When you need to install software on a new laptop or rebuild a server in a hurry, where do you find your installation media?

Can you and your tech support team go to a single location and find all the CDs you need to do your jobs? If not, you’re wasting precious time and valuable human resources wandering around just looking.

This week, I’ll tell you how one help desk manager addressed the problem of lost or stolen installation media using an old PC and a CD organizer that cost a little over a hundred dollars.

Tower of CD power
Greg Perry is the IT help desk team leader (aka help desk manager) for Bakery Chef, Inc., a company that makes biscuits and hotcakes for major fast-food organizations. When Perry learned that he and his wife were expecting their first child in summer 2003, he started cleaning out his home office to make way for the nursery.

During cleanup, Perry came across dozens of CD jewel cases that had found their way to various nooks and crannies. Looking for an easy way to organize those CDs, he went to his local home improvement store and picked up the CD Organizer (CDM-751) manufactured by KDS USA. After installing and using the organizer at home, he decided it was just what he needed at work, too. So he bought four of the tower organizers, each of which holds 75 disks, and installed them at Bakery Chef.

“We were experiencing typical problems with managing our installation media,” Perry said. “At any given time, when we needed to build a server or install software on a user machine, we couldn’t find the software. Most of the original Microsoft CDs were locked up in a fireproof safe, but the rest were just scattered around.”

When I asked how the KDS CD Organizer had changed things, Perry said, “Now we have copies of all of our installation software, patches, updates, and documentation in the towers. Now, if you need the Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 CD, you just sit down at the PC that’s connected to the towers, type in the shortcut code, such as ‘W2K3,’ and the drawer that contains that CD pops open.”

To enter a CD into the KDS database, you insert it into the PC that controls the tower, shown in Figure A. The software extracts the name of the CD, allows the user to enter a key word or phrase, and then opens the tower door.

Figure A
This KDS CD Organizer stores up to 75 disks and connects to a PC, which controls access to the drawers.

The tower versus the network share
Perry said the only problem with the towers are with CDs that require keys.

“I still store some of them in their jewel cases in the safe,” Perry said. “We have enterprise agreements for most of our software, so they don’t require CD keys.”

I asked Perry whether the towers had replaced the candy store—the network drive where IT shops frequently copy their CDs. I was curious to know how technicians (or end users) installed software from a remote location.

“We still have a CD reservoir on a server,” Perry said. “But there are no CD keys stored there; they’re kept in a secure location on the WAN.

“However, I’ve set the permissions for the CD reservoir so that anyone can read the files. The standard image points to the CD reservoir so users can install their own add-ins. Only the help desk staff can make changes to the files in the CD reservoir.”

Controlling access to the CD library
Perry said he still keeps all original master CDs locked up in a safe. But the copies go into the CD towers. The towers are connected to an old PII, 350-MHz Compaq that runs the KDS software. Perry said he beefed up that machine with about a half a gigabyte of RAM and a 52X CD burner.

I asked how secure he felt the CDs were, and he said the PC that controls the CD towers is stored in a locked room which is used only by Perry and the three level-one help desk analysts who report to him.

“It’s not the tightest control,” Perry said, “but it’s extremely convenient. To find a CD, all you have to do is sit down, launch the software, and use the searchable database to find what you want.

“I used to work in a shop that relied on check-out lists to monitor access to the CD library,” Perry said. “But you had to go get the key to unlock the cabinet, then sign off, and pull out the CD—and all too often it wasn’t there, and no one knew where it was.

“Security is only as good as how it’s implemented,” Perry said. “I’m on a tight budget, and these towers were pretty cheap to install.”

Oh CDs, where art thou?

To comment on this Help Desk Advisor column, or to share your tips for managing a CD library, post a comment or write to Jeff.