New Altiris tool expands Windows management capabilities

A new Altiris tool promises to improve collection and management features in Windows environments. Will it deliver? A user and analyst weigh in.

Anything that can help IT executives keep tabs on what their users are loading onto remote desktops, and not cost a fortune, stands a pretty good chance of receiving a warm welcome from this audience.

Altiris Inc. is hoping to score some points with a new software module that improves collection and management features in Windows environments. Altiris said its Application Management Solution, released at Microsoft's Management Summit this week, provides some support for Microsoft's Windows Installer.

The Altiris software reads and interrogates information installed on Windows machines and scans for problems on a proactive basis, said Poul Nielsen, vice president for product strategy at Lindon, Utah-based Altiris. Missing or changed files are repaired automatically. Information is reported to either Altiris management systems or to Microsoft's Server Management System (SMS). The software costs $11 per 100 nodes, Nielsen said.

The Application Management Solution is part of a broader suite of software from Altiris that handles a range of problems from migration deployment to asset management. In the case of the Application Management Solution, the software can be used as an adjunct to SMS, which is an inventory system that can roll out software to new servers. The software can also be used as a standalone product, according to Nielsen.

One division at Abbott Laboratories, the Chicago-based health care and research company, has a large installed base of Windows, and also uses some of the Altiris management suite. Cory Hopple, a network analyst at the company's Ross Products division, which makes baby formula and adult nutritional drinks, said that though the company hasn't installed the Application Management Solution yet. Looking to the future, however, he expects the inventory management piece will help the IT staff keep an eye on what employees have loaded on their individual PCs.

Hopple said it will help identify and fix problems more quickly, particularly if someone installs a game that overwrites a DLL, or if someone installing a program that causes problems for another application.

"It's definitely a Big Brother application," Hopple said. "But when you are talking about hundreds of machines, anyone can bring in a disk or CD and modify the way it runs."

Hopple said the company had used SMS version 2.0 but had removed the software because it was "freezing up" PCs. Another reason the company now uses Altiris is it cost roughly 30 to 40 percent less than the SMS package, he said.

"Buying Altiris with all the add-ons was about the same cost as getting SMS, and with SMS I would have had to buy the Altiris add on," he said.

Fred Broussard, a senior research analyst at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, said Altiris has emerged as a top management vendor in recent years largely through exposure it gets from co-development and marketing agreements it has with Compaq Computer Corp.

Though Microsoft's SMS offers remote control, inventory management and software distribution features, Altiris has a broader line of software that includes those features, plus a settings management and configuration management feature, comprehensive help desk support and a feature to help manage software licensing, Broussard said.

In addition to Microsoft's SMS, other companies with similar products are Managesoft Corp., Nashua, N.H., Veritas Software Corp., Mountain View, Calif., and Novadigm Inc., Mahwah, N.J.

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