• United States
Neal Weinberg
Contributing writer, Foundry

XcelleNet’s Afaria

Feb 25, 20033 mins
Data Center

* The Reviewmeister finds Afaria especially good at keeping track of mobile devices

The Reviewmeister is focused on desktop management tools because they can save money and make life easier. Having a consistent desktop configuration across the company goes a long way in reducing the number of tech support calls. Maintaining a consistent configuration is virtually impossible without some form of an automated process.

This week, we check out XcelleNet’s Afaria, which is especially good at keeping track of mobile devices.

Of all the products we’ve  tested, XcelleNet’s Afaria supported the most mobile devices, including Symbian devices, Pocket PCs, Windows CE devices, Palm handhelds, Research in Motion BlackBerry devices and a number of smart phones. Afaria also includes a back-up manager designed for mobile devices. The document manager handles the translation of files such as Microsoft Word documents between the native format and one suitable for the target device.

We liked Afaria’s attention to the little things. Those include options to configure its bandwidth-throttling feature, and the ability to automatically control how you handle different devices and connections. The software also lets you synchronize with multiple databases and groupware products such as Lotus Domino. A “roll-back” feature lets you return a device to the last known state should a synchronization process not finish.

On the downside, when it came to keeping track of your inventory, XcelleNet’s Afaria was tedious to configure for hardware and software inventory. This is partly because of the nature of the product. All actions in Afaria are client-generated and require multiple steps to initiate. Gathering inventory for clients requires you to create a channel and then publish it to the clients. There also were a few discrepancies in the software identification process.

 Support for fixing broken applications depends on your definition of “application healing.”  The concept of application healing is not new, and has been essentially present in Microsoft Office for some time. With the latest release of the Windows Installer, Microsoft now directly supports install on demand and application self-healing. The problem is that many older applications don’t use the Windows Installer or Microsoft Installer (MSI) format. In that case, the application must be restored in another manner, which XcelleNet provides.

The biggest challenge in software distribution is installing a new application. Creating a software distribution package typically includes several steps. First, you run a “before” snapshot of a target workstation before installing the software. Next, you install the application. Finally, you take an “after” snapshot to record all the changes since the installation and gather all the new files, along with configuration changes, together into a single package for distribution.

 XcelleNet uses Prism Deploy as its software distribution component. Prism Deploy has many features that cross some of our categories. For example, you can use the tool to return a desktop to a known state by taking a “picture” of the original configuration to include system files, registry settings, the Windows desktop and other pertinent information. You can then later restore that workstation to the original state by deploying a package with those settings. It also supports the MSI format for distributing application packages and delivery of applications over the Internet through a Web page.

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