Novell ZENworks 6.5

Most Windows administrators know that Novell, well known for its NetWare product, has created numerous programs that run on NetWare servers. But were you aware that a few of Novell’s programs—such as Novell ZENworks 6.5—can run on Windows Server 2003? You can use the product to manage Linux, NetWare, Sun Microsystems' Solaris, and Windows systems.

I tested the ZENworks resource-management software on a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 server with 1GB of RAM, running Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition with all the most recent patches. I loaded ZENworks, along with the accompanying Novell ConsoleOne (which Figure 1 shows), Novell eDirectory, iManager, and iMonitor. I ran into trouble right off the bat. Because of poor documentation that omitted crucial information, it took me several days to install the software.

When I got to the configuration stage, I had difficulty using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) (build 6.0.3790.0) to configure the ZENworks settings. Several screens displayed only partial information or graphics placeholders. After doing some investigative work in Novell’s online knowledge base and the Internet, I found a Technical Information Document (TID) that recommended an IE security-setting change; this change solved the problem. However, my attempts to use iManager with IE met with failure and produced nothing but blank screens. I suspected that the problem was once again related to an IE security setting but couldn’t locate a TID that addressed the problem, so I decided to try a different browser. Firefox did the trick. During my tests, I found that I needed both browsers: Certain functions required IE and ActiveX, and others refused to work with IE’s default security settings but worked fine with Firefox.

Navigating ZENworks’s menus was a little troublesome. The menus weren’t as intuitive as I’d expected, and I had a hard time understanding the functions of several of the icons.

I tried two of the software’s methods for packaging software applications for distribution. The first method involves applications that already include a Windows Installer transform (MST) file; the second method involves using Novell snAppShot to create an MST file for applications that don’t already include one. ZENworks’s inclusion of InstallShield's AdminStudio made the task fairly easy. The product accommodates the demise of the 3.5” disk (several computer manufactures have discontinued 3.5” drives but support booting off of a USB drive). I used a 1GB USB drive, loaded with Linux, to boot and successfully download Windows XP to a system with a wiped drive. I saw no reason why you couldn’t use the same procedure with DOS or Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE).

Novell scores points for its OEM license agreement with PatchLink. Every ZENworks client license includes a license for PATCHLINK UPDATE, which gives the client access to prepackaged patches ready for distribution. Simply copy the patch file to the server, select the users who need the patch, and ZENworks Patch Management distributes the patches.

Another feature that I liked—and the equivalent of which I haven’t found in other management products—was NetWare Application Launcher. NAL lets you add virtual program icons to users’ desktops, Start menus, and system trays. If a user accidentally (or purposefully) deletes the icon, it will reappear a few seconds later. I successfully used NAL to install and launch software programs.

ZENworks’ software and hardware inventory-reporting capabilities were comparable to the other resource-management programs I’ve tested. ZENworks offers canned reports as well as ad hoc reporting capabilities. One noteworthy reporting feature: You can choose to store collected data in one or several databases—a potential advantage for companies with multiple offices. (The inventory for each office could reside in a separate database.) The drawback in using multiple databases, of course, is that any combining of the information would need to be performed manually.

Another good feature dealt with remote user assistance. Unlike other programs that require you to know the IP address or machine name of a client system to help that system’s user, ZENworks gives you the means to assist a user even when you know only the user’s Windows logon ID.

ZENworks is a complex program and mastering it requires a substantial time investment. Clearer documentation and deployment guides would greatly improve the product.

Novell ZENworks 6.5
Contact: Novell * 781-464-8222
Price: Starts at $130 for one user license
Reviewer: Douglas R. Spindler
Pros: Novell Application Launcher feature; patch subscription service
Cons: Poor installation documentation; nonintuitive menus; difficult to configure when using Microsoft Internet Explorer
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Recommendation: Novell ZENworks is a multiplatform client management suite that's bundled with Macrovision's AdminStudio for software installation and PATCHLINK UPDATE for patch management. It’s a complex program with useful features but will require a substantial time investment to master.
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