Management tools help Mac usage at enterprises

Vendors bring Macintosh management features closer to par with Windows admin capabilities

As a senior technical support analyst at Harcourt, Randy Rowles is happy that he gets to manage the educational publisher's 1,000 or so Macintosh systems -- perhaps even a little smug, as Mac afficionados can be, about how the stability and ease of use of the systems makes his job so easy.

And with fewer Mac technicians needed than on the Windows side of the house, "our TCO from a support standpoint has always been lower," Rowles said, referring to total cost of ownership.

But Rowles confesses to long feeling "a bit of envy" toward his Windows counterparts for one thing that they had and he didn't: a plethora of powerful but easy-to-use tools for administering systems.

"It's always been an area of contention -- like, 'How come THEY get this nifty tool?'" said Rowles, who works in Harcourt's Orlando office.

He noted that going back several years, the company's Windows systems administrators were able to centrally manage its 4,000 PCs, automating tasks such as tracking software licenses, enforcing group policies, and remotely deploying new software and patches. Meanwhile, Rowles and the other Mac admins were denied that luxury.

Rowles said that to track software licenses and updates on Macs, "we mainly relied on good record keeping -- spreadsheets." And then actually deploying software or a patch "was a big pain in the butt. We would have to physically go from Mac to Mac to install software."

At the time, using Apple's own Apple Remote Desktop tool to manage Macs was "possible, though not efficient," he added.

The times they have a-changed

But fast forward to today, and the picture is different.

Switching to Intel chips has made the Mac more competitive with PCs on price/performance measurements, while virtualization and the shift toward Web-based applications are rendering software incompatibility issues largely moot.

And in response to increased Mac sales overall as well as among some business users, management tools vendors are boosting their cross-platform capabilities and bringing their Mac administration features closer to par with their Windows capabilities.

For instance, LANDesk Software on Tuesday rolled out Version 8.8 of its namesake suite of management tools. The South Jordan, Utah-based company said its software now lets IT administrators remotely control Macs from a PC running Windows Vista, and take more detailed inventories of their Macintosh systems and the software residing on them.

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