In one of the most famous episodes of the original Star Trek series, The Trouble with Tribbles, a few cute, furry animals were brought on board the Starship Enterprise after the ship answered a distress call at a space station. At first, the crew loved them—but they reproduced swiftly, and soon they were everywhere, threatening to overwhelm the ship’s systems and consume its food supplies.
IT assets, too, tend to multiply. As organizations grow, an infrastructure that was once manageable can end up consuming enormous amounts of staff time. Knowing what technology assets a company owns, where they are located, and whether they’ve been patched and secured against the latest viruses becomes a major challenge. Add manual application rollouts and end-user support to the mix, and the result is an overworked IT department that’s barely keeping up.
Unchain your IT staff
Automating routine endpoint management tasks is a smart way for organizations to expand the reach and capabilities of their IT staff without adding more employees.
“Throwing people at the problem is the traditional response for many companies, but it’s shortsighted,” says Dominic Foster, chief technology officer of MaximumASP, a Louisville, Kentucky-based hosting provider. “It’s an impediment to growth, especially for technology companies such as hosting providers that need to leverage their IT staff for product innovation and other tasks that drive profitability.”
MaximumASP is using Altiris Total Management Suite to automate inventory tracking, server deployment and provisioning. A team of just three people is able to efficiently manage more than 2,200 physical servers from a single pane of glass.
“If we didn't have a robust provisioning system in place, it would severely hamper the amount of servers we could put out and manage,” says Michael Schneider, lead Altiris engineer at MaximumASP.
Using a bar-code based system, MaximumASP tracks servers throughout their lifecycle. Administrators are a few clicks away from valuable information such as patch status for operating systems and applications, internal components such as RAM, and software licenses–for every endpoint in the organization.
“We can track a device from the time we order it until the time we retire it, and everything that's happened in between,” confirms Bo Clark, systems engineer. “Since there’s an Altiris agent on every machine—which is included in our standard server image—the endpoints report back, so the database is constantly up to date. That’s made growth a whole lot easier.”
At SMSC, a Hauppauge, New York-based semiconductor manufacturer, a desktop management team of five people is using Altiris to manage approximately 900 endpoints. “One of the first things we noticed was the visibility we suddenly had into our inventory,” says Ethan Harris, desktop support manager. “We could tell very easily which computers were older or low on RAM, and recommend to managers that they get upgraded. And when we go out to add more RAM, for example, we know exactly what they need. We no longer have to make that extra trip to open up the machine. Altiris has saved us countless hours of staff time.”
Work smarter, not harder
The more endpoints an organization has to manage–and the more manual the current processes–the more dramatic the savings can be. In fact, as IT investments go, automating endpoint management processes is one of the surest ways to ensure very solid returns.
Intuitive Technology Group, a Symantec Platinum Partner based in Bloomington, Minnesota, helps Fortune 500 organizations reduce IT service and asset management costs using Altiris solutions. “IT does not make money for an organization, and because of that, they're being tasked more and more heavily with the only way that they can affect the bottom line—especially in this economy–and that's through saving money,” explains Jason Livingston, managing director, professional services at Intuitive. “We show our clients how they can do that through automation and through implementing new processes.”
Intuitive often assists clients in conducting return on investment analyses to find out where the savings are. “It varies from company to company, but all of our clients are seeing real, hard savings over time,” Livingston explains. “For example, we recently helped a healthcare insurance provider save 34 hours of service desk time per month and over 40 hours of desktop support time per month by implementing a standardized desktop image.”
Update your image
Like the Tribbles from Star Trek, server and desktop images–at first welcomed by IT professionals as a way to reduce manual labor and enforce standardization–have multiplied. Imaging has become so easy and ubiquitous that IT organizations sometimes find themselves managing nearly as many images as endpoints.
“That’s a lot of staff time wasted,” observes Justin Ware, chief technologist at Intuitive. “Utilizing Altiris, companies can standardize on a single image or even move back to non-image-based processes because they can separate the deployment and maintenance of the applications from the deployment and maintenance of the operating system. They can image the operating system and then deploy needed applications centrally and remotely using Altiris. They’re still getting all the benefits of standard imaging—fast deployment, compliance, and standardization—but they’re also getting a much better endpoint management model. With the Altiris management console, keeping endpoints current is a dynamic, simple process.”
This flexibility is allowing SMSC to efficiently roll out desktop software upgrades, such as the SAP GUI, in one day. This process used to take up to three weeks. “Most of our users need those upgrades, and we’ve been able to take the manual work out of it,” says Ethan Harris. “We experienced similar time savings with a recent VPN software upgrade. With the staff time we’ve saved using Altiris, we’ve canceled open requisitions for two full-time employees, since our desktop management staff is now able to take on some systems administration responsibilities.”
Stream applications and save
Many companies are taking the philosophy of separating applications from the operating system one step further by using virtualization solutions to deliver applications on-demand. The benefits of this approach include optimized software license costs, as well as improved compliance and control.
“For companies that are concerned about software license management—especially large organizations that don’t have enterprise software agreements in place or use expensive software like Photoshop or AutoCAD—application virtualization makes a lot of sense,” says Intuitive’s Livingston. “We’ve helped clients implement Symantec Workspace Streaming, which tracks licenses through the streaming server and delivers applications to desktops on demand.”
One key benefit of application streaming is that organizations know in real time how many licenses they’re using, which means no more overbuying and better risk management.
“It’s critical for many organizations, especially in the healthcare and financial sectors, to know exactly what software their staff is using,” Livingston points out. “Using Symantec Workspace Streaming, companies can control the use of unauthorized software, and if necessary, prepare very quickly for surprise endpoint audits.”
Consider professional services
Endpoint management solutions can deliver bottom-line improvements for all organizations with significant IT assets. But if you want to get up and running quickly, consider engaging an experienced professional services organization for implementation assistance.
“Getting started the right way is important,” Livingston advises. “Altiris is a very powerful solution that needs to be configured properly in order to realize the broadest and most immediate benefits.”
So hesitate no longer—get those endpoints under control. It likely won’t take you as long as it took Captain Kirk and crew to completely rid the Enterprise of Tribbles, which Mr. Spock predicted would take 17.9 years.
Ken Downie is Senior Writer at NAVAJO Company. His work has appeared in Business Finance, Internet World, and Business Credit magazines.