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Microsoft takes a hit in Forrester desktop rankings

The firm's survey, which evaluated desktop management offerings from Microsoft, BMC, Computer Associates and others, gave high marks to software that offers cross-platform support.

As desktops and mobile clients become more diverse, the ability to manage and secure them -- and provision users with new tools -- goes right to the top of a Windows administrator's to-do list.

But whether Microsoft's Systems Management Server 2003 is the best product to do the job really depends

What is most important is there is no clear winner in the group.

David Friedlander,

Forrester analyst

on an individual corporate environment. According to a recent desktop management software study conducted by Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm, the products that scored the highest were those that offered the best cross-platform support.

Forrester ranked SMS 2003 fifth of seven desktop management products compared, blaming much of its poor showing on SMS's limited platform support. Microsoft is already addressing this issue, as evidenced by its recent investment in Vintela Inc., a startup whose technology extends SMS to Linux and Unix systems.

Forrester evaluated each product using 220 different criteria across eight categories, said Forrester analyst David Friedlander. Among the participants were Altiris Inc., BMC Software Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., LANDesk Software Inc., Microsoft, Novell Inc. and Symantec Corp. IBM Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard Co., which owns Novadigm Inc., were asked to participate but declined.

Vendors ranked in several categories

The categories judged in the survey were architecture, software/OS management, patch management, asset discovery, administration and management, standards and interoperability and market presence.

"What is most important is there is no clear winner in the group," Friedlander said. "No one vendor won all categories and customers may value different things."

BMC's Marimba client ranked highest in architecture, and for having the most robust standards and interoperability features. Architecture refers to how well the product is built for stability, performance and scalability. Symantec's iCommand Suite was the high scorer in terms of the breadth of software/OS management features.

CA gets high marks for patch management

Computer Associates scored highest in terms of the robust patch management and asset discovery in its

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Unicenter Desktop Management Software, and it tied for high score with Altiris Inc., for the quality of its administration and management features. Computer Associates also scored highest in market presence and product support.

Microsoft scored best for having the lowest-cost product. A five-pack client-access license lists for $279 and server licenses are $1,219. There are also steep discounts for customers who have enterprise accounts.

Friedlander said SMS was compared as a standalone product, which was why it scored so low. "In several functional categories, OS platform support was the criteria and if we zeroed that out, then [Microsoft's] score would increase," he said.

SMS and AD go hand in hand

SMS also works best when used with Active Directory, and though it is not required, customers would be ill-advised to deploy SMS without it, he said.

"There are a number of specific things in SMS that leverage Active Directory, and to a lesser extent that is true of [Microsoft Operations Manager]," he said. "For certain customers, SMS may be the best choice, and from a cost perspective, it is the best choice."

In viewing all the products, Friedlander was surprised by how well vendors integrated the core functions for client system management around software deployment, discovery and patch management. "In the past, customers had to use a number of separate products to get the same jobs done, or else they had to do a lot of custom integration," Friedlander said.

But also notable was the fact that none of the vendors whose products were tested offered a decent security management capability. "The products themselves have good features to make sure the products are secure, but one of the pressing needs is dealing with remediation and configuration management, not just patch management," Friedlander said.

There are certainly other vendor products that can help out with those tasks, but as of now, of the vendors that sell management suites, only LANDesk has said it would soon offer a security module that plugs into the rest of its product, Friedlander said.

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