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Remote management tools can save support time

A bank CTO no longer has to drive around Colorado tending to workstations, and a help desk technician at a Canadian hospital crosses her fingers for similar results.

Basil Blume, CTO at Centennial Bank of the West in Fort Collins, Colo., groaned when he recalled how he and his staff had to upgrade the bank's financial software system on 150 Windows workstations spread among nine branches.

The job took Blume and two others more than 40 hours of work one weekend. Simply driving between any two of the bank's branches in northern Colorado took about 30 minutes. "It was a tremendous amount of work to physically go to each computer," Blume said.

That was in March 2001. This year was different. Blume and his staff just completed another annual upgrade of the bank's financial software system, which was developed by Monett, Mo.-based Jack Henry & Associates Inc. Blume used Vector Networks Ltd.'s PC-Duo Enterprise Remote Control to upgrade 225 machines and 20 servers, and it took three people six hours total.

High hopes

Those are the kind of improvements technical support analyst Sherry Newell is hoping for in the tech support department of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Newell plans to deploy Remote Control this month. She anticipates the remote management software will reduce by one-third the time it takes for her staff to resolve typical tech problems.

As it is now, only one tech staffer is usually in the office, and the other seven are helping users at their desks. The tech support department receives up to 150 calls per day, and admins regularly traverse the hospital campus, which is the size of a city block.

Newell expects Remote Control will allow half the staff to be in the office helping users remotely, which will allow them to resolve issues sooner.

The time the software can potentially save the hospital is huge. The eight admins support 1,500 PCs that are shared by 2,500 users, as well as 45 servers, said Jack White, the hospital's systems and network manager.

"We're looking to be even more productive," White said.

The desktops run Windows 95, 98 and 2000, and the servers run Windows NT 4.0, 2000 and a variety of other operating systems, including HP-UX and SCO Unix and Linux.

The remote software also will allow certain hospital employees to work at home, because now, if they get stuck with a computer problem off-site, admins can help.

Too many road trips

Admins have quite a few choices when it comes to standalone remote Windows management tools; they include Altiris' Carbon Copy Solution, Danware Data's NetOp Remote Control, Netopia's Timbuktu and Sunbelt Software's Remote Administrator. These and others are out to steal market share from longtime leader Symantec Corp., according to Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc.

Centennial Bank's Blume decided on Remote Control one month after spending that weekend in 2001 driving from branch to branch to manually upgrade machines.

Blume passed on open-source freeware VNC (not enough control of the desktop) and Symantec's pcAnywhere (too pricey) before deciding on Vector Networks' Remote Control. At the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Newell had also considered pcAnywhere but judged it too slow for user support. The hospital support staff already uses pcAnywhere to work remotely with its servers.

Since Blume made the change at the bank, he has used the software for day-to-day support issues. In the past, he played telephone tag with users, only to end up helping them in person 80% of the time. Often, this meant driving to other bank branches.

"I racked up a lot of miles on my car," Blume said.


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