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Roll call! Take full stock of your desktop inventory

IT cannot manage what it doesn’t know is there. As a result, desktop inventory management and other tools are essential to keep track of and control desktops.

You might think it's easy to keep track of desktops because they don't move around. But that doesn't mean you don't need desktop inventory management tools.

If you don’t know exactly how many desktops you have in your organization, you can't actually manage them. Smaller organizations can get away with using the limited inventory management features in Windows or Apple Mac OS X to keep track of their desktops. Bigger companies often turn to specialized desktop inventory management tools, however; they are designed to handle a larger number of desktops.

Take complete control of your desktops by exploring the value of desktop inventory management, the main aspects of desktop management and some top tools on the market.

The importance of desktop inventory management

Desktop inventory management gives you a complete index of every device on the network, and helps you identify any unmanaged or incorrectly catalogued desktops. It also serves as a central hub where you can see the physical configuration and software installed on each desktop. With a complete inventory, you can also make sure every device receives relevant updates.

Once business managers know how many desktops they have on their hands, they can evaluate how extending desktop lifecycles or transitioning to tablets, for example, will affect budgets. 

In the event of a security breach, the incident response team can use desktop inventory management to easily identify which desktops are vulnerable, where the devices are and what software patches are on them.

Finally, a complete desktop roster helps with software licensing management because you can evaluate how many licenses you need and determine the best licensing model to match those needs. 

The four main components of desktop management

Desktop management can be divided into four equally important parts -- monitoring, software deployment, patching and security.

Monitoring keeps track of the CPU use, I/O throughput, memory and network traffic of each desktop. You can use that data to dig deeper and uncover the performance characteristics of each application on every desktop.

Software deployment gives you the power to make changes to end-user privileges. These tools often include a repository for installers, pre- and post-installation checks and script rollbacks in the event of a failure.  

Patching lets you correct any software flaws or improve application or OS performance. Before you deploy a patch, you should test it on a set of desktops similar to the ones you are applying the patch to. Patch management tools include desktop discovery, patch dependency detection and reporting tools.

Mobile threats get a lot of hype, but desktops are at risk too. Attackers exploit open ports on desktop firewalls, old antimalware and poor authentication measures. Zero-day exploits and user errors only add to the security chaos. You can fight back with desktop management by locking desktops, upgrading antimalware and tightening encryption policies. 

What are the top desktop management tools on the market?

Every desktop management tool combines and emphasizes different aspects of the four parts above. With so many options on the market, it can be hard for an organization to find one that meets its specific needs.

One of the options is Microsoft Intune. Although Intune only runs on Windows 8.1, it can manage other Windows OSes and even Apple OSes. It's cloud-based, so it doesn't require any additional infrastructure. This helps keep the price down and makes it a good choice for small and midsize businesses. Intune's central console lets you create data security policies based on the device or user license. You can also control software updates, firewall settings and automated approvals.

Desktop Central is a more flexible tool with four different versions that fit businesses of different sizes. With the Web-based control panel, you can patch software, distribute licenses or set power usage settings. You can also set restrictions on USB, CD-ROM, Bluetooth and printer use.

The Dell Desktop Authority Management Suite is a great fit if you want to be in control. You can configure connections based on the identity, role, OS, device or connection of each desktop. Within each configuration, the registry edits, proxy settings and drive configurations are under your control. You can even pick and choose which apps employees can use.

Symantec's Client Management Suite is more hands off, automating software deployment and patch management. A drag-and-drop functionality lets you create your own report template so you can see the information you want, where you want. The Suite also emphasizes security with a demilitarized zone gateway that encrypts the connection whether it's going through a virtual private network or not.

Next Steps

How VDI and the cloud add to desktop management

Explore mobile desktop management software

How virtual appliances (VAPs) benefit software deployment

This was last published in August 2015

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Which of the four desktop management components do you think is most important?
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While my group is not responsible for inventory, we do have to participate in equipment inventories every now and then. 

Honestly, it's a mystery to me how it is that they DON'T know what equipment is out there, given that they gave out all of those computers in the first place. 
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