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Comparing on-site desktop management platforms to cloud-based applications

Hands on desktop management is a must, but should you go with an in-house or a hosted management application? It depends on your specific needs.

Managing desktops used to be a simple task for network administrators. It involved storing master images and then deploying those images for upgrades or to fix problems. Today, however, admins have to deal with much more intricate problems, applications, patches and support needs, and as a result, hands-on desktop management is a must.

There are several things to consider when selecting a desktop asset management application. For example, do you need help desk integration, or are you looking for an integrated security/antivirus capability? In addition, consider the number -- and types -- of desktops to be managed, the types of operating systems in use, and remote-control capabilities.

Another important consideration is the number of sites managed. In a single-site environment, an on-site installed management system may make the most sense. However, in a geographically dispersed enterprise that incorporates multiple sites as well as mobile workers, a cloud computing system may be a better fit.

In-house desktop asset management
On-site desktop asset management offers several advantages, including the following:

  • Improved security
  • Ease of licensing
  • Performance
  • Capital expense
  • Upgrade only as needed
  • Support options

Each of these benefits, however, comes with a price.

Enhanced security requires you to keep management applications behind the corporate firewall and eliminate external access. In multisite environments or enterprises that support remote sites, locking down external access to the management platform may not be acceptable. Furthermore, ease of licensing can be a two-edged sword. You may be forced to buy management seats in certain quantities instead of on a per-seat basis. This may increase costs, or you may only be able to buy per-seat licenses, so each additional system will require a purchase.

While performance sounds like a good feature of an on-site implementation, it is mostly dictated by the server (or appliance) used to host the application. In other words, for better performance, you need better hardware. That in turn can be a hidden cost for deploying an on-site product. The cost for prerequisite hardware goes hand in hand with the cost for the asset management application.

By licensing the product rather buying a service, admins may have better control over ancillary expenses such as upgrades and service contracts. You'd only pay for upgrades, support contracts and software maintenance if they’re needed.

Hosted platforms
Hosted or cloud-based asset management solutions are becoming more appealing to businesses of many sizes. The potential benefits of the cloud include the following:

  • Reduced upfront expenses
  • Simplified pricing
  • Available expertise
  • Automated upgrades
  • Scalability
  • Reduced hardware footprint

Hosted asset management usually falls under the realm of the managed services provider (MSP). An organization will contract out its desktop support to the MSP, which removes the burden from an internal IT staff. Although this has been the primary avenue for access to asset management, more vendors are making their systems available directly to end customers.

The services in hosted asset management are a la carte -- you pay only for the services you need. Hosted offerings also have simplified pricing schemes. You pay by seat by month, and there are no additional costs or hidden fees. This transforms asset management from a capital expense to an operational expense.

The operational expense argument is further strengthened by the fact that you don’t need to set up on-site servers or purchase appliances to deploy asset management. This saves on hardware and reduces service contract costs, upgrade fees, management expenses and power usage.

In addition, having a MSP take on the responsibility of managing IT assets can lead to personnel reductions and smaller IT departments, and it may prove to be very attractive to businesses pursuing cost cuts.

Making the choice
Choosing between a hosted service or an on-site solution for IT asset management is not an easy task, especially when you consider the number of vendors in both scenarios.

ManageEngine recently launched its Desktop Central MSP product, which falls under its umbrella of MSP offerings, MSP Center Lite. IT managers can find network monitoring, server monitoring, remote-control, asset management and other capabilities integrated into MSP Center Lite. Those services and capabilities are available a la carte or as a package to their customers. What’s more, the need for hands-on services and on-site technicians is greatly reduced. MSP Center Lite requires little more than an agent to be remotely installed on each IT asset. That lowers deployment costs and reduces operational expenses.

Kaseya is another vendor offering IT services. It uses a traditional on-site installed server application, and it is transforming its product into a cloud-based offering. Kaseya uses agent technology to manage physical assets, and admins can use a cloud-based service portal to manage those physical assets. Kaseya has consistently been adding capabilities, such as antivirus, backup and endpoint security, to create a robust platform that can be built upon to offer hosted services.

If your organization is moving from traditional software to hosted solutions, there is a long list of vendors to choose from. Vendors such as Level Platforms, N-Able and Zenith Infotech are all deeply entrenched into the MSP market and deliver services via partners. The success of those companies has paved the way for innovative services arriving from startups or other vendors transitioning to the cloud.

Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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