Change and Configuration Management Tools - 25 Jul 2006

Put away your Nikes and use these tools in place of sneakernet

Change and configuration management (CCM) is the automated upkeep of the computer systems distributed across your enterprise. CCM addresses your employees' need for a reliable and productive computing environment, updated applications and patches, and access to business data regardless of the user's physical location. CCM addresses IT's need for an efficient and reliable way to maintain and upgrade systems. Let's look at some of the tasks CCM manages, and at a variety of CCM features that can assist with those tasks.

How Well Does Your Organization Handle Change?
If your company has more than a few computers, you know that sneakernet isn't the most efficient or effective way to deal with them. Tedious tasks such as installing and updating software that must be repeated on individual machines tax the resources of maxed-out IT departments. The good news is that CCM capability has expanded beyond hardware and software inventorying to include features such as mobile computer management and security patch identification and updating. The sheer increase in the number of enterprise systems, coupled with the complexity of managing them, highlights the importance of management tools that you can deploy from a central location. If your organization relies on sneakernet or uses a CCM tool that isn't meeting all your needs, it might be time to reassess your options.

CCM Features to Consider
A basic CCM tool lets you inventory your assets by querying and reporting on the hardware and software in your organization. When you're on top of your inventory, you might want to implement a license-management feature that manages license compliance or monitors usage metrics. When it's time to roll out desktop upgrades or replacements, CCM products that offer OS installation features will let you perform this function centrally. Some CCM software can handle bare-metal OS installations. Contrasting sharply with identical desktop rollouts performed en masse, the ability to automatically distribute specialized software to specific computers or users is an advantage of some CCM tools. Software scheduling features let you select the time and day that's most convenient for performing automated installations without affecting end-user productivity.

Supporting mobile devices and overseeing the security of all your devices are important CCM features. Users frequently need access to data from more than one computer and when they're not connected to the network. CCM software that supports mobile devices is important for enterprise IT managers who need to ensure the availability, security, and reliability of software and data on mobile devices. Several CCM tools provide remotemanagement capabilities through a Web interface. CCM tools offering security patch identification and deployment features automatically scan your systems for missing security patches, determine the severity of the problem that a patch addresses, and, depending on that assessment, deploy the patch.

Do you understand the differences between agent-based and agentless CCM tools? An agentless tool doesn't require a software agent to be installed locally, thus reducing the costs of administration and deployment time. An agent-based tool enables more customizable management. Most CCM products offer either agentless or agent-based installation; a few products offer both types.

Making the Choice
IntelliMirror is a fundamental CCM tool included in Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 with Active Directory (AD). Using IntelliMirror—and its reliance on Group Policy—you can configure a wide variety of desktop and server changes, control desktop settings, perform basic desktop deployments, set critical security settings, and distribute software applications and updates. IntelliMirror doesn't offer advanced software distribution and patch management capability. Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 does a better job of managing the needs of larger businesses. SMS 2003 provides features that IntelliMirror doesn't, such as OS deployment and advanced patch management and software distribution.

If you want or need to look beyond Microsoft's offerings, you'll find a solid selection of third-party CCM software available. Most third-party products integrate with Active Directory (AD), and some third-party products integrate with SMS. The table will help you compare the features of multiple CCM products, including SMS 2003 R2, to help you get the most bang for your buck.

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