New role for software distribution tools

Desktop management and software distribution have always been a challenge, but new technology developments and the sheer number of devices and applications to be managed are making them even more so. The larger the environment, the more complicated it gets.

Service providers that offer management down to the desktop have a worse problem. These companies need to deal with various hardware configurations and applications across a number of heterogeneous enterprise environments. In addition, just to keep things interesting, they are probably managing to a service-level agreement (SLA), which increases the importance of service quality.

Wireless devices are increasing the scope of management responsibility even further. Today’s managed devices may include desktops, laptops, PDAs, wireless phones and so forth. Problematically, handheld devices, such as phones and PDAs, don’t have the processing power of a desktop for robust, device management. In addition, administrators are forced to manage distributed agents across multiple types of devices.

Although software distribution technologies have been around for a number of years, the Internet is giving software distribution new life, since software can now automatically update itself from the Web. The mobility of wireless will require tools that can efficiently detect what kind of device it is and what software is installed, provide automatic management and distribute additional software. The scope and need for management of client devices will skyrocket once wireless becomes more widely accepted.

Software distribution tools have evolved and provide a wide range of functions. Some of these include automated self-healing of software, checkpoint restart (at the byte or file level), differencing technology, and the list goes on. Selecting a software distribution tool must be approached with an eye to the needs of the company.

The Windows 2000 operating system was released in the past year, stirring things up for desktop management even more. Moving to Windows 2000 presents some logistical headaches. Migrating means redoing all of the work that it took to get existing systems deployed and configured. Administrators must roll out the new OS and re-deploy all of the applications. In the meantime, applications, configurations, and even physical locations may have changed.

A recent Enterprise Management Associates study on Windows 2000 migration revealed that a surprisingly large number of IT organizations (24%) are planning to roll out applications manually. While this sounds like as much fun as a root canal, software distribution tools could sure help to streamline this process.

All of these factors are reinforcing the need for desktop management tools that reduce the amount of time required to distribute and install software (avoiding the "sneakernet" ) and maintain proper configuration and application availability. If you have a sizable environment and you’re not using some kind of desktop management tool, it’s time to put one in place to help you manage your devices now and in the future.

For those of you who are already using a tool, it is important to understand if it can handle today’s changing management needs. Does your tool offer management for mobile and wireless devices? Does your tool offer the best security and performance features? What about sccalability and managing over the Internet?

This story, "New role for software distribution tools " was originally published by Network World.

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