Best third-party tools for desktop management

Desktop management is an art – not a science -- and having the right palette of tools is critical. Check out these recommendations for your enterprise.

Desktop management may be more of an art than a science. To create day-to-day desktop management masterpieces, you need the proper tools. Here is a palette of recommended desktop management applications.

Desktop Authority, from ScriptLogic, is a favorite of Eric Boulanger, a network administrator at Lantic Sugar. He says Desktop Authority has made it easy for him to create different configurations for each user. These customization tasks weren't as easily done using other management software products, Boulanger says.

Boulanger is responsible for three remote offices, and the software simplifies the configuration of remote PCs. He describes the process of setting up a computer at a remote site as sending "a bare-bones PC to a remote site, and when [the user connects the PC to the network], all customizations are done automatically."

CrossTec Corp.'s EMS v3.0 asset management software provides significant features in addition to monitoring and reporting on an enterprise's assets. A feature that CrossTec calls Remote Office Management enables administrators to monitor and manage remote sites from a central location. In addition, EMS v3.0 fully integrates into Active Directory, providing a tree view that mirrors an Active Directory structure.

EMS also allows administrators to change PC owners and assign rights for console operators. EMS v3.0 can be useful for determining each computer's hardware and software assets and can help simplify the tasks of migrating appropriate computers to Windows 7.

Of course, there are also the group policy tools in Windows Server. These tools, included at no extra cost, are useful (if a bit tedious for large organizations) for setting up group policies for the various group desktops.

My personal favorite tool -- a relatively new product that may be overkill for mere desktop management -- is AccelOps 1.5. AccelOps is a service that collects enterprise data over the cloud. It provides a variety of reports (to date, more than 300 predefined reports) on a wide range of enterprise system variables.

With AccelOps, administrators can drill down through perhaps thousands of pages of reports to determine the causes of a problem. Reporting is rapidly performed on the AccelOps server, and the information it deliver is amazing. According to some users, a report that with other management products may take days to perform, can be delivered in mere minutes with AccelOps.

Since AccelOps is a cloud-based application, the administrator logs in over the Internet. Imagine you're taking a rare day off in a location that isn't snowy and cold. Your CEO calls your cell phone, frantically complaining about a major system problem. You put down your Mai Tai, log your laptop computer onto the AccelOps site, and quickly find the problem. A phone call to another IT admin sends him/her to the errant systems, he/she fixes the problem, and everybody's happy.

I haven't touched on a number of areas that may be of special interest to various areas of your enterprise. For example, help desk and remote management aren't included here, partly because a wide range of products is available for these tasks, and partly because these may be in a specialized area of desktop management that others in your organization are already in charge of. Similarly, I won't address security in this article because an effective (or at least somewhat effective) security system should already be in place.

The products described above aren't designed to perform all management tasks equally. For example, AccelOps is an amazing monitoring tool, but it won't enable an admin to design and propagate images to new computers. ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority is great for creating and propagating configurations to the desktop, but it won't monitor the enterprise network as well as AccelOps can. Some of vendors may sell different tools for different functions -- for example, ScriptLogic has a large list of specialized management tools.

With this small palette of enterprise desktop management tools, the administrator/artist can create a constantly well managed infrastructure with a minimum of extra effort.

Mark Brownstein is editor-in-chief of StorageWeek and publisher of Brownstein Communications. A trained Microsoft Systems Certified Administrator, Brownstein also worked as technology editor at NetworkWorld (IDG), and executive editor at Computer Technology Review.

This was first published in February 2010

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