By Barrie Sosinsky

Windows 2000 administrators spend a lot of time deploying software to multiple clients using Microsoft’s built-in automated network installation technology. While adequate in some cases, third-party deployment tools often provide more advanced features and unique functions.

Third-party solutions can accommodate more client types, let you vary OS installation based on hardware platform, and perform BIOS upgrades. But deployment software goes beyond the OS, often providing desktop configuration and management features, hardware and software inventory, push and pull software publishing, software license metering, and remote access.

The goal, of course, is to lower total cost of ownership (TCO). An IDC study, “Quantifying the Business Benefits of Directory-Based Desktop Management,” surveyed companies that deployed Novell’s ZENworks. The Novell-sponsored study concludes that the average three-year return on investment (ROI) was 2,039 percent, with payback in less than three months. While such staggering ROI results may not be realistic for all companies, deployment tools can help reduce or redirect IT staff, and make hardware and software use more efficient.

Microsoft offerings
Microsoft’s deployment support relies on scripted routines for the Windows installer to access installation files on a network share point, and packaging techniques like Windows 2000’s Remote Installation Services (RIS). The types of installations this technology can support are somewhat limited. RIS was designed to work hand-in-hand with Windows 2000 IntelliMirror software, which provides user data management, software installation (including third-party software), software maintenance, and user settings management. RIS requires DNS, DHCP, and Active Directory to find clients and provide settings and installation instructions, which limits its use to installations with Windows 2000, ME, and XP clients, and Windows 2000 servers. For older versions of Windows and non-Windows clients, you will need a third-party deployment product.

Companies also need to support third-party application installs and manage upgrades, something the Windows installer doesn’t handle. Adding to the problem, individual systems may require different settings, drivers, and files because of BIOS, hardware, or user requirements. Most companies restrict what OSs and applications they’ll support, and provide standard system images to client machines. However, many deployment tools can do a lot more than just install images.

The leaders in image deployment software are Symantec Ghost, PowerQuest DriveImage, On Technology’s ON Command CCM, and Altiris RapiDeploy, but there are many others.

To actively manage deployment, you need a tool that stores attributes in a database. Microsoft’s System Management Server 2.0 Service Pack 3 (SMS)  performs hardware and system inventory, software deployment, software metering, network discovery, and policy management without the need for Active Directory. SMS supports Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, and Windows 2000/XP clients. Although widely used for Windows deployments, SMS has some shortcomings. The current version, which is getting a little long in the tooth, is difficult to set up, and it doesn’t always recognize some DOS application files. Once set up, however, it is relatively easy to use.

Top choices
Two of the most popular software deployment tools are Intel’s LANDesk and Novell ZENworks.

Intel’s LanDesk
Intel LanDesk 6.5 Management Suite offers strong policy-based deployment tools and can use both Active Directory and Novell NDS, so you can manage multiple trees simultaneously. LanDesk supports Windows 2000/NT, NetWare, and Linux network OSs; 16- and 32-bit desktops; 16- and 32-bit applications; recently released hardware; and many software titles. Administrators can manage a wide variety of computers, including remote control and inventory of IBM OS/2, Macintosh, and Linux clients. Client support also includes Microsoft DOS, Windows 3.1x, Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4, Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.

LanDesk includes a browser-based management console, software license metering, client virus protection (Norton AntiVirus), and security for Windows NT and NDS. LanDesk is also strong at healing applications (as is ZENworks). LanDesk detects if an application is damaged, missing related files, or isn’t supported by Microsoft System Installer (MSI) technology, and will replace missing or damaged dynamic link libraries (DLLs).

Novell ZENworks
Novell ZENworks is a good choice for Novell networks. It uses NDS (eDirectory) to deploy software. (You must install NDS on Windows NT/2000 servers to run ZENworks in a Windows environment.) ZENworks is particularly good at customizing users’ desktops by creating and managing Windows 95/98/NT/2000 policies and user profiles. It will also scan the registry and system files to fix errors.

Managing user profiles and logon restrictions is easier in ZENworks than it is in SMS. ZENworks Network Application Launcher (NAL) can launch applications from the server nearest the user to help reduce network traffic. ZENworks NAL, LanDesk, and SMS all offer license pooling, a very useful feature that could reduce the number of licenses you need—but ZENworks offers the most useful features of the three.

Also worth considering
While LanDesk, ZENworks, and SMS are the best-known deployment tools for Windows networks, there are others worthy of consideration:

On Command CCM
On Command CCM is used to deploy operating systems and applications to desktops, laptops, handhelds, and servers for both new installations and upgrades. The computers are recognized in the preboot phase, which allows you to manage system BIOS upgrades as well. CCM integrates with Microsoft SMS, IBM Tivoli, and Computer Associates Unicenter TNG. CCM can also format and partition hard drives. CCM installs on Windows 2000/NT and supports all versions of 32-bit Windows clients and servers running Windows 95 or later. The On Command CCMproduct family is structured for large enterprise rollouts and has been used successfully in several very large Windows deployments. (Another strong product for large deployments is Novadigm Radia Software Management Suite 3.0.)

Mobile Automation 2000
Mobile Automation 2000 Enterprise Edition focuses on automated software delivery for mobile platforms, but it also installs applications and OSs on the desktops and servers that support mobile devices. MA2000EE’s most notable features are the ability to replace damaged DLLs (referred to as application healing), software versioning, inventory, and license tracking. This product doesn’t offer license pooling, however. As an installation option, you can install an image to a drive, which is useful when each PC must start with the same system. Administrators can also remotely manage client systems.

Among other features, MA2000EE is known for its deployment through imaging and application version management. If MA2000EE detects a damaged application, it can restore missing or damaged files. Additionally, the product inventories hardware and manages software licenses. MA2000EE supports Windows 95/98/NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows CE, Pocket PC, Palm OS clients on Windows NT domains, and Windows NT workgroups, as well as Novell, Banyan, and IBM networks. It offers scripting and package creation and stronger deployment support over dial-up, wireless, and connections through firewalls and proxy servers than some of the other products. MA2000EE can integrate with Microsoft SMS, adding useful mobile device deployment features.

Marimba, well known for its Internet push technology, has modified its Castenet and Timbale products into a new “change management” solution  that manages servers, desktops, laptops, mobile systems, PDAs, Internet appliances (embedded devices), and software distribution over TCP/IP. Because it’s platform neutral, Marimba works with a broad range of operating systems and clients and deserves a serious look if you manage a geographically distributed heterogeneous network.

The Marimba Software Distribution Module lets you package and publish both custom and shrink-wrapped applications, files, and documents and update systems. Subscription and inventory modules manage download permissions and the status of your systems. Marimba’s technology uses the Open Software Description (OSD) format that it co-authored with Microsoft. OSD, which Novell and Tivoli also use, is being reviewed by the W3C as a possible standard. Versions of the Application Packager  are sold for the standard Windows Installer, as well as for Java  and  Visual Basic.

Choose the product that best fits your organization
Although your management framework may determine which product is the best choice—SMS may work best on pure 32-bit Windows, for example—knowing the advantages of each product should ease your decision. Each product has its strength, whether it’s broad client support, large-scale deployment features, or mobile deployment tools. Your Windows administrators should be able to make good use of one of them.

This document was published by ZDNet Tech Update on Jan. 28, 2002.


Only for the enterprise?

At what point should an IT department look into a software deployment product? Are deployment packages only for large enterprises? What’s the minimum number of workstations an organization should have before buying a deployment package? Post a comment to this article and share your opinion.