HILARY MULUDIANG at Saint Joseph’s University looks beyond initial LANDesk inventory and remote-support capabilities to virtualizing Mac applications.
Oct 08 2008

The New Face of Desktop Management

Today's tools expand software licensing options.

Universities find desktop management tools addicting: They deploy an initial management application and then feel an inexorable pull to do more.

Colleges and universities look to traditional desktop management tools to handle asset management, software license tracking and remote support. They want to bump up return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO). If inventory and support calls can be handled remotely, there’s no need to dispatch staff across campus, saving both time and money.

But many schools find the tools’ true worth comes in a variety of new capabilities that further enhance ROI and TCO. Today’s desktop management tools incorporate new features such as power management, virtualization, compliance and security capabilities, including network access control (NAC), says Terrence Cosgrove, senior research analyst for Gartner in Exeter, N.H.

“Anything that’s operational or repetitive — even if it’s security in nature — we’re seeing desktop management taking on those responsibilities,” he says. “It’s a real trend.”

Hilary Muludiang, senior computer support specialist at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, understands that versatility and potential for savings. Saint Joseph’s purchased the LANDesk desktop management suite this summer for its centralized inventory and remote-support capabilities. Muludiang plans to explore application virtualization features soon, noting the cost advantages it could bring.

“That’s one thing we’ll look at, especially for our Macintosh users who may need to access Windows applications,” he says, adding that LANDesk can download a virtualized Windows application to the Macintosh desktop without affecting any of the Macintosh drivers or settings. “They won’t need to have two computers under their desk, one Windows and one Mac. That will be a big savings.”

Security, Too

American University in Washington, D.C., recently installed the LANDesk Desktop Management suite, and already the school is looking beyond its initial needs for centralized inventory management, automated patching and remote support, using the tool to handle more critical security needs.

“The principal reason we looked at end-point management was to give us the ability to do an automated, centralized workstation inventory,” explains Edward Martin, deputy CIO and senior director of technology operations at the school. “But we also had some efficiency-gaining reasons, like the ability to quickly push out patches and workstation-based software to mitigate against vulnerabilities, and the ability to do remote assistance for our help desk.”

Overall, Martin says he justified the purchase of LANDesk — which cost about $28 per seat, plus $10.50 per year per seat for maintenance — by estimating cost savings from reduced time spent on inventory management (66 percent), remote assistance (50 percent) and software patch distribution (50 percent). In the end, the tool will more than pay for itself, he says.

The school is also interested in LANDesk’s security capabilities. Martin says he hasn’t yet purchased the security suite but can see its potential, especially because the school is already using Cisco’s NAC Appliance (formerly Cisco Clean Access) as its NAC architecture.

“When you have an environment like a university with people coming and using end-points that you don’t own, you need to have some kind of way to ensure a minimum configuration baseline for each end-point,” he says. “And NAC as an infrastructure lets you verify patch levels and antivirus levels and firewall configurations so you can minimize the potential impact of users on one another.”

Beyond Remote Support

“If you run a PC 24x7, 365 days a year, it might cost about $75 in energy to support that. Shut that PC down at 6 p.m. every day and on weekends — assuming typical usage — it could cost just $18 to $22 per PC.”

—Terrence Cosgrove, senior research analyst, Gartner

Middle Tennessee State University’s Jennings A. Jones College of Business in Murfreesboro, Tenn., first used desktop management as a way to enforce standards and ease remote support for its nearly 900 PCs. It discovered, however, that a new feature in its chosen tool could help the school lower power consumption by up to 25 percent.

Carlos Coronel, director of the school’s computer lab, purchased ScriptLogic’s Desktop Authority to standardize and document the school’s various computers. He also quickly took advantage of Desktop Authority’s power management features.

“Desktop Authority lets you create a profile that applies power savings to a particular group of PCs,” Coronel explains. “It’s integrated with Active Directory, so you can tell it to apply a certain profile to all the lab computers. The profile will contain a certain screen saver and desktop wallpaper, as well as the type of power savings to apply.”

The school’s computer lab is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Before Desktop Authority was deployed, monitors and hard drives on 200 computers in the lab were continuously running, consuming power even when not in use. “Now, after five hours of inactivity, we shut them down via power management,” Coronel says.

Now, instead of all those computers running 24x7, at most they run 12 to 18 hours. “That’s a 25 percent savings, because they’re not on for at least six hours out of 24,” Coronel says.

The Road to Virtualization

Portland Community College (PCC) in Oregon sees similar savings. The school first purchased Kace’s KBOX desktop management appliance, primarily for its asset management, software license management and remote-support features, explains Michael Heuer, technology solution services (TSS) customer support manager at the school.

Heuer also needed to track which computers were running which software packages to ensure the school stayed in compliance, as well as to provide remote support for its far-flung user base. KBOX filled those needs, he says, and it also helped the school ease into virtualization.

As PCC virtualizes its desktops — using centralized VMware ESX servers running virtual desktop images — KBOX helps with software distribution. “Instead of having all the software loaded on a PC’s hard drive, the user requests their software copy and we deploy it from the KBOX down to that machine,” Heuer says. “You can do the load either down to the hard drive or just to the server-resident image, so it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Heuer says he judged the KBOX’s ROI solely on the remote-support side, so the additional license/software management and virtualization support is gravy.

“The KBOX cost us about $125,000 total for five years, including maintenance,” he says, noting that this was in 2006 for a 7,000 end-point license. “We estimate that, using the remote-support piece alone, we resolved over 400 issues that [before the deployment] would have resulted in tickets for technicians to do a hands-on visit to those PCs. That’s easily the equivalent” of a full time employee.

Options Are Key

Colleges and universities are fast finding that desktop management wares provide far more functionality than basic asset/license management and remote support. As Middle Tennessee’s Coronel says, “We chose Desktop Authority precisely because it has so many different options. You can pick and choose what you want to use. It’s even more than we bargained for.”

Desktop Management Lessons Learned

Wise words for ensuring desktop management success.

  1. Plan well. The key to a successful desktop management rollout is in the planning. “Develop some policies and procedures and some requirements, and then don’t skip the documentation and training,” says Michael Heuer, Technology Solution Services (TSS) customer support manager at Portland Community College in Oregon.
  2. Staff it right. “You need to have the right human-capital resources to concentrate on the rollout,” says Edward Martin, deputy CIO at American University. “And that means you need to have some people you can assign to it who have a good comprehension of the way end-points communicate with the network, whatever your network authentication infrastructure is, whether it’s Novell or Windows or something else,” he says.
  3. Ensure security synergies. “Make sure it’s being introduced in conjunction with any security governance components you already have on your infrastructure,” Martin says, noting that he had to make sure his LANDesk implementation worked with Cisco’s CCA. “Your information security group should be an active participant in considering the impact of introducing it to the infrastructure.”
  4. Community is key. “Make sure the product you choose has a strong user community around it,” Martin says. “With LANDesk, there’s a large community that shares lessons learned and best practices. Participating in the regional users’ group has been beneficial as well.”