Remote management shrinks the globe

Stand-alone remote Windows management tools save IT pros hours of labor and their bosses thousands of dollars in travel bills. Three pros tell us what software they use -- not pcAnywhere -- and why. Convenient and efficient, yes, but there is one caveat -- you could lose out on a free trip to a cool place.

When IT Manager Chris McNally started his job five months ago, one of the first things his boss said was, "Hop on a plane to Amsterdam, and repair our server out there."

Though McNally would have liked to travel abroad, he knew he didn't need to. Instead, he hopped online at headquarters in San Diego, bought a remote administration application, and in a few days he had cleaned up the server in the Amsterdam office -- from his cube in Southern California. His IT predecessor had botched a migration from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 Server. "It was a mess," McNally said.

No question about it, remote management has been a godsend for IT pros managing Windows desktops and servers. What used to be half hour support phone calls with users now only take a few minutes with pros remotely taking control of PCs, leaving users happily uninvolved. In this story, three IT pros share what applications work best for them.

Many options

The remote management software market is relatively small with room for many competitors, and the dominance of Symantec's pcAnywhere is waning, analysts say. The market will grow from $351 million in 2000 to $402 million worldwide by 2005, according to a report from International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass. consulting firm.

Among the many stand-alone remote Windows management tools are Altiris' Carbon Copy Solution, Danware Data's NetOp Remote Control, Netopia's Timbuktu and Sunbelt Software's Remote Administrator. These and others are out to steal market share from longtime leader Symantec, according to Gartner Group.

"For a long time, pcAnywhere was the way you did it," said Roger Otterson, president and founder of Qualitec, a three-person IT consulting shop in San Diego. "It's starting to lose its appeal. There are so many ways of doing this now. There's competition."

These days Otterson uses pcAnywhere to enter customer networks that are older and don't have Windows 2000 Server. Once in a network, he switches to NetMeeting, originally a teleconferencing tool that came with Windows 2000 and ships with Windows XP. NetMeeting can't match the feature set of pcAnywhere, he said, but it fits his need to gain full control of user desktops and is a mature, solid application.

San Diego to Amsterdam

McNally supports 40 users, including salespeople who travel throughout Asia, Latin America and North America and a six-person office in Amsterdam. He works for Seating Concepts, a San Diego company which manufactures and sells auditorium seating around the world.

McNally rarely walks users through problems over the phone. Because Amsterdam is nine hours ahead of San Diego, McNally can spend his mornings maintaining that office's PCs after employees have left for the day. He routinely defragments hard drives and configures Amsterdam PCs for different printers, sometimes for printers in San Diego, using Sunbelt Software's Remote Administrator.

Netop for this pro

Most of LightPointe Communications' 176 employees work either in Louisville, Colo., and Dresden, Germany. Remote management software allows senior network engineer Albert Borquez to check on servers and support desktop users from his office in LightPointe's San Diego headquarters. LightPointe is a free-space optics firm that brings high-speed Internet access right to the customer's door. The company uses laser technology to provide bandwith for voice, video and data.

Borqez supports users with NetOp Remote Control by Danware Data. Borquez prefers NetOp because he said he thinks it's easy to use and installs security software on both his workstation and user PCs.

Occasionally Borquez uses the telephone to walk users through application installations and printer setups, but mostly he uses remote management software to take over a user workstation. It saves time and avoids further tech problems.

"Over the phone users can get lost, confused, and next thing you know their computer is totally hosed," Borquez said. With remote management software, "you're in and out of there in 10 minutes, instead of hanging on the phone for 45 minutes."

Pros bench pcAnywhere

Before settling on NetOp, Borquez tried RealVNC, but he said the open-source software's password system was too easy to crack. And despite that fact that he believes that pcAnywhere has a decent interface, Borquez found during a trial period that the tool had too many extra features. He wanted to be able to take control of a user's desktop quickly and easily.

McNally of Seating Concepts also used to go with pcAnywhere. He switched to Sunbelt Remote Administrator two years ago after using Symantec's software for five years. Sunbelt Remote Administrator has similar features but is easier on CPUs than pcAnywhere, he said.

McNally said that he can program [Active Directory] Group Policy to install Sunbelt Remote Administrator when a user logs onto the network for the first time. Installation takes about a minute. PcAnywhere is just too big of an application to use with Group Policy, McNally said.

Applications like Sunbelt Remote Administrator have virtually eliminated his trips abroad. McNally still thinks about how remote management software foiled a no-questions-asked trip to Europe to repair a Windows server. "I cheated myself out of a trip to Amsterdam," he said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Best Web Links on Windows 2000 administration, tools and utilities

Got a question about management issues or disk fragmentation? Ask Frank Alperstaedt, our expert.

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