Strike up a conversation with a network administrator, and you’ll eventually come to the problem of PC management in a network environment. The amount of time and fiscal resources required to manage PCs in a large network is significant. In some large global networks, the task of managing all the various PC configurations is next to impossible, especially when it comes to dealing with end-user installs of often nonsanctioned, sometimes illegal, software. Belarc, Inc., of Maynard, MA, believes it has developed a set of products that can give administrators effective management of PCs in a large computer network.
The Internet is the key
Belarc’s BelManage product is designed for the IT professional who is trying to manage workstations, servers, and laptops for an entire enterprise on a global scale. BelManage is an intranet server providing such features as asset tracking, software licensing compliance, history tracking, performance monitoring, and software update reporting. The key to the successful implementation of the BelManage intranet server is its use of a proprietary Web browser plug-in that sits on the client computer. Once installed, the system is fully automated with profile data retrieved systematically and stored in a SQL database. Data stored in this database can be viewed by any SQL-compliant application, including Access, Excel, Crystal Reports, and Lotus Notes. The client is about 600 KB and uses the HTTPS transport protocol, which means the system should integrate easily with existing proxy servers and firewalls.
Belarc’s plug-in can retrieve an amazing amount of information from each PC in a network. The gleaned information is presented in a series of HTML reports that include lists of installed PCs, the software installed on those PCs, and any attached devices. See Figures A and B for sample BelManage screens.
|Sample software report|
Using this screen, network administrators can quickly determine what software is installed in aggregate across the whole system and match that information with the number of licenses on file. Any discrepancies can then be dealt with as necessary with other reports identifying exactly which PC is the nonlicensed offender.
|Sample device report|
The device list screen allows the network administrator to determine installed devices and to use that information to determine hardware upgrade needs or to identify possible driver updates. Because these reports are generated via the BelManage intranet and browser-based applet, the harried IT professional doesn’t have to physically examine each PC.
See for yourself
Belarc Advisor is a demo application that shows the power of the client application. You can download it from the Belarc Web site. After you download the application and run it on your personal computer, you’ll be presented with an array of information about 30 seconds later. The detail in the report will probably surprise you. For example, do you know your system’s serial number? Run the Belarc Advisor and you will. Want to know your PCI Bus Master IDE Controller version? This applet will provide that information and then some.
And this is where a “buyer beware” warning should be noted. This is a very powerful little program and it will produce reports that carry sensitive information. BelManage uses the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) secure Web protocol to safely transmit this data using the Internet. Only authorized end users can access the data on the server side with protection provided by login and password combinations. The serving of Web-based reports is also handled using SSL. These protections should be enough to dissuade any hackers or interlopers, but due diligence on the part of network administrators is always recommended.
Belarc also offers a line of customer relationship products using the basic browser plug-in model. One of these products will notify network administrators when end users experience technical problems. Other products automate tech support, update drivers, and monitor S.M.A.R.T.-enabled hard drives for pending failure.
Overall, the product line offered by Belarc is very impressive, lead by the flagship product, BelManage. Network administrators not precommitted to LAN/WAN-based solutions for PC management should definitely consider BelManage. For those networks already wed to those other solutions, BelManage may provide some additional coverage that will supplement what’s currently in place. Figure C explains the current pricing for the products.
|BelManage price schedule|
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.