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Dos & don'ts: Keep desktops from blowing up networks

Take one networked desktop. Add a renegade user. Mix in a few fun downloads. Leave unmanaged for a week or two. That's your recipe for disaster.

A little virus lives on one. A new PDA has been docked on another. That one's heading out the door under a terminated employee's arm.

Desktops aren't as sexy as the heavy metal in the server room. So hardly anyone knows when an IT manager is diligent about desktop management. If that IT manager slacks off on this job, however, everyone will find out soon enough. That little virus can take down the network. That PDA can capture sensitive information. The stolen laptop, and the money the company spent on it, is gone forever.

"The desktop getting out of control can affect a whole organization," said Russ Rive, founder of Fremont, Calif.-based desktop management service provider Everdream Corp.

How does an administrator corral and tame scores of unruly desktops? In the dos and don'ts tips below, Rive and Gary Griffiths, Everdream's CEO, offer some answers to that question.

Do attend to daily desktop management duties.

"Yes, they're not rewarding tasks," Griffiths said. "No one really knows you're doing them. But they sure find out fast when you haven't."

For example, if one desktop's virus control updates aren't done, the omission can wreak havoc on the whole network.

Do track changes in all desktops carefully.

Most organizations have multiple hardware and software configurations, a variety of user accounts and types with varying control requirements, and an ongoing need for updates. If you fail to document what happens in all of these arenas, you could waste time and money on redundant processes and purchases. Also, users in the organization may not have the resources they require to perform their jobs.

Measure changes in such activities as desktop system setup and configuration and software installation and upgrades, Rive said. By doing so, network administrators can ascertain IT operational efficiency and the ROI of desktop management processes and tools.

Don't ignore asset management.

Asset management doesn't just apply to a company's desks and trucks. Tracking hardware and software inventories carefully can give administrators greater control over network resources. If a company is tracking its IT assets, help desk personnel will have the information about the desktop on hand when problems occur, Rive said. They can diagnose and solve problems without users having to answer technical questions about their profiles or hardware configurations.

Tracking assets carefully is essential for companies with remote offices, Griffiths said. He recalled a company whose remote office workers were buying software and hardware and budgeting those purchases as "miscellaneous" expenses. The company's IT budget tallies were inaccurate, and theft of untracked IT merchandise was a problem.

Do regular desktop hardware and software audits.

It is difficult to track large numbers of PCs and their associated problems, yet this data is valuable in assessing the cost of ownership and management, Rive said. Having an accurate record of what has been done to each system is valuable for planning, troubleshooting, auditing and control.

Remember, said Griffiths, that failure to track software licenses can lead to paying for more licenses than your company is using or not paying for all the licenses being used. In the latter case, the company could be subject to fines if a vendor's audit reveals the discrepancy.

Do keep a tight rein on downloads.

If users are free to download files from the Internet, they can introduce viruses to the system, causing havoc in an organization, Rive said. With adequate virus protection, the administrator can quickly and easily add updates to existing virus software and apply fixes to computers when virus scares occur.

Do centralize management.

Create a single point of access to monitor, manage and maintain your entire distributed infrastructure. This approach gives greater control over logical and physical devices and applications, Rive said. By centralizing desktop management and control, network administrators gain the ability to scale operations and manage disparate operations centers.


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