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Clear Choice Test

PC life-cycle management

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Ultimate endpoint management tools

LANDesk, Altiris, Zenworks lead the way in five-vendor test

By Frank Ohlhorst, Network World
November 22, 2010 12:05 AM ET

Network World - Desktop virtualization, Web apps, software as a service, and an increasingly mobile user base have created new challenges when it comes to endpoint management. Nonetheless, there are still some constants – endpoints need to be deployed, configured, patched, secured and supported.

Check out the results of the test in a scorecard.

With that in mind, we tested five PC asset management packages: Symantec's Altiris Client Management Suite, Novell Zenworks 10, LANDesk Management Suite, ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority and Dell's Kace appliance. (Watch a slideshow of these products.)  

The tools we tested share many similarities. For the most part, they combine inventory, policy management, remote control, application provisioning and reporting into a single, cohesive management application. All use a client/server model with a software agent installed on the endpoint and a server application installed on a network server or appliance.

However, there are differences that define each product.

* Dell's Kace comes in appliance form, eliminating much of the setup work and minimizing disruption to the network during installation.
* ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority relies heavily on script driven policies to execute tasks and manage events.
* Symantec's Altiris Client Management Suite strives to be a platform for adding additional capabilities, such as endpoint security, advanced backup and network  access control (NAC).
* Novell's Zenworks 10 Configuration Management product is part of a new management architecture designed to manage multiple sites and networks using multiple servers and management zones, making the product highly scalable.
* LANDesk Management Suite has a new integrated management console in front of the company's suite of products to create a PCCLM tool that appears to be more than the sum of its parts.

All of the products have wizards, help screens, technical support and upgrades to support larger and larger enterprises. Novell's Zenworks seemed destined for the largest of networks, with the rest of the products falling somewhere in between.

Our Clear Choice Test winner is LANDesk's Management Suite, which proved to be one of the easiest packages to use and provided excellent documentation and support. Symantec's Altiris CMS 7.0 followed close behind and offered a robust platform for integrating additional products and showed a high level of integration. Novell's Zenworks took the third spot, although a little balky to work with, it offered one of the most robust feature sets available and supported numerous client types and proves to be highly scalable.

The fourth spot went to Dell's Kace K1100, which proved an appliance can be a viable method to quickly deploy an enterprise level application. Dell's guided installation was second to none and the included Webex session really speeded things up. Desktop Authority showed a great deal of promise; all of the main components were there, and powerful scripting capabilities made the product very flexible. However, a product like Desktop Authority takes a commitment and introduces a significant learning curve, which is often the price of flexibility and customization. Finally, 

Here are the individual product reviews:

Product: Altiris Client Management Suite 7.0
Company: Symantec

This product is designed for large heterogeneous enterprise networks and offers a feature set to match, including endpoint discovery, inventory, imaging, patch management, software deployment, endpoint provisioning, remote control and reporting.

Once we dived into CMS, it became very clear that the product is designed around two primary goals – management and support. The product is very heavy into the "life cycle" management portion of monitored devices, focusing on inventory, software licenses and usage. However, that does not detract from the support end of the equation, where CMS offers software and patch management, deployment tools and remote control capabilities.

We were able to quickly deploy the client software to our test systems by using a group policy from our Windows server. Altiris offers clients for all major Windows versions, many Linux endpoints as well as Macintosh PCs.

We were then able to create a comprehensive inventory of devices connected to the network, deploy clients to those devices and then start to manage those devices by pushing out applications, patches, updates and other key elements. We found that the inventory discovery portion of the product was easy to use and identified all of our attached devices using a scan. We also defined additional scans that we could execute to detect new devices as they were added to the network, a handy feature for networks that change a lot over short periods of time.

The product offers the ability to create images of corporate PCs and then deploy those images over the wire to new endpoints, effectively provisioning new devices (and new users) on the corporate network. We found that the imaging application did an effective job of creating base images from a reference PC, however the imaging process can take some time and is affected by available bandwidth, as well as the size of the image. It was also simple to create a policy using a wizard to push the image to a new system, however you may want to create your base image with your primary corporate applications to save a few steps during the provisioning process.

We found that CMS also offers a comprehensive inventory module, which can create reports on every OS, application, and piece of hardware associated with an endpoint. One of our biggest concerns was the troubleshooting and support side of the product, especially because solving problems is one of the biggest time-consuming activities that an administrator has to deal with.

CMS's integrated remote assistance capabilities easily allowed us to take control of remote PCs, chat with users and troubleshoot problems in real-time. We also liked the ability to blank the user's screen, allowing us to fix a system without any questions from the user. Also, we liked the ability to share the screen, which comes in handy to teach a user how to do something or for us to demonstrate a procedure.

Of course, being part of the Symantec family gives Altiris an advantage. Symantec has long developed and sold imaging software, remote control software, patch management software, and inventory management software, which has been integrated into CMS.

Integration of Symantec's various products comes across as seamless, all capabilities have a similar look and feel that transcends menus, help screens and wizards. All of which adds up to a reduced learning curve and a lessened need for vendor tech support. Speaking of which, Symantec offers several support resources, ranging from online community based support to live chat with Symantec engineers, although thanks to the comprehensive documentation, you may never need to use additional support resources.

Installation was not overly complex, just time consuming, thanks to numerous steps and meeting the prerequisites, including a Windows server, .Net infrastructure and SQL Server.

Ease of use is another theme that permeates CMS – most chores are wizard driven or at least feature a step-by-step process that ensures even neophyte administrators should be able to get up and running quickly. We found the wizards comprehensive and easy to understand.

For those looking to follow the Symantec track, there are several other advantages offered by CMS, including the ability to integrate with other Symantec products, such as endpoint security, backup, enterprise life-cycle management and other products and services.

All in all, Altiris Client Management Suite is a good foundation for asset management and can prove to be a good starting point for other management and support capabilities, all while making an administrator's life a little easier.

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