Ease Desktop Administration With Suites

Suites deliver a plethora of capabilities for IT.

Suites deliver a plethora of capabilities to ease desktop administration.

There was a time in Lane County, Ore., when many employees required two workstations because some finicky applications couldn’t reside on the same desktop. Now the county has cleared the clutter by using application virtualization to eliminate software conflicts and ease administration.

Application virtualization is just another feature of the LANDesk Management Suite, which Lane County relies on for remote administration, patch management and software distribution for the county’s 1,600 desktops scattered over 26 sites. Before the deployment, the jail management system and financial/human resources packages couldn’t coexist on the same desktop, according to Brad Carpenter, senior systems analyst for the county.

“That meant we had two boxes, two monitors, a keyboard and mouse switch, all of which added up in terms of cost,” Carpenter says.

Across the board, state and local agencies such as Lane County see their tried-and-true desktop management wares picking up new functions that make them even more valuable. Beyond their traditional capabilities for application, operating system and patch distribution; configuration management; or asset and license management, the products now sport application virtualization, power management, compliance and even security tools. Such enhancements boost their usefulness in organizations and make life easier for desktop support managers.

“Anything that’s operational in nature and repetitive, even if it’s for security or virtualization, we’re seeing desktop management taking on those responsibilities,” says Terrence Cosgrove, senior research analyst at Gartner in Exeter, N.H. “It’s a real trend.”

Old Tools, New Tricks

In Lane County, Carpenter uses LANDesk to build a virtual copy of the application and stream that to the desktop. Virtualized applications are contained within their own sandbox on the desktop, making software and driver conflicts a thing of the past.

“Instead of pushing all this software to the desktop, you manage a central image for an application, and that’s the only place you have to worry about it,” he says. The virtualization support allowed the county to simplify management and decrease its investment in redundant hardware to support the conflicting packages.

Overall, LANDesk has saved the county as much as $400,000 a year in IT support costs. “That didn’t go right to the bottom line like it would in the private sector, but it was $400,000 in staff time and resources we could spend on other projects,” Carpenter says.

LANDesk also helps the county with regulatory compliance, especially with the new Federal Desktop Core Configuration, a standard issued by the Office of Management and Budget stipulating as many as 200 different settings required for PCs accessing federal systems. Carpenter says that without such compliance, the county would not be allowed access to federal crime databases.

The desktop management package also plays a role in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Carpenter uses LANDesk to time screen savers on workstations, locking the console if nothing happens in 15 to 30 seconds. What’s more, LANDesk’s USB and port-based security helps to further lock down desktop data.

“If a contractor comes in with a thumb drive, we can’t have them grab criminal-justice data off of our servers and walk off with it,” Carpenter says. “We can set LANDesk up so that only USB drives with certain serial numbers are allowed, or no USB is allowed, or just this one brand is allowed.”

Like Lane County, the Delaware Department of Technology and Information finds port-blocking features useful for HIPAA compliance. Rob Revels, telecom technologist for the agency, manages 17,000 Windows desktops with ScriptLogic Desktop Authority.

“Our Delaware Health and Social Services agency has workstations with doctor and patient information,” Revels says. “Because of HIPAA regulations, we need to lock down the USB ports, floppy drives and so on. Ports can be configured so that they have read access but can’t be written to. There’s a lot of flexibility on how you can configure devices.”

Making the Most of It

Users offer advice for getting the most from desktop management wares:

  • Don’t skimp on training. Training and conferences are worthwhile, especially as good venues for networking with other users, recommends Jason Potts, network administrator for Franklin, Tenn. If travel isn’t an option, try webinars.
  • Watch out for Vista. Rob Revels, telecom technologist for Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information (DTI), says moving to Vista can be sticky for desktop management tools like ScriptLogic’s Desktop Authority, so make sure you have the latest version.
  • Look for customizable packages. Brad Carpenter, senior systems analyst for Lane County, Ore., says users should look for an open tool that’s easy to configure for individual needs. “A good example is LANDesk’s custom data forms,” he says.
Sep 11 2008