Hardware

Review: IS Decisions RemoteExec 5

Derek Schauland reviews the RemoteExec 5 utility for performing remote administration tasks.

From getting updates deployed on a regular schedule to ensuring that users can access all of their applications, managing computers is a time-consuming task. With the latest release of RemoteExec from IS Decisions, you may find that managing servers and workstations can be made a bit easier, using some of the latest features.

Specs:

Target systems require Windows 2000 or higher and the host system for RemoteExec requires Windows 2000 with SP4 and MDAC 2.6 or Windows XP or Higher.

File and Printer Sharing and ICMP ports, as well as Administrator access are required on all target computers.

Pricing is based on number of remote targets, starting at about $23 USD for less than 20. For more information on pricing levels, visit http://www.isdecisions.com.

Who's it for?

RemoteExec 5 is a great utility application for administrators or helpdesk staff who manage systems in multiple locations.

What problem does it solve?

The biggest two problems I can see being solved by RemoteExec 5 are PC availability and general remote management. Suppose I want to install an application on a remote PC and have scheduled (and reminded) the users that this update will take place, but the PC I need to access has been turned off.

Remote Exec supports Wake on LAN, which allows me as an administrator to access a PC even if someone inadvertently turned it off, perform the updates/installations needed, and if needed, turn the PC off again. This allows true remote administration, not just remote administration as long as the PC is turned on.

Standout features

  • Multiple Action events: RemoteExec supports multiple action jobs to let the administrator group actions together. Using this feature, I could use Wake on LAN to turn a target PC on, an MSI task to install an application, and a shutdown task to turn off the target PC when I am finished.
  • Improved User Interface: When I spoke with Francois at IS Decisions, this was one of his favorite improvements. Having seen previous versions of this application, the user interface in version 5 is completely redone and makes the tool much easier to use.
  • Results Reporting: Being a fan of Active Directory and the capabilities provided by Group Policy installations, I wasn't sure I would find this utility a worthwhile replacement for managing MSI (and other) installations, then I found results reporting. With Group Policy, the most common way to learn of a failed installation is to hear from the affected user. The deployed policy is tracked for modeling and resultant set of policy, to show you which policies were applied or not, but this does not specifically detail if the install failed or not.  Remote Exec provides success or failure reporting for any job it executes. If I use it to install Office, and the job fails, I will see that in reporting and know right away.
  • Lists: Actions can be executed against all kinds of computer targets. Sometimes it is easiest to enter a single computer name for an action, or enter an IP range, but creating a list of specific targets can be extremely useful if there are actions you repeat on a set of computers.

What's wrong?

No job execution on connect: Because RemoteExec is agentless, there is no current method of reporting that a system has connected to the network and of allowing jobs to be scheduled to run on connection. This would be a great feature to add for cases when an affected system is out of the office (i.e., a laptop) or accidentally offline during a scheduled operation. Perhaps an ICMP agent, tied to a scheduled job would work here.

Competitive products

I was unable to find competing products that purely match the functionality of RemoteExec. The products listed below can do some deployment work or are better used in a specific scenario.

  • GFI Languard: This application allows administrators to scan for vulnerabilities or missing patches. It can deploy patches and custom files/applications as well, but is focused on vulnerability remediation.
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM): This is Microsoft's deployment platform that leverages group policy and other technologies to manage installation of applications and updates in an environment. While it will handle deployment, it is focused on large rollouts and can be cumbersome to configure for the one-off installations or small rollouts.
  • Altiris Deployment: This is the Symantec deployment platform and is ideal for image rollouts and system maintenance. Like SCCM it doesn't do small all that well. You can get it to work, but the configuration for a small rollout might not be ideal.

Bottom line for business

Because IT administrators are no exception to the rule of "Do more with less" RemoteExec can certainly help achieve some of these goals by aiding in the automation of tasks which might ordinarily require a desk visit or perhaps even time scheduled after hours; the application is a great addition for IT shops looking to fill a need without filling a seat. I could see this being most used in smaller shops because they have less staff to assist with these functions.

About Derek Schauland

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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