By Karen Robertson-Kidd
The Slammer worm that crippled the Internet earlier this year provided an opportunity for the National Park Service (NPS) to test its new PC management system, Belarc Inc.'s BelManage. When Slammer reports began circulating, the NPS needed to know which of its systems were vulnerable and it needed to know fast. NPS’ deputy CIO, John Snyder, soon was on the phone with Belarc to ask whether there was any way BelManage could be used to pinpoint the network’s vulnerable systems. "It was just a click on his report," Belarc chairman Sumin Tchen recalled.
With that click, NPS IT officials knew how many vulnerable servers and clients were on the entire network and where those systems were located. They also knew the worth of BelManage.
Widespread system required accurate management
NPS started looking for a PC management system late last summer. It had thousands of servers and clients in 388 parks nationwide. "Prior to that, we did not have an enterprisewide IT tracking system," said NPS CIO Dom Nessi.
The Park Service did do a total fixed assets inventory and some programs were in place. However, these programs varied by region and that inventory also mixed clients and servers "with a vast amount of other equipment," Nessi said. All this meant NPS’ scatter inventory system was very difficult to keep up to date and, at times, just wasn't accurate. The NPS couldn't even be sure how many PCs it had, let alone what operating system each one ran, its age, or other related information.
What it could be sure of was that it had a daunting task ahead. Some parks are so small that they don't staff IT specialists. "This wasn't expected to be easy," Nessi said. "But we had some year-end money and we wanted to get this in place as soon as possible."
One option was to have the NPS' IT department develop and implement its own PC management system. Nessi said that idea was soon discarded. "There are just too many good products on the market to do it in-house," he said.
As the search began for the best PC management software, Nessi heard that the administrator of the operations center in Herndon, VA, was already using BelManage "and spoke highly of it."
BelManage system fits large networks
Nessi and other NPS officials met with Belarc representatives and got a good look at BelManage, which is designed to easily and accurately manage a network's PCs, servers, and laptops, no matter how vast the network, via a single BelManage intranet server. BelManage reports include information on software licenses, available Windows 2000 and XP upgrades, change histories, individual PC health status and trend logs, and more. BelManage's performance-monitoring component includes hard drive SMART status, network activity, CPU utilization, and reboots. BelManage also updates its SQL Server or Oracle database and makes the relevant information available to a company's IT personnel based on secure browser logins.
BelManage has an impressive client base, including Clear Channel Communications, Epsilon, the Mayo Clinic, and other government agencies such as the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the Veterans Administration, and the U.S. Marine Corps. The USMC began using BelManage last summer to track its 70,000 desktops, servers, and laptops. "We are using BelManage to get a handle on our legacy software applications and to help consolidate our servers throughout our worldwide network," Lt. Col. Frank Brady was quoted in a Belarc press release. "We have even used it to find unauthorized applications and operating systems running on our computers."
By the end of September, NPS officials had decided on BelManage. Rollout started last October as NPS personnel throughout the country began inputting the initial data and applications that would allow BelManage to accurately track NPS' servers and clients. By the end of the fifth week, 90 percent of the service's inventory had been tracked, Nessi said.
When it all was tracked, Nessi discovered that he had 18,173 desktops and 1,842 servers on the NPS network. BelManage also confirmed the existence of a few hundred Macs and "a very few and far between" units running UNIX.
One piece of information in particular was an eyebrow-raiser, Nessi said. BelManage found that almost 7,000 computers were still running Windows 95 or 98. Those systems would have to be upgraded, or in some cases replaced, to fit into NPS' implementation of Active Directory.
It's not unusual for a new BelManage client to discover that their previous PC inventories were inaccurate, Tchen said. In fact, some clients report an inaccuracy rate of about 25 percent. "People can be in for a real shock," Tchen explained. "It's amazing how those disks will get shared."
This is the sort of information that BelManage is designed to report, Tchen said. At any time, a client may pull a BelManage report and know, accurately and up to that minute, which systems are on the network and where. That's certainly faster than the months that a manual audit can take and the weeks that other types of PC auditing software can require. "Our clients don't have to do an audit," Tchen said. "Their information is already up to date."
That up-to-date inventory accuracy, the ease of installing and using the product, and the quality of customer service have made the NPS very pleased with BelManage and with Belarc.
For a closer look at BelManage, visit Belarc's BelManage pages:
Sample BelManage screens
Preview edition of BelManage