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Five questions to ask client management vendors

By Barry Nance, Network World Lab Alliance

The following are five key questions to ask desktop management vendors that should help you select a product that's right for your environment:

1. Does the client manager recognize and handle all the different desktop platforms (such as Windows, Linux, Solaris, AIX and MAC OS) and kinds of desktop computing devices (such as PCs, notebooks and PDAs) that are in the company? If the desktop manager is not going to support some computer devices you want to know this before the sale, not after.

2. What's the vendor's history with respect to supporting new platforms? As new desktop computing tools emerge will the vendor support them? And in what time frame will this realistically happen? How long you'd have to wait for support depends on a variety of parameters including the scope of the technological advance, its relationship to the desktop (i.e., office worker) and its rate of adoption. But nothing stands still, and PCs are in some ways old technology, with new devices and paradigms on the horizon. Can the vendor keep up with the pace of changes in IT?

3. What type of data repository does the client manager use?
Database administration can involve some nontrivial expenditures of time and effort. If the desktop management repository is a database your administrators are unfamiliar with, additional training time and effort will be required.

Additional questions include whether the database is relational, how much attention and care the desktop manager's data repository will require and what are the support mechanisms for backing up the database? Storing the desktop data in a relational database would likely be overkill - and an annoyance - to a small customer. However, a large enterprise may have a corporate policy requiring the use of an RDBMS. Why? Three reasons: (1) The company's backup/restore regime may require it. (2) People within the enterprise may want access to the DB for special purposes and for custom reports. (3) A large company may require the reliability and familiarity of an RDBMS (large companies have gotten burned too many times by proprietary, vendor-designed data storage algorithms that fail or slow down at critical times).

4. How responsive is the company to emergencies? Suppose the network adapter in the desktop management central-console machine fails late on a Friday night; how easy is the re-installation of the desktop management tool, especially in light of license-key issues and whether a license key is tied to a specific MAC address? Many software products' license keys have a direct relationship to a central console's IP address or MAC address. Recovering from a network adapter failure can turn into a nightmare of all-weekend work for your company's network troubleshooter or tech support person if a vendor's support people aren't available or responsive.

5. Can the desktop management tool interface (perhaps via SNMP) with a network manager such as OpenView or Tivoli? Can it interface with a help desk tool such as Remedy?
You may very well want problems and issues identified by the desktop manager to flow into a network management system for the sake of producing useful and comprehensive reports and summaries that include desktop computing device activities. Similarly, the desktop manager's interface with a help desk tool can save you time, effort and potential for transposed digits when having to key the data into another product.

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