Product Reviews

Take Control

The Altiris Management Suites give you complete control over every aspect of your network operations.

It seems no one can get by without some sort of system management software. You're constantly being inundated with new tasks and faced with new fires to extinguish.

Paradoxically, system management has grown both more complex and simpler in recent years. It's more complex because you have more to monitor and manage and simpler because we now have integrated suites of system management tools with which to do so. These management suites, like the Altiris Client Management Suite, provide comprehensive sets of network control features.

The Altiris Client Management Suite includes the following applications, grouped into three levels. Level one includes:

  • Software delivery solution
  • Patch management solution
  • Inventory solution for clients
  • Deployment solution for clients
  • Carbon copy solution
  • Application metering solution
  • Application management solution

Level two includes:

  • Wise Package Studio Pro Edition (every 1,000 licenses purchased for the entire suite includes one license for Package Studio Pro)
  • Web administrator solution for Windows
  • Local recovery pro

Level three includes:

  • Recovery solution for clients

The Altiris Client Management Suite (CMS) offers complete systems management, from deploying operating systems and inventory control to software management and patch management. All those functions are accessible from within a single integrated interface.

You can configure CMS to build or rebuild machines with the latest standard operating environment, download and integrate user profiles and personal data from a remote location and more—all of which is completely transparent to the users.

You don't get all that with the Altiris Client Management Suite, but you certainly get all of the systems and processes that make this possible. With Altiris, you can control every client component in your network and get detailed information on managed systems at any time (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Altiris Management Suite
Figure 1. The Altiris Management Suite gives you comprehensive information about any system in your network. (Click image to view larger version.)

Helping Hands
Altiris provides a series of add-on suites for managing handheld devices, help desk systems and controlling asset management. It's surprising how few organizations treat handheld devices seriously, but with the Handheld Management Suite (HMS), you'll quickly know what devices you have connected to your network and how your users are using them.

You can treat the comprehensive HMS as an independent component or an add-on to the CMS. The HMS provides three core functions for handhelds: inventory, security and software management. The first is often the most useful function for many organizations where handhelds are still ad hoc IT items.

Once you've assembled a complete picture of what you have in terms of handheld devices, you can move to the best feature of HMS—securing the handhelds. The HMS provides on-device security, data encryption, bit-level data wipe-out after device loss and strong password protection. HMS also supports software delivery, so you can centrally manage the devices. Having the ability to manage these systems goes a long way toward integrating them into the global IT infrastructure.

Documentation 10% ————— 8
Installation 10% ——————— 7
Feature Set 40% ——————— 10
Performance 20% —————— 8
Management 20% —————— 9

Overall Rating: 8.9
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

Another add-on is Helpdesk Solution, which now boasts Smart Task support. Smart Tasks are automated help desk activities driven by the type of situation the help desk operator is handling.

Smart Tasks operate like an integrated wizard activated by the type of call. The activities suggested depend on the nature of the call being managed. Right now, they cover only basic tasks like file recovery and software delivery. Updates expected later this year will include many more activities that help streamline the way help desk operators address support tasks.

The final add-on to CMS is the Asset Management Suite (AMS). This supplements the core inventory features included within CMS. AMS is a complete asset management system that includes bar code support for inventory collection and replacement cycle support for out-of-date equipment.

One of the nicest features of all the Altiris management suites is that they are based on processes outlined by the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the de facto standard for IT service management. This makes it much easier for organizations that want to adopt an IT service management strategy.

To manage servers, Altiris offers the Server Management Suite (SMS), which is similar to the CMS, but is focused on performance, uptime and automated problem resolution to ensure your server platforms are maintaining user services. The Altiris SMS concentrates on managing the IT lifecycle. Each of the individual management suites support a different phase of a server's lifecycle, which is why they're best used together.

Altiris makes all of these suites—the server management, help desk, asset management and handheld management—available as the Total Management Suite (TMS), which also includes Wise Package Studio. Package Studio Version 5.5 lets you manipulate patches as packages. You can scan for conflicts and integrate for delivery based on functional affinities. You can then deliver these families of patches through the integrated patch management system supported by TMS (see Figure 2). Including the Wise product in TMS makes for a comprehensive set of systems management features. Few stones are left unturned in the IT domain when you have TMS implemented to its fullest capability. You will have a comprehensive view of your entire infrastructure and the ability to manage it as you see fit.

Figure 2. The Altiris console.
Figure 2. The Altiris console helps manage system and software deployment, inventory and even patch updates. (Click image to view larger version.)

Installation Notes
The installation process for the TMS suite is straightforward. Altiris begins with installing the Notification Server, which is the central pillar of the Altiris system. The Notification Server setup determines where all other components are installed. All information provided by the Total Management Suite is stored in a database.

Though it supports the Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE), it is highly recommended that you implement a full-fledged SQL Server 2000 database because of the nature of the tasks you will run with TMS. You simply can't run an enterprise on MSDE. Once your database server connection is in place for Notification Server, you can then proceed with installing the other components.

The installation and configuration process for the entire Altiris system is relatively straightforward, although we would have preferred something even more explicit. We highly recommend you read the documentation and understand how the Altiris product suites function both by themselves and together before installing them. Once you have, the Altiris suite will provide some impressive network control and management capabilities, and you'll spend far less of your time putting out fires.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.


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