By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2004-08-09 Print this article Print

Novell Inc.s ZENworks 6.5 Suite of server, desktop and handheld management tools has gained Linux server support and patch management capabilities, making the update well worth considering in midsize and large enterprises.

Released in June priced at $130 per user, ZENworks 6.5 is hotly competitive with Altiris Inc.s namesake management suite, LANdesk Group Ltd.s LANdesk Management Suite 8 and Microsoft Corp.s SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003. Although eWEEK Labs tests show ZENworks 6.5 is a good fit for heterogeneous system and desktop management, ZENworks requires eDirectory and a ZENworks agent, along with ConsoleOne, to be fully operational.

While Novells Client hasnt been required for several versions of ZENworks, DMA (Desktop Management Agent) acts in some ways like the dreaded Client 32. Because DMA must execute pre-log-in operations, users will see a Novell log-in . We think Novell should get out of the log-in process—no competing product introduces this obvious user disruption.

Click here to read more about the DMA. Although we were impressed with the features added to ZENworks 6.5, everything "new" in this release is the integration of existing products, with ZENworks 6.5 acting more as a platform than a product. The Linux Management module in ZENworks 6.5 is a rebranded Red Carpet Enterprise Version 2.2. ZENworks Patch Management is an integration of PatchLink Corp.s PatchLink tool. InstallShield Software Corp.s AdminStudio provides the new software packaging.

We have nothing per se against Novells use of outside components to fill out the ZENworks 6.5 suite: This is common practice in the network management arena. Indeed, Red Carpet Enterprise was a fine product in its own right, as PatchLink and AdminStudio continue to be. However, in the case of ZENworks 6.5, we think Novell is approaching the limit of separately built tools that can be bolted together reasonably.

Other companies are stitching together a "management monster" (as in monster-truck good, not Frankenstein-monster bad). In December, for example, Altiris purchased Wise Solutions Inc., culminating a long alliance between the companies.

We installed ZENworks for Linux Management on a dedicated Red Hat Inc. Red Hat Linux 9.0 server with the latest kernel updates, as recommended by Novell. Any person familiar with Red Carpet Linux management will immediately master this rebranded version of the product. With the exception of the Novell trademark, nearly everything in the product still uses the Red Carpet product architecture and terminology.

There are additions that make ZENworks for Linux Management different from its predecessor. We could easily assign, view, modify or grant permissions to objects—a big step forward in allowing IT managers greater flexibility in assigning maintenance chores. We also could use a new method of selecting groups of machines on an ad hoc basis to carry out administrative functions. For example, we created a temporary group of machines with less than 1GB of RAM that had an update pending so that we could see which machines were likely to fail the upgrade.

ZENworks 6.5s smooth integration of PatchLink—which is about the best tool for the job—made patching our non-Linux systems almost painless. Weve consistently rated PatchLink among the best tools for getting fixes to desktop and server systems because it thoroughly prepares patches with plenty of background information.

ZENworks 6.5s Patch Management is based on PatchLink 5.0—a full version behind what is currently available. However, this is a common practice; we think the capabilities of ZENworks 6.5 Patch Management are more than adequate. We liked the integration of the policy and monitoring abilities that are available from the ConsoleOne screen. ConsoleOne is employed throughout the ZENworks 6.5 suite (much like Microsoft uses its Management Console as the central control point for SMS), so IT managers need to train staff on only one basic interface to get access to ZENworks 6.5.

Even so, based on our tests, eWEEK Labs recommends that IT managers estimate high on the amount of time it will take to implement the entire ZENworks 6.5 suite. We spent two weeks installing components on various servers and user systems. And while we limited ourselves primarily to examining the newly integrated Linux and handheld management features, IT staff could spend several more weeks tuning the management features in ZENworks 6.5.

This is time worth spending to gain reduced management costs. For example, it was easy to mandate security policies on our Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq Pocket PC. We could deploy password policies that required seven characters and a mix of alphanumeric characters. Automating this kind of task across a variety of handheld platforms puts ZENworks Handheld Management 6.5 among the best mobile management tools weve seen at eWEEK Labs.

Because ZENworks 6.5 includes desktop, server and handheld management tools, along with data management and patch management tools, we suggest that IT managers assign subject-matter experts to each area of the product. These experts should set up ZENworks 6.5 and make any necessary major changes to the product, such as creating software packages. Because of ZENworks 6.5s tight integration with eDirectory, it was easy to limit day-to-day tasks to low-level staff. ZENworks 6.5 can be tweaked almost endlessly, but it also does well out of the box. We think that, over time, IT managers should consider unleashing their "über-geeks" on the tool to see just how far they can take systems and desktop management. Based on our experience, we think the sky might be the limit for Novells management monster.

eWEEK Labs West Coast Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.

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Cameron Sturdevant Cameron Sturdevant has been with the Labs since 1997, and before that paid his IT management dues at a software publishing firm working with several Fortune 100 companies. Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility, with a focus on Android in the enterprise. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his reviews and analysis are grounded in real-world concern. Cameron is a regular speaker at Ziff-Davis Enterprise online and face-to-face events. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at csturdevant@eweek.com.

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