Software management consoles proliferate, but will they all get along?

Windows administrators may find themselves eyeing more than one management console as Microsoft and Symantec add views to their security suites.

Software management consoles are popular with Windows administrators because they can monitor and control applications from one screen. But as consoles are added to more security suites, experts tell IT managers to watch for potential integration problems.

While they provide an "at-a-glance" picture of a process or application, not all consoles work well and they don't all work together, according to Eric Maiwald,

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a senior analyst at Burton Group, a research company based in Midvale, Utah.

While consoles have been a part of Microsoft's products, like the Systems Management Server, or SMS, and now Windows Server Update Services, or WSUS, other vendors and Microsoft are adding consoles to a lot of other products like security suites.

"I think when there is a management console, sometimes it is an afterthought," Maiwald said. "It's along the lines of 'we have this really cool technology,' let's say it's data leakage prevention. Then they realize they need something to manage it, so they'll develop a console."

While his criticism is aimed more often at smaller companies that realize late in the product development cycle that they haven't included management features, consoles in general end up being a "poor stepchild" sometimes. "Certainly not in all cases, but in some cases," he said.

Microsoft recently released its Forefront Server Security Management Console, which helps Windows IT administrators manage both Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront for SharePoint, the company's email and collaboration servers, respectively.

Although the potential for problems exists when using multiple consoles, Jonathan Wynn, a senior analyst in the strategic capacity and planning division of Del Monte Foods Co., said the recent installation of Microsoft Forefront Server Security Management Console is coexisting with its WSUS console with no problems.

Wynn's team oversees most of Del Monte's IT work from the company's Pittsburgh facility, although Del Monte Foods is based in San Francisco.

Wynn said his IT team likes the way the Forefront console gives them a good view of both its Exchange and SharePoint applications. It helped them track down an Exchange Server at one of the company's South American facilities, which they didn't even know they had.

And Symantec Corp. recently released Endpoint Protection 11.0, which includes multiple antivirus and antispam technologies and the option of including its Network Access Control 11.0. In addition, Endpoint Protection features a console so IT managers can monitor and control those technologies.

Robert Hampton, director of operations/information services for ValleyCrest Companies, a large landscaping company based in Calabasas, Calif., likes the centralized management functions that Endpoint Protection 11.0 gives him to push out updates and force scans of the system when necessary, but he has no conflicting consoles that might cause problems.

Maiwald said some consoles may oversee two different functions, but those functions are not necessarily integrated. As a result, each function has data that can't really be shared to form a clearer picture of what's going on.

And some companies are large enough to necessitate different teams that take care of separate functions, separating management from security. For example, at First American Corp., a financial services firm with 44,000 employees, since teams do different jobs, they use different consoles. But Jeff Jenkins, a vice president of information security at First American, is unaware of any incompatibility issues that have arisen.

"We have multiple event managers or consoles but they're all monitored by different teams," Jenkins said. The consoles provide the different teams with consolidated views in their specialty, such as security or management, he said, while providing analysis of what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of feedback.

It's that convenience of one place to monitor and view, along with the analysis of lots of data, that makes management consoles attractive to IT managers.

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