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Desktop management tools: How suite it is

More companies are opting for desktop management tool suites rather than using multiple tools from different vendors. Here, two IT pros share their experiences with the suite route.

To effectively manage desktop systems, organizations often deploy multiple tools from different vendors to perform myriad functions, such as desktop configuration, asset tracking, patch management, software delivery and license management. Increasingly, however, companies are opting for desktop management suites that provide a broad set of integrated tools to handle most or all of these tasks.

Here is how two organizations deployed leading desktop management suites.

EFW Inc. opts for CA's Desktop DNA
EFW Inc., in Fort Worth, Texas, a defense and aerospace electronics manufacturer, has 1,500 desktop systems in the U.S. and six people to deliver first-level support. Before it adopted Computer Associates International Inc.'s Desktop DNA, it tried to manage these desktops by hand.

"We were running our behinds off," recalled Harry Butler, solution center manager. Software upgrades proved particularly troublesome and generated user complaints, he added.

The biggest complaints revolved around the look and feel of the users' desktop. Users would spend hours tweaking their systems so the windows and menus were exactly to their liking. But when the company upgraded the software, that work often was lost.

Today, the EFW support team uses Desktop DNA to take an image of each user's desktop in advance. When they refresh the system, they can restore the user's exact desktop quickly and easily.

"The desktop imaging is a powerful feature. We just send the users an icon when we're about to upgrade their machine. All they do is double click it," Butler said. Their desktop will be refreshed and the users won't realize anything has changed.

EFW also uses CA's asset management tool to track licenses and its software delivery tool to package, deliver and install new software to desktops over the network. Butler is currently testing CA's patch management tool. "It lets us see what versions of patches are available for all the software and then we can decide whether to apply the patch," he explained. Microsoft's patch management tools work for the operating system. "The CA tool is for any software," Butler said.

EFW also needs to manage many versions of Windows. Again, in contrast to Microsoft, "Desktop DNA works with any version of Windows, including Windows 2000 and even Windows 98," Butler said.

Mercy Health Services deploys Altiris Management Suite
The help desk at Mercy Health Services, in Baltimore, supports 1,750 desktops. Although the hospital is slowly migrating to Windows XP, it still supports a large number of Windows 2000 systems and even some Windows 98 systems.

To manage this collection of desktops, the organization turned to the Altiris Inc.'s Management Suite. "We use all their management products," said Matthew Giblin, senior systems analyst. Altiris Client Management Suite enables the support team to deploy desktop images and recover the image in the event of a problem.

For asset and configuration management, Altiris' automated desktop discovery tool found 500 more desktops than the organization realized it had, Giblin recalled. "It identified what subnets they were on. It was a big surprise," he notes.

The key to selecting Altiris, however, is its ability to help the hospital's help desk be proactive. "We needed something that would monitor the desktops, detect failures, generate the help desk ticket and route it to the right person," Giblin said. Officials were particularly impressed with Altiris' predictive capabilities. "It recognized an imminent disk failure and notified us in advance. It created a ticket. A tech imaged the PC and swapped out the user's workstation before it failed. That's the way we like to be proactive," he said.

Now the organization is ready to apply Altiris license and asset management software, which lets it track other information such as leases and warranties. Mercy also uses Altiris for desktop software packaging and deployment.

The key to the Altiris suite, beyond integration with the help desk operation, is inventory management. "Inventory is indispensable. Everything else rides on top of inventory," Giblin said. He can even determine the total cost of ownership of a desktop by looking at trouble tickets for that machine and identifying which combinations of hardware and software create the most problems.

No one-tool suite does everything yet, and most organizations still use some Microsoft tools that come bundled with Windows.

Alan Radding is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. He can be reached at,

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