CyberMedia rolls out network tool

PC utility vendor CyberMedia Inc. last week introduced its first network product: A solution designed to automatically repair common computer problems or to give administrators the ability to diagnose and repair problems remotely over a network or the World Wide Web.

CyberMedia Support Server Repair Engine for Workgroups or CSS for short is based on the company's ActiveHelp database of computer problems and commands which the company has been marketing for stand-alone PC users in the consumer and small-office market. Aimed at small to medium-size businesses CSS can shave up to 30 percent off the total cost of owning of PCs by reducing management costs according to company officials. However unlike stripped-down network computers or "Net PCs" offered by some vendors the software reduces management costs without reducing the power on end-users' desktops the company said.

A lot of offices particularly within government agencies operate under "lock-down" rules which prohibit users from adding or tampering with the applications that are on their PCs Geoffrey G. Stilley vice president of federal sales and marketing said in an interview. But it is easy to ignore those rules and Web access makes it tempting to download applications that end up driving administrators crazy Stilley said. CSS is designed to automatically recognize and repair such problems as system crashes unstable applications and bad drivers without the user or the IS manager ever noticing.

It works by scanning a user's system looking for symptoms of a crash or other problem and compares the data to the ActiveHelp database on the server containing known problems and solutions supplied by software vendors and help desks. When a problem is detected CSS can fix it automatically if the IS manager has chosen the automation feature. If not the software notifies the administrator who then can authorize the repair.

The IS manager also can use CSS to peer into the user's system without leaving his office and issue repairs to problems before they cause a disruption. The question is whether CSS can live up to the challenges of the network analysts said. "That engine has been on a PC home-user level which is much less complicated than a network environment " said Philip Mendoza an analyst in the systems management software group at International Data Corp. Boston. "You can see how a driver for a single PC is not such a big deal but when you go from managing one desktop to managing 50 it's much more complex. It remains to be seen if it will perform as well." The CSS scales to 50 and the fact that it is not cross-platform - covering only Windows 3.1 Windows 95 and Windows NT - should reduce some of the complexity Mendoza said.

CyberMedia officials acknowledge the ActiveHelp database cannot recognize and repair all problems but it would not estimate what percentage of problems are covered. They said however that First Aid one of the consumer products underwritten by ActiveHelp technology covered about 35 percent of all problems. CyberMedia officials said CSS has an added feature called TimeTrak designed to cover problems that are not in the database. It gives an IS manager the power to send down a command that returns a user's desktop to a previous configuration under which everything ran smoothly CyberMedia officials said.

Jeannie Freis senior analyst of network and systems management at Aberdeen Group Inc. Boston said the product was ideal for fixing routine problems that are not mission-critical. Users still want to be able to diagnose those themselves she said. CyberMedia's strategy of basing a new product on its consumer products is a logical second step and necessary for CyberMedia to increase its sales but the company needs to work on appropriate marketing for enterprises Freis said. She added that if CyberMedia can make inroads into the federal government with the product it could be in line for some large contracts. "If anyone needs help it's the federal government " said Freis who once worked for the government. "It's unbelievable how little tracking goes on. There's no accountability at all and the amount of money that's wasted is amazing."

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