Service with a smile

Have you lost count of the number of Windows NT Service Packs you've applied on your servers? Does Microsoft's almost daily release of hot fixes make you hot under the collar? Gravity Storm Software's Service Pack Manager 4.1 is an extremely useful tool that offers some welcome relief to network professionals who have to deal with the barrage of NT upgrades issued by Microsoft.

Service Pack Manager performs a network enumeration (Gravity Storm's term for autodiscovery) when it starts and returns a list of visible NT servers and workstations. The network scan is not an all-or-nothing probe. It is highly customizable. You can query individual machines, complete domains or the entire network. System information is displayed in a status window chock full of useful information, including data regarding the currently installed version of NT on all available machines, installed service packs and hot fixes, and the dates of installation.

Clicking on the browser-based information tab allows you to view the current list of service packs available from Microsoft and their associated hot fixes. The integrated browser allows administrators to download upgraded code directly from Microsoft without exiting the Service Pack Manager application.

Once downloaded, NT service packs and hot fixes can be propagated across the network with just a few clicks.

However, there are to two caveats we need to note in our assessment of this product. The user must have administrative rights on all systems being monitored by Service Pack Manager. And the product makes it almost too easy to install hot fixes. Administrators should be careful to install only hot fixes that are required. Making system changes for devices or products that aren't installed can lead to an unstable system, or worse yet, a system crash.

The fix is in

To install a hot fix or service pack you select the desired machines, highlight the appropriate hot fix, and click the install button. When the fix is in, all applications on the target machines are shut down and the computers are automatically rebooted. Service Pack Manager provides administrators with the ability to send alerts to targeted machines prior to installation to give users the opportunity to close applications and exit the system.

The program's installation process was a snap. After a quick reboot of the Service Pack Manager console we were ready to take control of the NT for which we had administrator privilege.That's good news because we would have been in a bind if we had had to consult the online documentation for assistance in using this product. The help files suffer from unclear writing and poor grammar. Information is sketchy and not well presented. Given the ease of use of the application and its good performance, this isn't a major problem. However, the poor documentation gives the product a less-polished appearance.

If you are tired of constantly hitting the Microsoft Web site for NT updates, and if the installation of the hot fixes on all your machines has become a migraine-inducing problem, we recommend getting a copy of Service Pack Manager 4.1. It is easy to install, a snap tto use and provides system administrators with welcome relief from the monotony of service pack and hot fix maintenance.

This story, "Service with a smile" was originally published by Network World.

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