Novell ZENworks hands in a solid client management performance

Novell's ZENworks 10 Configuration Management is a solid, mature desktop manager with several useful features, including asset inventory, license tracking, configuration management, application deployment and remote control. However, ZENworks lacked management capabilities for virtual machines and USB ports.

Novell's ZENworks 10 Configuration Management is a solid, mature desktop manager with several useful features, including asset inventory, license tracking, configuration management, application deployment and remote control. However, ZENworks lacked management capabilities for virtual machines.

The asset inventory process gathered myriads of detail about our Windows, Mac OS X and Linux clients, and it even collected data from our NetWare, AIX and Solaris servers. ZENworks discovered and inventoried our handheld devices, as well. Novell says its inventory function also supports HP-UX, which we didn't test. ZENworks' discovery and inventory data collection processes performed accurately but slowly in our tests. For other (non-inventory) desktop management tasks, ZENworks supports Windows and Linux clients.

ZENworks' deployment of application software packages, via the ZENworks agent we pushed onto our Windows clients worked well. We were impressed by ZENworks' ability to deploy not only the application but also any other software components the application might depend on (the vendor terms this Application Chaining). For instance, for application packages needing a particular version of the Internet Explorer browser, ZENworks distributed the correct browser version as part of the application deployment. For the other products we tested, we had to include the other software components as part of the application image we wanted to deploy. We could even use ZENworks to convert legacy applications to MSI format for easy deployment via ZENworks. Similarly, ZENworks' patch manager did an excellent job of making sure each of our clients had the appropriate security patches applied. ZENworks accurately and helpfully tracked our software licenses as well as monitored our software utilization but did not offer much more than its competitors on this front.

Novell offers a separate security product, called ZENworks Endpoint Security Management, that the ZENworks desktop management tool can deploy and monitor. Besides thwarting malware, Endpoint Security Management manages client USB ports. However, ZENworks does not integrate with third-party antimalware tools.

ZENworks' remote control feature was a joy to use. It let us hide operations on the remote machine from the machine's user, if we wished, and it gave us a special remote diagnostics mode in which we examined the machine's system information, ran diagnostic programs and edited the machine's registry. For after-hours application deployment, the remote control feature also has remote wake and integrated wake-on-LAN that we used to make our application installations a truly unattended affair.

At our behest, ZENworks installed its Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) on our clients. Via PXE, we set up scripts that automatically saved (or, if we wished, later restored) file-oriented images of each machine's hard drive. We thus ensured that we could always revert a desktop PC to a known-to-be-good working state. The result worked well and saved us from many a (simulated) thumb-fingered user error.

The ZENworks user interface is the Control Center management console. It wasn't terribly intuitive to use, but once we got the hang of it, we found Control Center responsive and well-organized. We also used Novell's Web-based ZENworks interface, which offers many of Control Center's functions via a browser window.

ZENworks' central console runs on Windows Server or Linux. Novell bundles a perfectly adequate Sybase SQL Anywhere relational database with ZENworks, and we also successfully tested the storage of ZENworks data in Sybase Adaptive Server and Microsoft SQL Server databases.

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