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What system management suites should I consider for my company?

What system management suites should I consider for my company? But first things first.

I am an IT admin for a company with about 150 Windows 98 and XP workstations, some mobile laptops, plus a handful of Windows 2000 servers. The workstations are scattered among 24 remote offices.

Administering these resources can be a nightmare. Inventory, software administration, technical support, etc., are made exponentially more difficult when your assets are spread out over thousands of square miles. Luckily, all these remote locations are connected via 64k frame relay (yes, that's slow, but cheap) in a hub-and-spoke configuration, to the central office.

I have been using remote control software to configure machines. This saves a lot of time, but leaves much to be desired as a solution for the aforementioned administration tasks. I have researched system management suites from companies such as Altiris, Computer Associates, Microsoft, Novadigm, IBM and more. Some of the packages are designed for enterprises with thousands of computers. Prices vary wildly, and all claim to do basically the same things.

I would like to discover which system management solutions (not limited to the above list) could possibly be a good fit for an organization the size of mine. Thank you for your consideration.
Microsoft is usually the best place to start, although it is hardly the only thing to use. From there I would recommend looking into Altiris' Asset Management Suite, which allows you to do things such as track program installations vs. actual program usage. The MS solution, because it is "native" to Windows, is a good place to start for a relatively small organization.

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