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Labor-saving management tips

Too many management tools, too little time to manage them? Altiris CTO Dwain Kinghorn offers tips and shortcuts that can help you increase your management productivity.

Are you up to your neck in applications, hardware, databases, operating systems and hot fixes? Then, you're not alone, according to Altiris CTO Dwain Kinghorn. Most Windows administrators are using a hodgepodge of management tools and lack an integrated system or cohesive management strategy, he said.

SearchWindowsManageability caught up with Kinghorn at last week's Microsoft Management Summit, and he offered his views what IT managers can do improve their overall systems management processes. Lindon, Utah-based Altiris makes products to manage the IT lifecycle.

SWM: What are the biggest problem Windows administrators run into with their current systems management processes?

Their biggest problem is they have too many tools and systems without a good integrated system or picture of the whole problem set. They've got operating system components, things done in-house and things from a variety of different vendors. Then, they have help desks within organizations, asset managers, help desk personnel, and network managers. So, the real challenge is how to tie in all these different areas of responsibility and not be overwhelmed by 16 different databases and 16 different user interfaces all doing similar but non-integrated functions.

SWM: What's the end-user's role to help IT managers administer an IT environment effectively?

The best thing a manager can do is not involve the user at all in any management process. Users machines perform a business function, they don't assist IT managers as a managed business asset. Administrators should provide management services in a way that's completely invisible to the end-user. That said, there is one area of overlap, which is providing self-help capabilities to the end-user. An example is that the administrator has a lot of data of events that have happened previously in their environment. That data makes it easier for the end-user to have access and help themselves in some common, simple issues. These include: Why isn't this document printing? Why can't I get into the VPN from home? How do I check e-mail when I'm on an airplane? System administrators can make that information easily searchable and indexable for the end-users.

SWM: What's going on in systems management security right now?

One of the biggest challenges with Windows are virus attacks. It's keeping on top of what's on all machines and ensuring that they're configured so they're not vulnerable to the known set of viruses. Network administrators may know what the vulnerability is but they have a challenge of converting that into their machines and ensuring that those patches are installed. They need to get a confirmation that all those security holes have been plugged.

SWM: What are some tips to keep that security process smooth?

A very thorough, comprehensive inventory database is a foundation component of any successful systems management strategy. You can't effectively know what your vulnerabilities are unless you have a deep understanding of what all the service packs, hot fixes, OSes, and application versions that exist on your network. You can go out and apply a service pack update but you must first know where all your machines are and what their current state is.

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Although this article focuses on what practices IT and end users can adopt, the first point highlights a benefit to technology companies playing copycat with user interface. If sacrificing originality means users spend less time adjusting to jarring changes in look and feel and use technology more often, that's a win.