VDI and the cloud add options to desktop management software

Desktop management software is only one way to tackle endpoint complexity. You can also consider standardizing devices or moving to cloud services.

Desktop management tools and practices have evolved to keep up with a proliferation of endpoints and to automate tasks that are too complex for IT administrators to handle alone. In part 1 of this FAQ, we examined why desktop management is important and some related tools and standards. Let's see how desktop management can save money and what alternatives exist.

Q. Are there any best practices that can help improve desktop management and lower costs?

Best practices can vary depending on the size of your organization, but there are some general ideas that can help to improve the overall quality and performance of desktop management operations within the enterprise.

First, consider standardizing on certain endpoint platforms. Limiting the hardware and operating system diversity can eliminate many configuration problems and reduce the number of spare or upgrade parts that an IT staff must manage. However, this practice is increasingly difficult for businesses that support remote workers and bring your own device (BYOD) environments where diversity is unavoidable.

If standardization isn't possible or desirable, look for desktop management tools with good system discovery and inventory capabilities. Many software deployment and patch problems can be mitigated with a clear understanding of what's running in the environment.

For example, if a new application version imposes certain minimum requirements for CPUs or OSes, a business can identify potentially incompatible systems -- avoiding serious rollout problems. Inventory capabilities might also be able to help identify possible license breaches.

Multiple system images may be more effective than one system image. When an employer provides systems with preinstalled software, it's usually better to create system images that meet the needs of each job function or user type. The idea is that one universal system image often includes an unwieldy number of applications that are not necessary or appropriate for every user.

Creating job- or type-specific system images results in smaller images that are faster to deploy and easier for technicians to maintain. Smaller images also demand less computing resources, which can improve system performance. This same concept applies to virtual desktop infrastructure.

Implement the policies and procedures needed to keep user permissions current. Software permissions often change when roles or departments change, so coupling IT permissions to human resources activities can help the IT staff update permissions when users are hired, fired, receive promotions or change roles.

Use as much remote software and configuration management as possible. Look for tools that allow OSes, apps and malware databases -- along with updates and patches -- to be pushed out to end users from a central server. This eliminates the possibility that some users might use older or insecure products, and it does not tie up IT staff with one-on-one support or upgrades. Most organizations will stage any changes in a test environment and then implement the rollout based on group or job profiles.

Finally, use remote management features for administrative functions. In-person visits to configure or troubleshoot endpoint systems can be time-consuming and logistically difficult when IT staffers are located far from the user requesting assistance.

When adopting desktop management tools, look for remote management features that allow IT to remotely control a desktop and make changes across a network as if they were sitting in front of the actual system.

Q. Are there any alternatives or emerging trends in desktop management?

The traditional approach to desktop management is handled in-house using desktop management tools, suites or frameworks. This can require a substantial capital outlay to acquire the software and deploy it properly, and the IT staff must be trained to operate the management software effectively. However, the move to cloud-based services has allowed an evolution in desktop management outsourcing.

In an outsourced model, the tool and the service are handled through a third-party provider. In effect, a help desk structure allows service requests from the client to the provider, which will then connect and act to configure, check or fix a system.

Examples of outsourced desktop management services include offerings like Xerox's desktop management services, Bell Techlogix's desktop managed services and IBM's desktop management services. Pricing is normally fixed through contracts, so costs are often more manageable for the client business. Outsourced desktop management is also an integral part of virtual desktop instances available from a wealth of large and small providers.

Consider the potential risks involved with outsourced desktop management. Response times for outsourced services can be longer than for in-house IT staffers. This can pose problems when critical work or important deadlines are approaching.

The stability and expertise of the outsourcing company will also have a major impact on results. For example, inexperienced outside personnel and mergers and acquisitions can have a disruptive effect on services and service-level agreements.

Any disruptions in connectivity might also interfere with management tasks. Potential adopters will need to weigh the possible costs of poor service and disruption against the costs of managing desktops in-house. And remember that outside organizations might not be able to manage every possible endpoint system. Some legacy systems and applications may be unmanageable.

Manual desktop management is impossibly difficult when more than a few endpoint systems are involved. Desktop management software is critical for the proper discovery, inventory, configuration, software deployment, patching, monitoring and reporting of endpoints across an enterprise.

Organizations can typically select a point solution, suite or framework, but take the time to evaluate them and pick the product that best suits business needs, budgets, IT staff abilities and interoperability with other management tools in the environment. Organizations can also opt to outsource desktop management functions to third-party providers, freeing IT time for more strategic projects.

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