March 28, 2001, 12:13 PM — Traditionally, IT managers have relied on management suites such as Intel LANDesk to distribute new applications, software updates, patches and drivers to users. But while such products are good for workstations that routinely connect to the network, they're of little help to disconnected remote workers. While it's possible to distribute software using a remote-control application such as PC Anywhere, the target PC must be online, the user's dial-up connection might be too slow to transfer a large file, and productivity is interrupted during the control session.
The problem involving getting software to remote workers is bound to increase. Gartner Group predicts that this year more than 25% of all workers will be mobile and that 30% of IT resources will be devoted to supporting them. By 2002, Gartner estimates that more than 108 million employees will work beyond the bounds of the traditional office.
So out of necessity, IT managers are getting creative. Some are turning to PC cloning packages such as Altiris' eXpress or Symantec's Norton Ghost to create an image of the user's PC configuration. EXpress supports mobile PCs with self-extracting software distribution packages that can be e-mailed or burned to a CD-ROM and sent to a user. This software can also remotely clone and configure PCs, install software, and manage PCs on a day-to-day basis, providing disaster-recovery capabilities.
Others like Michael McKenney are burning programs to CD-ROMs and sending them to remote workers in the mail. On a monthly basis, the IS manager for Americorp Financial in Birmingham, Mich., distributes software to his remote users containing all the patches for applications. "Users are also responsible for upgrading all the Symantec products [we use] -- Norton Antivirus, Norton Utilities and WinFax -- on their own using the Internet," McKenney adds.
Other IT managers are experimenting with posting software to a secure location on the company intranet for remote employees to download. A network manager in Tennessee who asked not to be identified explains, "We use Winzip to create install sets and place them on the Web site for user download. When they attempt to access the site, users are authenticated with the network and guided to areas where they can download information."
Company intranets may turn out to be the easiest and most reliable way of supporting users -- on site and remote. Novell uses one through which its employees can download drivers, get instructions on how to perform certain tasks and receive software updates. Terry Roedecker, senior network administrator at MidFirst Bank in Oklahoma City, Okla., says such Web portals may be catching on. Even though Roedecker uses Intel LANDesk Management Suite for distributing software today, he's looking forward to adding a portal for MidFirst's employees, so that he'll have several alternate ways to distribute software.