to lower desktop support costs, open new revenue opportunities through software e-sales, and build better client relationships.
Technology Case: Version 4.5 gives system administrators more installation options, application-repairing capabilities, better scalability, and more subscription options to control file distribution.
+ Multiple application packaging and installation options+ Can undo installations and perform rollbacks+ Distributed server architecture+ Asset inventory databaseCons:
- None significant
Cost: Approximately $250 per client
Platform(s): Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95/98; Sun Solaris 2.5.1 or 2.6; HP-UX 10.20; IBM AIX 4.1.5 or laterMarimba Inc., Mountain View, Calif.; (888) 800-5444; www.marimba.com.