Oct 06 2009

Use Desktop Lifecycle Management to Your Advantage

Creating a management policy helps schools know where they are and where they're going.

Imagine for a moment a perfect world for an IT desktop manager:

Her new desktops would arrive from the manufacturer properly equipped for any task, with the right hardware and software already installed. The computers never have issues; they continue to run as smoothly as the day they were purchased. Licensing and compliance are always in agreement, and auditors would have to spend countless hours trying to find something to justify their high consulting fees.

Although this perfect world may never be a reality for our hard-working manager, she can realize many of its benefits through desktop lifecycle management. DLM covers everything found on a user's desktop: system (even a thin client or blade PC), monitor and software.

Although putting together a proper DLM policy requires some elbow grease – and perhaps a small financial investment – there's much to be gained from one. Organizations that deploy DLM realize cost savings, risk mitigation and improved compliance, and their users are more productive. But to succeed with DLM, you must begin by carefully evaluating both your current and future desktop needs.

Evaluation and Planning

Desktop lifecycle management begins with where you are. The first step is to determine hardware and software inventories down to a level of detail necessary for future improvements.

You also need to decide what you are going to manage: At first it might be only the PC hardware and installed software; later you might include monitors, desktop printers and other peripherals. You also need to record which user has been assigned to which equipment, what his or her job is and in which department he or she works. This can be done either manually, with some basic scripts, or with a software program such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager or Altiris Client Management Suite.

Next, you need to envision where it is you want to go. What are the current software requirements for each job function or department? What hardware is necessary to run these packages – now and in three years? What pain points do users currently experience, and how could these be managed to increase productivity?

Last, as with any now-and-future exercise, comes gap analysis. Compare where you are now with where you want to be. In some cases, additional software and hardware may be needed; in other cases, unnecessary or unused technology can be removed.

Cost Prevention

When you have a better handle on what software your organization is using, you'll be much more effective at the bargaining table come license renewal time. You'll probably find you have too many licenses for a number of items. You might also find that, because you are using certain combinations of software, the manufacturer will be able to provide discount pricing. More important, you'll have a better picture on what you're going to need over the next one to three years, allowing you to plan for things like software assurance and enterprise agreements.

Through the benefits of DLM, you'll also find your desktop services team is more proactive than reactive. You'll know when hardware is approaching end of life, and you may be able to fix problems before they occur. Mix in some desktop performance monitoring, and you can see which users really do need that extra gigabyte of RAM.

Operations Productivity Gains

DLM can also provide tangible productivity gains in desktop management. With a clear view of the hardware in your environment, you can better plan a rollout of new software. For example, consider an upcoming deployment of Microsoft Office Professional 2007: Recommended requirements are 512 megabytes of RAM, Windows XP with SP2 and a 1-gigahertz processor. By reviewing your current configurations, you can see which machines will need an upgrade (of either hardware or operating system or both), and you can plan your rollout accordingly.

Take it a step further and consider other software on these systems. For example, for full compatibility with Office 2007, IBM Content Manager 8.3 clients must be upgraded to 8.4. You see from the DLM report that 500 of your users will need that upgrade before Office 2007. Again, you can plan your purchases of software and the rollout accordingly.

DLM should also help reduce calls to the help desk. By not blindly deploying Office 2007 to the clients who have the minimum requirements (or to those with an incompatible version of another manufacturer's software), you eliminate calls from users complaining of performance issues or application crashes.

Risk Mitigation and Compliance

No matter where you work, the auditors are coming for you. DLM provides the most benefit where you most need it: in maintaining compliance and mitigating risk.

A good DLM appraisal includes not only what software is being used, but also how well it is being maintained. Hence, you should have a good handle on which security patches have been installed and which systems need remediation. Obviously, this minimizes risk, but it also helps with compliance by giving auditors a clear picture of the process you've implemented to make your organization as secure as possible.

Of course, knowing what software you own and what's actually being used will help you keep your licenses current, too. Controlling the spread of unauthorized software installations is a headache for any desktop manager. Knowing what you've bought and deployed will help you avoid a slap on the wrist (which could have financial consequences) should a manufacturer audit your licenses.

Finally, DLM lets you plan for your systems' end of life. Despite many manufacturers' claims, software does eventually decay and can no longer be supported – and that means any new vulnerabilities will not be patched. DLM allows you to manage that risk so you can plan for rollouts of new software – and the impacts such updates will have your users.