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Group Policy is an integrated, central way to manage a lot of Windows settings and registry configurations across a domain, but it's not always the best solution to your desktop management needs. Perhaps your organization has machines that should or shouldn't be a part of a domain. Perhaps users' computers don't ever connect to the corporate network, but you'd still like to be able to manage those machines. Or perhaps you need better reporting than simple Windows logging allows.
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There's always System Center, but that can be an expensive proposition. Other technology vendors have stepped in to fill the void in Microsoft’s ecosystem. Let's take a look at three options for third-party desktop management tools aimed primarily (but not necessarily exclusively) at Windows enterprises.
Desktop Central 8
ManageEngine, the software division of Zoho Corp., claims that 5,000 unique customers use its software to manage 1 million desktops, so this product has some traction in the marketplace. Like Windows Intune, Desktop Central 8 is a Web-based application that manages Windows 2000 on up to Windows 7, including all of the Server editions.
The desktop management software doesn't require a traditional domain environment, making it a decent choice for managing lab machines, computers running specialized manufacturing and testing equipment, and employees' home machines. Desktop Central 8 covers software deployment, patch management, asset management and Windows Remote Desktop sharing. It also governs service pack deployment, configurations, Active Directory reports if a domain is in use and other reporting tools.
Prices range from $295 for a limited Standard Edition that doesn't include much desktop management functionality to $695 for a full-featured version that can be managed efficiently across multiple locations. The pricing depends on how many desktops you're managing; the starting prices include 50 computers.
Quest Workspace Desktop Authority
ScriptLogic, which was recently acquired by Quest Software, asserts that administrators can manage 10,000 desktops as easily as 10. Quest Workspace includes modules that carry out various portions of the desktop management process, including asset management, patch and malware detection deployment, and Web-based remote management. It also includes password self-service, software packaging, privileged account monitoring and other configuration support.
The key differentiators with Quest Workspace are its support for Microsoft's virtualization technologies and its packaging of applications and configurations for virtualized desktops. For example, you can set configurations specific to users logging into Remote Desktop on a Remote Desktop server, as opposed to logging onto a published virtual desktop or a regular physical desktop. Desktop Authority is also Web-based, making for a simpler user interface than a complex Microsoft Management Console.
The software is available in three editions -- Essentials, Standard and Professional -- and a free 30-day trial is available.
Kaseya's eponymous product also takes on systems management. The company made a name for itself in the managed services arena -- some consultants for small and midmarket-size companies would license Kaseya on all of their clients' desktops so they could manage them from afar without having to make site visits to all of those shops.
But there's no reason why an organization can't use Kaseya internally, since some of its systems management features are perfect for IT departments looking to exert some centralized control. Kaseya's suite includes support for auditing and inventory, monitoring, and patch management. It also supports desktop policy management and extensive reporting.
Unfortunately, Kaseya is typically licensed on a subscription basis, so there's often a monthly or quarterly license payment. Still, from an automation standpoint, Kaseya is very much worth considering.
More on desktop management tools:
Endpoint management FAQ for desktop admins
Using desktop management software for physical vs. virtual desktops
Top 5 enterprise desktop management tips of the year (so far)
Windows Intune helps strapped IT departments with desktop management
Using Group Policy settings to lock down enterprise desktop security
What other third-party desktop management suites have you looked at outside of Microsoft? What successes or failures have you had? Are they worth the money? Send your comments to email@example.com.