The start of a new year is an opportunity to rethink, refresh and rebuild -- even when it comes to your desktop administration strategy. Part of running a tight IT ship is conducting a regular desktop audit.
If you're like many administrators, you're always searching for new and improved ways of ensuring that enterprise desktops and client machines run free of problems at a low cost and as efficiently as possible. It's always beneficial to reflect on the current status of your hardware and software, as well as your overall vision for management in 2012, and a desktop audit can help in these areas.
1. Conduct a full inventory of your hardware and software assets. Even though the IT department intends to manage the entire procurement process, items are purchased -- and sometimes even deployed -- without your knowledge. (You're probably still responsible for fixing those items if they behave badly, however.) Take the beginning of this year to conduct a complete desktop audit of hardware and software. Doing so allows you to do the following:
- See exactly what you have. This is helpful for checking warranty claims, age and refresh cycles.
- Track overcommittments or underallotments in software licensing. Chances are, you've paid for too many licenses for one product, and the business may be in violation for underpurchasing on another product.
- Redeploy assets that can be used different to solve other problems -- powerful servers acting only as file shares, for example, can become virtualization hosts and color printers sitting unused in conference rooms can be shared out to entire floors.
2. Monitor for hardware errors. Today's machines sit live, usable and turned on most of the time, and many hardware errors creep up only when machines are restarted. SMART errors -- problems with the monitoring system for SATA-based hard drives -- are easy to see upon the post-boot sequence but are more difficult to detect from within a standard Windows session. Cooling fans work until they stop spinning and then don't start again. The operating system can bypass memory errors in many cases, but become such errors are apparent when only the BIOS controls the hardware during boot. As you proceed through a desktop audit, reboot PCs, and look for these obvious errors that indicate it might be time for repair or replacement.
3. Reimage physical Windows-based desktops on a rolling schedule. Many experts decry Windows rot -- that phenomenon where Windows systems deteriorate as applications are installed and removed and the system is generally used -- as a myth. Most industry professionals, however, agree that a clean, freshly installed copy of Windows performs better and provides less room for error. During your desktop audit, develop a schedule for reimaging client machines on a regular basis, and implement that schedule with the first batch of new machines at the beginning of this year. With a master image and simple deployment tools, reimaging can take a matter of minutes and eliminate a massive troubleshooting burden.
4. Banish Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and deploy IE 9. Most corporations have chosen to ignore Microsoft-alternative browses Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and frankly those browser makers haven't done much to attract enterprises, with a release cadence measured in days and no coherent central management strategy. Meanwhile, IE 6 -- long the corporate standard browser -- is probably the biggest security hole in Windows, and Version 7 isn't far behind. IE 9, the current Microsoft browser, has been out for nearly a year and is stable, compatible and secure. Moreover, its management features integrate very well with Group Policy, and it's a relatively friendly deployment. As part of your desktop audit, find out which users are still on IE 6 and 7 and make move to IE 9 on the desktop in the first quarter of 2012. (Tell your server colleagues to hold off a bit, though, as some management consoles from Exchange and other products fail on a server with IE 9 installed.)
5. Develop a plan for, and move users to, virtualized desktops. Your desktop audit process should identify users whose daily computing needs could be met with a thin client accessing a virtualized desktop (either personalized or pooled). Call-center workers, front-line staffers with predictable workload requirements and administrative assistants generally use applications with similar performance and security profiles. With virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), you can abstract away hardware problems and easily maintain control over users' desktop experience because a desktop lives in a single virtual machine. IT needs only to patch one machine, install software on one machine and test deployments on one machine. Make sure that a desktop audit establishes criteria for VDI suitability, and then actively develop a review process for making that transition a reality.
A complete desktop audit will help you understand your organization's current assets and take advantage of efficiencies and new technologies as they come along in 2012. Combine these suggestions with items specific to your environment as you develop your own desktop audit checklist and plans. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.