By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2005-09-05 Print this article Print

The Novell Inc. ZENworks 7.0 suite of server, desktop and handheld management tools has improved remote control, system imaging, hardware and software inventory, and automated policy management capabilities.

Considering ZENworks Suite 7.0s scope, it might just as easily be named "Godzilla" or "Swiss Army knife." Fortunately, tests at eWEEK Labs showed there is nothing frightening about the updated management platform, which was released last month. In fact, the new capabilities in ZENworks 7.0 have been added to the suite with considerable care, enabling Novell to avoid most of the pitfalls that could have dented this supersize management tool chest.

ZENworks Suite 7.0 is priced at $130 per license, the same as Version 6.5, the previous edition of the suite. Likewise, annual maintenance is still $29 per license.

These prices are competitive with other offerings in the burgeoning field of rival tools that manage everything from handhelds to servers. Among ZENworks closest competitors are Altiris Inc.s family of management suites, LANDesk Softwares LANDesk Management Suite 8.5, Microsoft Corp.s SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003, Computer Associates International Inc.s Unicenter line and IBMs Tivoli roster of products.

Altiris and LANDesk compete more directly with ZENworks than do CAs Unicenter and IBMs Tivoli, providing everything from handheld, laptop and PC management to server tools for a range of operating systems.

However, it is interesting to review for a moment the history of Unicenter and Tivoli on the matter of overarching management suites. Unicenter and Tivoli, along with Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView, sought to rule the management world with unified suites in the late 1990s. The gigantic suites usually required very chatty agents, and these agents often were difficult to maintain on end-user systems. To make matters worse, the tools in these suites were combined with often-immature and difficult-to-configure policy engines, which extended implementation times to untenable lengths.

The outcome of such zealous unification was that today these companies provide what can best be considered point solutions that allow IT managers to select the tools they need in an a la carte fashion.

Novell, along with Altiris and LANDesk, learned from the mammoth management suite attempts of yore: As we found in the earlier versions of ZENworks, Novell has effectively welded together several best-of-breed tools that have had time to mature in real-world conditions.

For example, the ZENworks Patch Management module continues to integrate PatchLink Corp.s PatchLink software, and Version 7.0 supports patching Linux systems. We were able to manage and report on patches to our Windows and Novell systems, along with Red Hat Inc. and Novell SuSE Linux platforms.

Reporting has been beefed up throughout ZENworks Suite 7.0, and we could get accurate, informative reports about our systems current vulnerabilities along with the status of systems compliance with our security policies. This kind of attention to detail is essential for an effective patch management strategy.

The improved reporting means that IT managers who have been using the previous version of ZENworks or who have experience with PatchLinks products will be up-to-speed quickly on this part of ZENworks.

Among the biggest changes that current users of ZENworks Suite 7.0 will notice is the revamped asset management system , built on Novells April acquisition of Tally Systems Corp. Weve long been fans of Tallys Census software and hardware inventory collection ability, and the inclusion of this best-in-category product in ZENworks Suite 7.0 is a real step forward.

In tests, we immediately noticed the improvement in inventory accuracy from the previous ZENworks Suite version. We got accurate inventory results on all systems across every platform we tested—including desktops running Windows XP and Xandros Inc.s Xandros Desktop OS Version 3 Business Edition on the Linux side, and servers running Windows 2000 and Windows 2003, Red Hats Fedora Core 3, and Novell NetWare 6.5 .

The boost in accuracy is important because ZENworks Suites reports, which were also greatly enhanced in this version, rely on the inventory data to show IT managers a precise landscape of IT assets. We used this information to plan our strategy of assessing the number of vulnerable desktops and servers in our test network and then deciding how to divvy up resources to most effectively patch our machines to the most current version of the operating system. ZENworks Suite 7.0 also has a component for managing inventory and software distribution on handheld devices.

Click here to read Cameron Sturdevants Tech Analysis on SMASH. We were impressed with the number of default reports and the Web-based reporting tools provided out of the box with ZENworks Suite 7.0. The inventory component provided usage reports that were especially helpful when we prepared a detailed inventory of systems on the Labs network. Nearly all the reports we used are also available via the Web-based reporting console. Its easy to give access to reports to anyone who needs them, but its also a simple matter to configure administrative access to the overall ZENworks system so that only authorized users are able to see specific information.

It seems that software license usage has come back into vogue as a way to control IT costs, and ZENworks Suite 7.0 has improved reports that will enable IT managers to easily see this information. We set up software inventory reports to indicate every machine that had any kind of licensed database software on any Labs machine.

Our experience is quite likely to mirror IT managers in any organization: We were surprised to find copies of the MDAC (Microsoft Data Access Components) on a variety of systems that were not previously thought to have anything other than a standard operating system installed. We used ZENworks Suite 7.0 to run software removal jobs on one of these systems.

We installed the ZENworks for Linux Management module on a Red Hat Linux 9.0 server. We didnt see much functional difference from the previous version of ZENworks, which also included this capability, but we think cross-platform support for Windows, Linux and NetWare is an important feature for IT managers to look for in a server management tool. In this area, longtime rivals Unicenter and Tivoli products provide greater coverage than does ZENworks Suite 7.0. These tools also offer mainframe integration that ZENworks Suite 7.0 doesnt provide. IT managers with a substantial number of mainframe systems likely will still see an advantage when using one of these other systems to provide a unified management console view of the overall IT infrastructure.

ZENworks Suite 7.0 gains support for SuSE Linux Enterprise and Standard Server, building on Version 6.5s support for Red Hat Advanced and Enterprise Linux Server 4. The additional platform support should make ZENworks compelling for shops that are focused on using PC-based Linux systems as their data center backbone.

Novell has obviously worked hard to clean up the installation and integration process of its massively multifunction management menagerie. This is important because it would be quite easy to fail in the integration effort, thereby making the entire product unusable for IT managers with little time for installation woes.

ZENworks Suite 7.0 comes with streamlined documentation and installation tools that are, for the most part, very straightforward to use. Novell has removed the jarringly dissimilar installation tools from most components in the suite, making it easier for IT managers to focus on ensuring that the underlying prerequisites for each product module are in place.

ZENworks Suite 7.0 supports Novells eDirectory and Microsofts Active Directory. We installed our ZENworks suite of tools on both a Windows Active Directory system running on an IBM eServer 325 and a NetWare 6.5 Open Enterprise Server system running on an HP ProLiant DL360 server. Most organizations likely wont mix the two directory products to the extent that we did in tests, but we had good results leveraging user identity to provide the right services to our test users through ZENworks Suite 7.0.

For some time, ZENworks Suite 7.0 has not required the Novell Client for Windows, but, as with ZENworks Suite 6.5, things work better when the client is present. The latest version of the Novell Client for Windows—Version 4.91—is pretty painless to install and use. We installed the Novell Client on most of our Windows desktop systems to take full advantage of the features offered in ZENworks Suite 7.0, such as remote control and backup.

So, although it is like ashes on our tongue to say this, adding the Novell Client wasnt so bad, and IT managers can consider using it without fear of tedious extra work.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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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