by September 6, 2007 0 comments

The clock had struck midnight in a chilly wintry night and Ajit Singh was
cursing his luck for having to stay back that late along with his team in
office. “12 in the night-two hrs past my usual sleeping time,” he thought. But
such is the bane of his profession. It was destined to be another of those long
weekends. Just a little over four hours ago, all hell had broken loose in his
department-the 1200 odd computers in the BPO, that he was the CIO of, were faced
with a massive virus threat. There was a patch available for the threat, but it
would take sometime before it were installed completely on all computers. And
God knows what havoc the virus might wreak on the systems till then. So there he
was, with his department of eight ‘technicians,’ painstakingly supervising the
installation of the patch.

Such a scenario needs not introduction to a CIO. They are quite habituated to
working under such tight deadlines. As more and more people join an enterprise,
the number of desktops increase, and so does the demand for support, maintenance
and troubleshooting. So, the role of the IT team gradually gets reduced to
providing tech support instead of concentrating on implementing new strategies.

In today’s world, even the slightest breach, the simplest of compromises in
IT security of an organization, can bring the entire IT infrastructure to a
complete halt. One of the important tasks before any IT manager is desktop
management. In a large organization, the management of desktops (and this
includes laptops, PDAs and smart phones) can be an uphill task. An updated
inventory is only the first step. What software is installed on each of them? Is
each desktop fitted with sufficient security tools? What is the state of
obsolescence in the systems? Has the latest version of a critical software been
installed? If yes, which of them are on the VPN?-all these are questions whose
answers need to be at fingertips of a CIO. And the only way to do this is
through efficient desktop management.

At basic level, desktop management (DM) involves three components-asset
management (managing the inventory of the software and hardware), patch
management, and software distribution (including license compliance monitoring).
If you stretch this definition, it also includes spam filtering, virus scanning, detecting and eliminating spyware, IM security, wireless security, firewall configuration and, for remote workers, VPN management. Of course, there has been life before desktop management strategies evolved, and we dare say some organizations can do without it, but a CIO needs to take the call based on two considerations-is the existing IT strategy keeping up with changing technologies, new software revisions and user support issues? and secondly, will it continue to be scalable? If the answer to either of these is no, there is no
alternative but to deploy a Desktop Management (DM) strategy.

The case for Desktop Management
There are various ways in which you can implement Desktop Management. Some
of these may involve fundamental changes to your network structure and the way
it operates. Others might include a change in IT policies to bring them in tune
with various regulatory standards. Let’s take a look:

1. Automation: According to IDC surveys, IT organizations (small or
large) that have IT asset discovery and inventory, have a way to enable other IT
solutions to begin automated, basic asset management to lower costs and improve
availability. Multiple endpoints are being considered: appliances,
virtualization, policy-based management, patch management, and so on. Entwined
within these technologies is a concern for overall system security, not just at
the level of the desktop but all the way to the data center. Protecting the
internal environment from outsiders while giving insiders access to specific
corporate applications is the key.

2. Centralization: Most consultants say centralization is inevitable
with desktop management. It makes tasks such as patch installations on 5,000
desktops easier. Centralized application installation, monitoring application
usage, and keeping track of resources have also become less tedious. The amount
of time, effort, and cost saved when all the controls are in once place, is
immense. For instance, if the operating system has to be upgraded on 700
machines over seven locations, it would take at least a month to do the actual
installations, and another month to fix the various glitches. It would also
involve engineers travelling to various locations. If this entire process is
centralized, the installations would be done overnight, sitting in the head
office, and any glitches can be handled remotely over the coming week. That is
the kind of convenience and cost-saving it results in.

3. Outsourcing: There are definite advantages to outsourcing DM. It
frees up a company to focus on its core business. Keeping abreast of technology,
24/7 service, fluctuating demand cycles, varied levels of technology skills, and
quick deployment of experts in the eventuality of a security breach are all
convenient when an outside specialist agency, manages them. It also results in
cost-effectiveness and an overall ease of operation. The trend towards managed
services is now gaining pace around the world. Desktop management as an
individual component may not see too many contracts, but as part of an overall
managed services package, the component is seen to offer more economies of scale
and is being outsourced.

4. Standards-based approach: Because of IT security concerns, the need
to enhance system availability while at the same time meeting compliance
requirements; enterprises are moving toward a more standards-based approach to
manage workflows. This means implementing documented, repeatable approaches for
tasks such as creating and updating images, rolling out patches, and undertaking
a program to improve conducting these tasks over time.

Advantages of deploying DM
Increased efficiency and productivity is one of the main advantages. With a
more organized approach to managing desktops, the systems become more reliable,
and when there is a problem, tech support is much faster. For the staff working
on these systems, this means a huge reduction in downtime and therefore
increased productivity and efficiency.

Another benefit of having DM in place is that IT managers can spare a lot
more time from routine tasks for more meaningful activities such as planning IT
strategies. IT departments move through the PC lifecycle of purchasing,
deploying, maintaining, upgrading, and retiring systems. However, it’s the
middle of the cycle-deploying, maintaining, and upgrading-where IT managers
spend most of their time. With DM in place, this time can come down drastically;
freeing the IT staff for contemplating and implementing more strategic IT tools
for the organization.

There is also a two-fold reduction in costs with DM-in support and
administration. With DM, the rising cost of technical support can be contained
by efficient management of resources. Also, the cost of rolling out new
software, upgrading existing software, capacity planning and asset tracking,
which are mostly administrative tasks, can be brought down. Enterprises with
many legacy systems, diverse hardware or remote users may have a hard time
keeping track of their desktops, and DM can help target specific computers based
on inventory data.

There are studies to support DM’s RoI. Gartner’s ‘Desktop TCO Update, 2003’
says that total cost of ownership for an unmanaged Windows XP desktop for three
years is $5,309. If the same desktop is managed-which is defined by Gartner as
implementing a slew of best practices combined with tools, processes and
policies, in other words, DM-it comes down to $3,335.

Having a DM policy also leads to a more secure network infrastructure. When
working in a networked environment, it is vital for a system administrator to
see what is running on machines. From a security standpoint, this is of primary
importance. Today’s threats can cripple the integrity and credibility of a
company, so it is important that the administrator quickly gets warnings about
unusual activity, as well as be able to update all machines on the network with
new security protection efficiently and effectively. This is one of the biggest
drivers of DM. With better patch and firewall management and monitoring of
software installs and updates, vulnerabilities and security breaches come to
light much quicker and can be thwarted quite easily and in time too. Access
control also becomes a key issue.

Last but not the least comes the issue of compliance. With global compliance
in processes becoming critical for enterprises in various verticals, DM has
become a really handy tool.

The path to Desktop Management
The path to DM is not as easy as one would hope. There are many challenges
to meet on the way. The least of these is dealing with increasing number of
users in a growing enterprise. These users operate in a distributed environment
in various locations, and each has individual requirements from the desktop.
Managing the increasing and disparate needs can be an uphill task.

Then, there is the challenge of a rapidly changing technology to deal with.
To begin with, this effects the very definition of the desktop, because
increasingly, employees are using quite diverse devices such as desktops,
laptops, PDAs, and smart phones. This makes DM that much more challenging.
Another change that DM has to contend with is the increasing instances of
malicious attacks. Connected desktops (and other user end-points) expose the
various applications and repositories of information in the enterprise to these
attacks and managing newer and more potent malware is a constant challenge.

Desktop management is increasingly becoming a must-implement strategy in
organizations that rely on desktops and similar devices. It’s not so much about
the advantages of deploying it as it is about the dangers of not doing so. As
spam and virus attacks reach alarming levels, an enterprise is vulnerable all
the time. And unless the CIO knows exactly what each desktop is up to, he is
asking for trouble. Even if we remove security from the picture, the sheer scale of hardware and software deployments in a large enterprise can be quite
unmanageable, and keeping each of them up to date in order to ultimately keep
the efficiency levels of the employees high is a critical task. Ultimately, it
is about the CIO taking proactive measures and making his own job more do-able.

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