Mass Management

Vector Networks' PC-Duo desktop-management app is an affordable alternative for most networks.

March 17, 2003

4 Min Read
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The PC-Duo software is offered as modular components and includes pieces for inventory, software metering, software distribution, diagnostics, helpdesk and remote control. Thirty-nine software combinations are available. The software installs agent programs onto each workstation. These agents report back to and receive commands from a centralized management server. I tested the inventory, metering and distribution modules in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®, installing all the components on a single Microsoft Windows 2000 Server running Microsoft SQL 2000.

I installed the client software on each of my workstations across the network from a shared directory, a task that can be accomplished using a login script. The program prompted me to enter my name, telephone number, department and location. Only an administrator can edit or request an update of this information (in places with high turnover or frequent reorganization, this could be a hassle). The client agent software registers with the management server and the server runs a process that integrates these clients into the database every five minutes.

PC-Duo supports both fixed and dynamic groups for organizing workstations, letting you tailor the product to your groups. Clients can be imported into fixed groups individually or through membership in other groups. A workstation can reside in several static groups simultaneously. The dynamic groups are created from clients pulled from an SQL query. Fortunately the product uses an SQL wizard, making it easy to write the query string from the available fields. I made a query for clients that had more than 50 MB of free memory and the wizard generated the SQL query string for me.

Driving Installs

To test the product's distribution capabilities, I installed a copy of AOL Instant Messenger. To define the software distribution, I specified command-line parameters when running the installer in cases where a privileged account was required or when a reboot was necessary. I also selected the platforms on which the installer should be run in case I encountered programs that wouldn't run on Windows 2000/XP but would run on Windows 95/98. This completed the definition for the AIM package. I then copied the installer into the offline area directory.

Next, I selected the machines in which to install the software. Because I wanted to install the application only on Windows 98 machines, I selected the "Windows 9x Users" dynamic group and specified the location of the installer. I was given the choice of local or network path. Unfortunately, the network option does not fill in the location of the offline area automatically.

The software does not install instantly. First, the client checks for new installs after a number of hours (the default is 24 hours) or after a reboot. PC-Duo can only pull installation--no push installs. You can configure the program to let the user refuse an installation a specified number of times, which is handy if the user can't install at the moment but wants to do so later.

Admin Reports

PC-Duo can provide information on serial ports, CPU speed, disk summary, screen resolution, fastest machines by department, memory size and other standard hardware components. I found the software monitoring and policy settings most interesting. PC-Duo reports on policy compliance or lack thereof, but does not enforce policies. I set up a policy to prohibit installation of Microsoft Word, then installed Word on my client PC. When I looked at the prohibited packages report on the management station, however, my workstation showed up.To help you track licenses, PC-Duo provides reports on how many you own per package. But the software does not send error notifications or warnings if you exceed your maximum. The only notification is a red negative number in the "remaining licenses" column. An e-mail alert to the admin would be better.

Michael J. DeMaria is an associate technology editor based at Network Computing's Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. Write to him at [email protected].

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