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Analyst: Right tools, people and policies keys to success in Windows-centric world

In the Windows-centric world we live in, you really must have the right tools to succeed. There are a lot to pick from, but which ones are right for you? Before you buy anything, you need to ask lots of questions. We asked Gartner Research Director Ronni Colville what some of those questions are at Gartner's Windows 2000 and Beyond, Riding the Microsoft Roller Coaster conference in Los Angeles.

What are specific criteria that companies should use for selecting management tools?
There really is no such thing as an all-Microsoft shop. And it isn't realistic to have one. Although MS recognizes that it has to fit into a heterogeneous world of computing, it will not develop solutions to manage such an environment because its core competency is software platforms not applications. Consequently, the tools people choose to manage the desktops in their enterprises should be tools that serve their own gods, not the MS god because at the end of the day, MS will always be focused on MS. So what kind of guideline does an IT department use to decide which vendor and tool is right for them?
If you're guided primarily by budget considerations, the answer is pretty much predetermined. If you have $20-$40 budgeted per desktop, you cannot look beyond the suite vendor market. Most framework vendors, for example, charge upwards of $200 per desktop! If you're guided by scalability, you can look at all three segments. Finally, if you're guided by support for the Wintel platform, you can look at the suites guys and a couple of the points solutions vendors. But each tool behaves differently - some do better jobs with granular updates than others. What are specific criteria that companies should use for selecting management tools?
For the desktop, which is my area of expertise, there are three product types and solution providers to consider: First, framework vendors, that offer tools that go beyond desktop management with a broad set of solutions focused on network and systems. Frameworks tools have proven scalability, but they are complex to implement and require significant staffing resources. Second, suites vendors that offer suites of desktop management tools. These tools focus on providing out-of-the-box, one-stop-shopping solutions for small and midsize enterprises, but lack robust capability for heterogeneous platforms. Third are point solution vendors that focus on delivering robust tools with unique differentiators. Many of these tools address scalability but are still maturing their technology. Some of these vendors add remote control, so they can look like a suite player at the end of the day. We expect suite and framework vendors will continue to be market share leaders, but they will offer solutions that rarely provide best-of-breed capability. Is there a difference in management tools for desktops and laptops?
es, definitely. Mobile users have special infrastructure requirements. With laptops, you need to look at tools that manage bandwidth and, for example, keep your apps "polite." In other words, while I'm writing an important Word document, will the file I'm downloading at the same time interrupt my work, or do its thing quietly without bothering me? Do you need compression techniques? These are just a couple of questions you need to be asking. You predict that by 2003, Windows 2000's Active Directory will be a major source for desktop management solutions and also a major component of management solutions. What specifically did you mean by that?
Active Directory, among other things, gives a user his/her identity and recognizes which policies and privileges that particular user is entitled to. Today you have to do all this manually - but Active Directory will automate the process and make it much more efficient. That will figure substantially into how enterprises manage their desktop infrastructures. Of course, an Active Directory deployment is a complex process, and for companies embarking on it, the process will probably get worse before it gets better. Win2k is a compelling reason to get with AD. Getting there won't be fun or easy, but it will be worth it. What are some of the technical differentiators?
Enterprises can find that out by asking questions like what kinds of apps does the tool support -- shrink-wrapped or homegrown? Are there browser-based users involved? Do products do checkpoint restart? What kind of "differencing" do they offer? How do they roll apps back to prior versions? Those are just a few of the questions to consider. The specs for these tools tend to be very long. Why is the failure rate so high for enterprises using automated software distribution tools?
Our research shows that the rapid pace of change in platform software will cause 40% of midsize enterprises using automated software distribution tools to fail. There are two main reasons for this. Midsize companies (those with 500-5000 clients) don't understand how to manage diverse desktop environments or how to set limits on individual configurations and access to specific applications. The second reason is that they are willing to reduce headcount for the sake of automation. And you just can't do that. The three keys to success are choosing the right tool, having the right staff, and having the right policies and processes in place.

Ronni Colville is a research director with Gartner's Research Organization in the Database and Systems group. Her area of research is desktop software configuration. Ms. Colville spent 10 years as a senior networking specialist at IBM before joining Gartner.


SearchWin2000 Best Web Links on systems management

Pose a question to our SearchWin2000 expert on administration, William Bosell How should companies plan their AD rollout to take advantage of its desktop management functionality?
As you plan your AD rollout, you need to figure how you're going to manage the desktops relative to your AD architecture. Various factors will impact this. And you must consider how AD will work with your desktop management tools.

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