The user’s insatiable appetite for more and better applications, server-based services, and network bandwidth has created a complexity never before realized in the IT industry. In today’s modern distributed environment, the result is numerous different components scattered all over the organization. For the IT manager, this means not only are there more components in their network but also that those components are more difficult to configure. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to do it all.

Two solutions to this problem are possible. The first is to decrease the workload by acquiring more staff; however, there may limitations based on how many staff members can be added and/or the number of qualified people that are available to fill those positions. The second solution is to introduce management software to help with the workload.

Neither solution is ideal and, in reality, you’ll probably need to use both. While little can be done to reduce complexity or to help with staffing, you have several choices in the management software area. Some of the leading products available today are the ZENworks products from Novell. In this Daily Drill Down, we’ll introduce you to the ZENworks line and then go deeper into ZENworks for Desktops.

What is ZENworks?
ZENworks is a suite of products designed to help you more efficiently manage similar systems through a centralized, strategic approach. These products include the traditional desktop-management component now called ZENworks for Desktops, a server-management component called ZENworks for Servers, and a network-management component call ZENworks for Networks.

You may not require the usage of all of these products, but you will probably need at least one of them. The first product you should consider is ZENworks for Desktops, but if you have many desktops, you may need to follow up pretty quickly with the other two, as well. Let’s take a brief look at all three.

What is ZENworks for Desktops?
This product has a popularity that’s well-deserved. Literally nothing on the market can rival its strength in desktop management. Total cost of ownership (TCO) was the buzzword a couple of years ago when Microsoft introduced the Zero Administration Kit (ZAK). ZENworks for Desktops goes much further than it did.

The ZAK product introduced desktop management by simply restricting the workstation and applications. It didn’t take into account application delivery and configuration, printer management, hardware and software inventory, or remote management. ZENworks for Desktops encompasses all of these features.

What is ZENworks for Servers?
This new product from Novell has been designed to help you manage your server farm. It will help you deal with service pack installation and other file movement across your network. ZENworks for Servers uses policy objects in the NetWare Directory Services (NDS) to define which files are moved and where, using a tiered distribution system for delivering them. The product also includes an inventory of the server and a history of events that have occurred on it.

What is ZENworks for Networks?
This is also a new product from Novell; its purpose is the management of network devices and the traffic flowing though them. Currently, ZENworks for Networks supports only Cisco routers running IOS version 11.2 or higher, some 3Com switches, some Lucent switches, and some Extreme Network switches. No doubt this range will increase as the product develops. The management of your network is a crucial component of your IT infrastructure. If you have service-level agreements governing the delivery of data through your network, this product will help you implement these agreements.

ZENworks for Desktops
Novell introduced ZENworks for Desktops as a product specifically designed to help with TCO and effectively integrate Windows desktop systems into your NDS environment. This product is feature-rich and really second to none in the class of desktop-management products. The product falls into two price groups, the first of which is called the Starter Pack and is free! You can download the ZENworks Starter Pack from Novell’s Download Web site. The full product can be obtained from your NetWare retailer and is well worth the price of $59 per user.

The Starter Pack
Novell has made a clear strategic marketing move by making a significant portion of the product available at no charge. This allows you to install, test, and deploy the product without a large financial commitment. You may find that the Starter Pack contains all you need for a complete strategy for your organization. The Starter Pack contains the following components:

  • NetWare client with ZENworks support—There is a separately downloadable client for each of the Windows platforms. The client isn’t really part of the product, but you need to run a Novell NetWare client in order to use ZENworks. The ZENworks client includes components not found in the plain NetWare client.
  • Workstation Manager—This component runs on the workstation and acts as an agent for carrying out work defined within special policy objects in the NDS. If you run NT Workstation on your client, Workstation Manager runs as system service. Because of this, Workstation Manager has the rights to perform work in areas where users do not normally have rights. Workstation Manager will dynamically create accounts on the NT Workstation when a successful NetWare authentication has occurred and can dynamically remove it afterwards. It will carry out registry changes so ZAK-style policies can be implemented.
  • Workstation objects—These objects allow the workstation to be represented in the NDS in a similar way to User objects. The Workstation object allows the workstation to authenticate to the NDS and get configured in whatever manner you define in the NDS policy package. The Workstation object contains some details about the workstation, such as the processor, memory, operating system, and network details.
  • Policy packages—Policy packages are special NDS objects that contain policies for implementing a number of useful functions. The User policy package is for policies specifically targeted at users, and the Workstation policy package is associated with Workstation objects. These policies contain functions such as authentication to Windows NT/2000 stations, Microsoft Poledit-type policies, printer selection, driver management, and desktop preferences, including roaming profiles. There’s also a Container policy package for improving NDS performance when using the User or Workstation policy package.
  • Application management—This is a big part of ZENworks. Most of the problems on workstations occur as the result of badly installed, misconfigured, or broken applications. A great deal of the work provided by IT support departments is in the repair and support of applications. The Novell Application Launcher can install, configure, and repair applications in a way you define in an NDS Application object. The application management component includes a snapshot tool, which allows you to discover what has occurred on a workstation during an application installation. This information is packaged and inserted into an Application object, where you can tweak it to ensure it’s configured in the way you wish. It is then made available to the user’s workstation as if it were a normal shortcut. The application will install itself the first time and then run normally after that. You can configure any of the components to reinstate your default state at each launch if need be.

The Starter Pack is certainly the way to go if you’re just trying to find out how ZENworks operates and what it will do. Novell’s strategy of giving away the Starter Pack is smart because most IT managers will get hooked and realize they need to buy the full version to enable the extra features.

The Full Pack
This pack contains all the components in the Starter Pack plus extra features, such as:

  • More application management—The Full Pack includes new application-management functions not contained in the Starter Pack. One of the nicest new features is the ability to associate applications with workstations. The Starter Pack allows applications to be associated only with users. The full version lets you perform lights-out distribution of applications in which the user leaves the PC switched on but not logged in. The workstation will run the installation during the night so the users will have the files and local settings distributed to them before they return to their desks. These functions greatly enhance an already powerful application-management facility.
  • More policies—If you’ve acquired or written your own Poledit-style administration files, then these can be used in an extensible policy that can be included in a User or Workstation policy package.
  • Hardware and software inventory—Have you ever built a database, gone around to all your PCs to collect information about the hardware and software on them, and then found that the database was either impossible to keep up to date or did not contain the one piece of information you needed? Well, you can wave that problem goodbye with the inventory system. The workstation collects the information about itself and stores it in a database on the server where you can query it. ZENworks can collect a wide range of hardware information, including DMI data. The software component collects crucial information about certain files on the system and uses it to identify which software packages have been installed.
  • Remote Management—This useful tool gives you the ability to remotely debug and fix a PC desktop without leaving your desk. It includes remote control, remote chat, remote diagnostics, file transfer, and remote execute. The workstation has an agent running on it, which is configured via a policy in the NDS. The agent allows you to connect to the workstation from the comfort of your office. You have complete control over the remote workstation’s screen, keyboard, and mouse to assist a user who has a problem with the workstation. You can then debug and fix the workstation without having to make a personal visit. When the workstation is a long distance away, there is a clear advantage to using this tool. Make sure, however, that you have enough network bandwidth—running Remote Management over a 64-K link is not recommended.
  • Application metering—Although some software is licensed per seat these days, a great deal of software can still be run concurrently. This means you can buy a number of licenses for a software product and share them over a larger number of workstations. If you plan to do this, then you must either enforce the number of licenses or buy more licenses to match the peak use of the software. In either case, you’ll need to track the use of the software in some way. The software-metering component can be used to control the software in either of the above ways by utilizing the NetWare Licensing Service (NLS) running on the server and using licensing certificates to match the paper licenses kept in your file cabinet.

Strategic IT management
ZENworks for Desktops allows you to implement a strategy for workstation desktop management and application delivery in your organization. If you don’t already have such a strategy, then you should develop some kind of plan in your organization. You can then submit this plan to senior management. They’ll like the idea of controlling spiraling staff costs via a managed approach. This plan can then form the basis of an implementation strategy for your ZENworks installation.

If you normally visit your users’ offices on a regular basis to help solve their problems, installing ZENworks will mean you’ll spend more time in your own office solving problems. However, don’t alienate your users altogether by locking yourself in your office and waving your ZENworks magic wand. They’ll always need to know who you are, and visiting them from time to time will ultimately mean happier users and an easier workday for you.

Even if your organization is relatively small, the ZENworks for Desktops product will help you a lot. Going around to all of your PCs and reinstalling software all the time is boring. In this Daily Drill Down, we’ve shown how this product will provide better desktop service and make your life at work more interesting and less stressful.

Gerald Foster is a computer officer at the University of Cambridge Computing Service. He has an M.Sc. in computer science and specialized in computer networking. He has considerable experience providing strategic solutions for IT departments and rolling out Windows NT Server and Workstation in the U.K. He has moved the University of Cambridge Public Workstation Service from Windows 3.1 to Windows NT Workstation, using ZENworks to integrate their large Novell NetWare network. He has published several books including O’Reilly’s Desktop Management with Novell ZENworks.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.