FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - Desktop management tools have traditionally gone a long way in alleviating the aches and pains associated with heavy-duty sneaker networking. But the current trend is to extend centralized desktop management's reach into the realm of automated software distribution, application healing and desktop policy management.
Point products, such as Motive Communications Inc.'s Solo and Novadigm Inc.'s Radia, and suites of desktop management tools, such as Novell Inc.'s ZENworks 2.0 and Microsoft Corp.'s System Management Server (SMS) 2.0, let network administrators use a central management console instead of having to touch all the company's desktops whenever a problem arises. You can now use these tools to push software out to mobile users, remotely heal applications on distributed desktops and set policy-based controls that lock down desktops.
But in spite of these significant gains, there is still no desktop management suite on the market that offers all the administrative features on a network administrator's' growing list. On the other hand, there is good news here: As more desktop hardware and software manufacturers and management tool vendors implement standards such as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), Common Interface Model (CIM) and Desktop Management Interface (DMI), mixing and matching the tools you need to get the job done should soon be possible.
Pushing the software envelope Improving desktop application quality and availability while reducing support costs is the primary focus of software distribution tools.
In addition to pushing software out to desktops on local networks, administrators can now use products such as Marimba's Castanet and Novadigm's Radia to extend software distribution beyond the firewall in order to support mobile and remote users.
Additionally, an increasing number of vendors are using the built-in capability of browsers to push software updates to customers, who in turn can implement these updates on their own time.
Administrators also need application-healing tools that can be deployed to remote workstations. Healing tools will automatically fix applications corrupted when an end user inadvertently deletes necessary application files.
Products on the market that address this area are Motive Communication's Solo and Serena Software's Detect+Resolve Desktop.
These healing tools protect applications in a manner similar to how data is protected by backup/restore utilities by reimaging application registries and files on workstations across the enterprise from a help desk. Healing tools reduce your total cost of ownership in saved dispatch calls. Unfortunately, no desktop management suite comes equipped with specialized healing software yet.
Another emerging trend is an underlying integration between desktop management and directory services. This integration lets you set one policy for installing or updating software for individuals or groups of users. In a stricter sense, policy management can be used to lock down desktop configurations so users will not be able to load any software onto their machines that is not approved by the network administrator.
Novell's ZENworks suite taps into Novell Directory Services to accomplish policybased management. Microsoft's desktop management suite, SMS, doesn't offer policy-based management. However, SMS can be used with Windows 2000's IntelliMirror feature, which taps into Active Directory to offer similar functionality.
Vendors are also starting to offer automated hardware and software inventory services, including the ability to keep tabs on in-house applications. One differentiating factor of inventory management is how these products determine what's sitting out there on all your desktops. ZENworks checks the software signature files in its SQL database and compares those to what is actually installed on the desktops. Other products check the software version information from the desktop itself. The latter provides the most accurate accounting of what is on that desktop.
Having centralized access to detailed inventory data is vital to planning upgrades and application rollouts. This data is often the starting point for many other management tasks, such as dealing with software licensing issues.
Software metering tools use inventory data to help determine patterns of usage.
With this knowledge, you can ensure that the right applications are available to the right people and prioritize hardware and software upgrades. Metering also saves you money by ensuring license compliance. Metering software sets the number of concurrent users, allows license sharing across servers, performs queuing of users once the license is exceeded and notifies a user once an application becomes available. SMS, ZENworks, LANDesk Management Suite and DTA all offer metering functions.
Remote control software lets network managers or help desk technicians analyze problems on remote workstations and then take control of the client machine to correct the problem. It can also be used to complete routine maintenance tasks such as disk grooming, defragmentation, backups and software updates. HP's DTA is integrated with Symantec's pcAnywhere, which uses minimal bandwidth to offer this remote control functionality. ZENworks, LANDesk Management Suite and Tivoli's IT Director 2.1 also offer remote control functions.
SMS expands on the idea of remote control with a new feature called HealthMon that lets you remotely diagnose Microsoft server problems. With this tool, you can set warning levels and error thresholds for various server applications, services and properties, such as server work queues and security.
While you can't use a single desktop management product to support mobile and remote users, conduct license metering, control desktops remotely, heal applications, lock down desktops and automate inventory, a combination of tools will help you cover your needs and save money. Emerging standards such as LDAP, CIM, XML and DMI will make future desktop management tools interoperate even better. This future integration may eventually enable you to hang up your sneakers for good - or at least let you save them for the gym.