Desktop Management Ends Late-Night Work
Unisea, one of the world's leading fish product processing companies, turned to Sitekeeper from Executive Software Inc. to help them better manage and track software updates and licences.
No matter what your company size, it’s a nearly impossible task to try to keep track of what software is installed on each desktop, then keep it all up to date. The time-consuming task of going to each machine and manually installing the latest batch of vendor patches is no longer practical.
But one way or another, these tasks are part of the most vital system management routines for any size company. Accurate inventories are needed internally for management and support as well as for license compliance with software products. The latest upgrades and patches are needed to keep the system up and running, secure and operating at peak performance.
Companies, in fact, have three primary needs in terms of desktop management: hardware and software inventory, license tracking and software deployment. While these could once be done manually, that’s no longer a viable option.
"Managing software licenses and updates is a serious problem for administrators," says Paul Mason, Group Vice President of Infrastructure Software Research at IDC. "Any tool that can automate software inventory management and keep the technology current while performing these actions remotely will save companies enormous amounts of money."
For example, keeping accurate records and updated software is critical to preventing attacks on several fronts. Hackers can corrupt systems, and fines for unlicensed software can add up quickly (see "A Double Threat.")
Both of these problems are easily solved by desktop management software. The inventorying and license tracking modules make it possible to avoid fines from the Business Software Alliance (BSA). The software deployment function lets companies quickly deploy updates, upgrades and patches site-wide as soon as they arrive, rather than in response to an attack.
A Double Threat
The most obvious threat to your users may be from hackers. Last November, Dave McCurdy, executive director of the Internet Security Alliance (www.isalliance.org), testified before Congress that SirCam, Code Red and Love Bug alone had cost $12.5 billion dollars in cleanup and lost productivity.
The number and sophistication of such attacks is increasing. Carnegie Mellon University’s CERT security center reports that it received 43,136 security incident reports in just the first two quarters of 2002, more than double the figure for all of 2000.
Most of the damage is preventable by quickly installing patches from the software manufacturers, but IT organizations may simply be too overloaded to keep up with the constant stream of software updates.
On top of the hacker threat, the BSA stands ready to fine a company as much as $150,000 for each unlicensed application found. The BSA is approaching $100 million in collected fines after a recent announcement that it had reached settlements of over $10 million in one week alone.
"Unless an organization has a sound software management program—including centralized record keeping and acquisitions, internal audits and employee awareness programs," says Robert Kruger, the BSA’s Vice President for Enforcement, "it is at risk of becoming the target of a BSA investigation."
Setting Sights on Sitekeeper
Take the case of Unisea, one of the world’s leading fish product processing companies. IT staff were tracking licenses using paper and pen and compiling the results in an Excel spreadsheet. Deploying software updates required visiting every desktop.
Unisea bought Sitekeeper by Executive Software Inc. to automate software/hardware inventorying and ensure license compliance. In addition, the company wanted a way to check company machines periodically for unauthorized software so it could be removed.
"Users are prohibited from installing anything on their machines, but in some cases illegal programs can be installed without admin privileges," explains Mike Duffy, Unisea’s Information Systems manager.
Sitekeeper wasn’t the first product considered. Initially Unisea checked out Visual Audit Pro from VisionSoft Ltd. (Bradford, UK). While Duffy found it to be a good product, it required the user to either manually run an executable file on each local machine or ensure that the file’s execution be written into the logon script.
"As this could create permissions issues, I decided not to implement it due to its clumsiness," Duffy says.
He also looked into Microsoft Corp.’s Systems Management Server (SMS) but concluded it was overkill for what he needed to do. "SMS is far too complex and pervasive for our enterprise," he says. "You really have to spend a great deal of time just to learn how to use the software and it requires user intervention [and] cooperation to make it work."
After concluding that neither of these tools met Unisea’s needs, Duffy evaluated Sitekeeper. The program performs automated hardware and software inventories, as well as managing license compliance. Another plus: The product can remotely deploy software and can remotely remove software that’s illegally installed, outdated or unlicensed. Duffy says it’s also far simpler to use than more complex enterprise solutions such as SMS.
|Product Information |
Executive Software Inc.
"Sitekeeper was a piece of cake to install and implement," he says.
It takes about an hour to load and configure the software on a network running Windows 9X/Me/NT/2000/XP. The simplicity of the wizard-driven interface eliminates the need to study manuals or attend classes before using the product. It stores the license and inventory information in a Microsoft SQL database. If the customer isn’t already using SQL, the installation CD-ROM provides a copy of the Microsoft Data Engine database as a substitute.
Although most of the software features are self-explanatory, Duffy does wish the product came with more extensive documentation. "The uninstall feature is a bit confusing at first," he says. "It would be good if it had an expanded Help function giving more examples."
Once he clarified the feature’s operation, however, he found it easy to use. He hasn’t used Sitekeeper to uninstall applications per se, but he has used it to run scripts on all the machines in both domains. For example, he used it to run a script that deleted all of Outlook’s stationery files.
"E-mails prepared with stationery can get really large, taking up a lot of extra space on the Exchange server," he explains. "They are also very unwieldy to read over slow links, such as our satellite connection to our facility in the Aleutians."
While no agents need to be installed on client boxes running Windows NT, 2000 or XP, agents are required for Windows 98 and Windows Me. The program performs its inventories by remotely scanning the Windows Registry for items such as the software name, version, build or patch number and name of publisher. It scans about five to ten computers per second and automatically compiles an inventory report. Sitekeeper inventories the hardware at the same time. Duffy reports that it provides most of the data he needs, but he would also like it to provide the installed hard disk size, a feature the report lacks. He also advises, when you start using Sitekeeper, users should verify the data received.
While many firms are concerned about license compliance because of huge potential fines from surprise audits given by policing bodies like the BSA or the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), this wasn’t a concern for Duffy. He knew that Unisea had purchased a sufficient number of licenses, but he saw the time savings and efficiency gains that could be realized by automating software inventory and deployment. In fact, when he ran the initial inventories, Duffy had a nice surprise—Unisea was paying for more licenses on some software than it actually needed.
Unisea uses the inventory functions together with the Sitekeeper’s PushInstall software deployment feature. Two separate domains exist, one at a plant in the Aleutian Islands and one at headquarters in Redmond, Wash. Both are connected through a slow satellite link. As a result, the IT staff must deploy the software separately at each location; it cannot control it from a single point. Nevertheless, time savings were evident.
"In the last 60 days there have been two critical Internet Explorer [IE] security patches and Microsoft decided to release them by version, rather than one for covering a range of versions," explains Duffy. Earlier this would have meant that his staff would have had to go around to each box to determine and apply the appropriate patches for each box. Manually installing patches involved coming in at 4 a.m. or working into the evenings so they wouldn’t have to kick users off their machines. This is no longer necessary.
"I used Sitekeeper to first identify IE versions on the machines and then sorted the patches by version," he continues. "Then I applied the appropriate patch to the boxes and it was a done deal."
Duffy reports that it took less than an hour at each site location to perform all of the needed updates. This means Unisea can update its software as soon as a patch comes in, during business hours, rather than putting it on the back burner to be (maybe) done later. Being able to instantly deploy a patch results in increased system uptime, tighter network security and greater stability.
"It’s likely that some of the myriad of recent patches and security updates would not be installed were it not for the PushInstall feature," Duffy explains. With security a growing concern, missing patches and updates is something organizations can no longer afford to do.
Details: Unisea’s Automated Software Inventory
Team Leader: Mike Duffy, IS Manager
Organization: Unisea Inc.
Business/Mission: Unisea is one of the world’s leading fish product companies.
Location: Redmond, Wash. and Dutch Harbor, Alaska
Web Site: www.unisea.com
Goal: Create accurate hardware and software inventories to ensure license compliance. Run routine checks for user-installed, unauthorized software.
Scope: Software installed at two locations -- headquarters in Washington and processing facility in Alaska. Company has about 1,200 employees.
Equipment/Platform: Servers run a mix of IBM AS/400 and Windows NT/2000 running under NT 4.0 domain controllers. Both sites have 10/100 Ethernet with a fiber optic backbone connection. There is, however, no land line going to the Alaska location, so Unisea requires a satellite link (600ms average latency) for both data and voice connections. Consequently, both locations operate as separate domains with separate data stores to minimize congestion on the satellite link. Primary applications include terminal emulation, Microsoft Office and SQL Server, CAD, accounting, and HR/benefits apps. Additionally, the site’s primary applications include proprietary industry-specific apps.
Solution: Installed software to automate hardware and software license inventories and deployment of software updates, upgrades and patches site-wide.
Product: Sitekeeper from Executive Software Inc.
Other Products Considered: Unisea looked at Visual Audit Pro from VisionSoft Ltd in Bredford, UK, as well as Microsoft Corp.’s Systems Management Server (SMS).
Results: Inventories now being automatically taken and maintained. Routine deployment of software updates, upgrades and patches cut down to one hour per site during normal business hours—no more coming in early or working late.
Integrators: None needed. The product installs out of the box and enables companies to be up and running in about an hour.
Cost Savings: By installing Sitekeeper and utilizing its PushInstaller feature, Unisea realized an 85 percent reduction in personnel time normally required for routine software updates. Additionally, the inventory feature revealed that the company had more software licenses than it needed.
Advice: "Test first and compare the results with known values obtained independently from the software," Duffy says.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology reporting.