ZENworks 2.0 brings desktop control closer

One of the most time-consuming activities for an agency information technology department is maintaining the organization's fleet of desktop computers. Loading software updates and fixing problems are just two of the common management tasks that regularly keeps IT support staff busy.

The primary mission of products like ZENworks 2.0, Novell Inc.'s latest systems management platform, is to provide a way for IT staff to manage PCs without leaving their desks. That saves time and money because support staff members can do their jobs more efficiently.

What sets ZENworks 2.0 apart is how it leverages integration with Novell Directory Services (NDS) to ease administrative chores. That, of course, makes the product especially appealing to agencies and departments that have significant NetWare and NDS deployments.

New features in Version 2.0 include the ability to easily gather hardware and software inventory information, enhanced software distribution capabilities and enhanced remote management of desktop systems. Antivirus software from Network Associates Inc. adds significant value to the basic management tool set in ZENworks.

ZENworks focuses on two management areas: workstations and applications. It is not, in other words, a tool for managing and diagnosing network infrastructures.

In the workstation management area, ZENworks provides a host of tools for tracking and maintaining desktop computers. ZENworks makes it possible to keep an accurate and up-to-date hardware and software inventory for all workstations on the network. A workstation scanner program periodically gathers all the information from each workstation when the user logs in. The administrator can set the frequency and types of scans, looking at hardware, software or both.

ZENworks detection capabilities are generally good, although we did encounter one slip-up: When scanning a computer with an Advanced Micro Devices Inc. K-II 400 CPU, the software reported an AMD Am5x86 chip with the obviously erroneous speed of 1,478 MHz.

In the application management area, ZENworks makes it possible to distribute software across the network to a workstation, even if a user is not logged on.

One feature that will cut back on help-desk calls is the ability to heal a broken application. ZENworks snAppShot utility employs the same technique used by other products, such as Intel Corp.'s LANDesk and Microsoft Corp.'s System Management Server, of recording before and after snapshots of files on a workstation. Then, using an application launcher tool, ZENworks detects when a change has occurred that affects proper operation of the program. It will then fix the broken application by downloading only the pieces needed to get it back up and running.

ZENworks is tightly coupled with NDS and, as a result, offers many policy-based capabilities for running applications, distributing software and metering software.

Remotely Managing PCs

One of the most time-consuming tasks for any help-desk team is trekking out to a user's PC to help them through a problem. Remote-control programs have existed for quite some time, but ZENworks extends the concept to take full advantage of NDS.

In some instances, for example, you wouldn't want to give universal access to certain computers, such as those in a personnel department. ZENworks' remote-management tool can be configured to allow access to specific computers or an entire group with exceptions.

The file-transfer option in ZENworks also makes it easy to push a file down to a user's workstation for correcting common errors, such as accidentally deleting an important DLL file. There's also a way to remotely reboot the workstation once the fixes have been implemented.

ZENworks is a powerful but complex application. Many of the tools and utilities require a considerable amount of effort and configuration to get functioning correctly. Don't expect to install the software and solve all your organization's PC management problems instantly. On the other hand, don't underestimate the potential for time savings with ZENworks. Novell provides training and other materials to help you attack the learning curve in the most expedient manner.

ZENworks can be used on Microsoft's Windows NT networks if you're using NDS for NT, and you'll get about 90 percent of the program's functionality. But the product is best suited for departments and agencies that are primarily employing NetWare networks. At $59 per seat, the product is competitively priced with the similar products, such as Intel's LANDesk ($6,250 for 100 users, $50,000 for 1,000 users).

— Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer with Avionics Test &Analysis Corp. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.


ZENworks 2.0

Novell Inc.

(801) 861-7000


Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $59 per user.

Remarks: ZENworks provides a comprehensive tool for managing networked PCs. Although the product provides an immense amount of functionality, it comes at the price of excessive complication. You will need sufficient time and training to take advantage of the full range of features. Once you get beyond the learning curve, expect to see a significant return on your investment.

Final Score: Very good

BY Paul Ferrill
Feb. 10, 2000

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