Vector Revamps PC-Duo Suite

PC management system offers configuration-fixing capabilities that can reduce help desk calls.

Vector Networks Ltd. has refreshed its PC management system by adding configuration-mending capabilities and calling the new offering PC-Duo Enterprise 1.2. This product is well worth consideration in environments that are LAN-connected but isnt that good a choice for managing machines that are connected via bandwidth-constrained, dial-up lines.

For IT managers charged with maintaining end-user systems, the configuration-mending features should significantly reduce the need for desk-side support visits, thus saving time and money. Although it took some noodling in eWeek Labs tests to make PC-Duo Enterprises configuration-fixing features work correctly, after a bit of practice, we were able to delete desktop shortcuts, erase files and generally run amok in our Windows 98 and 2000 Professional and XP systems. Yet we could still return the systems to working order with very little effort.

The product, significant parts of which were previously packaged in Vectors LANutil32, also provides some support for DOS and earlier versions of 16-bit Windows operating systems, although we did not test support for these platforms.

PC-Duo Enterprise started shipping last month, and its price varies greatly, depending on configuration—from $13 to $77 per license for 100 users, depending on which modules are used. This is a good thing because PC-Duo Enterprise can be configured to provide only the features that are needed, so organizations dont need to spend a lot of money on "shelfware." For example, shops that already have an inventory system but are interested in the configuration management features or software metering can buy just those modules.

Turnkey Features

During our tests, activating the additional features was a simple matter of using a software key. Thus, there were no additional installation steps required to get the features working. Installing the agent on the PCs was no more arduous than any other similar product weve tested, including Intel Corp.s LANDesk Management Suite.

After the PC agent was installed, it collected hardware and software information that accurately reflected the components and applications installed in our PC systems. Like most other desktop management products, PC-Duo Enterprise doesnt include support for Macintosh, Linux or Unix workstations.

PC-Duo Enterprises Enterprise Diagnostics module is a set of features Vector Networks has not offered before and is likely to significantly reduce the cost of help desk calls related to users misconfiguring their systems. This is because PC-Duo can answer the first question that is always asked when an end user reports a problem: What has changed on the system?

Whether we made very small changes—for example, deleting a shortcut from the desktop—or large changes, such as renaming executable files, we were able to use the Enterprise Diagnostics module in PC-Duo Enterprise to identify the changes and thus point out the likely culprit of our misbehaving machines.

In tests, setting up the Enterprise Diagnostics module correctly took more than a little effort, but once we mastered the configuration process and grew more adept at taking snapshots of systems, our work proceeded quickly. The module consists of three components: a central console, agents and a shared data folder called Support Site. System administrators who have worked with Microsoft Corp.s MMC (Microsoft Management Console) will have no trouble figuring out the diagnostics console because it is an MMC snap-in module.

Although it was somewhat awkward to use two different consoles to work with the product—the main console, where we conducted most desktop management functions, and the diagnostics console, which governs fix-it procedures—we soon got used to switching back and forth. Combining the consoles would make sense, though, because after getting diagnostic information, we followed up with a quick check on the hardware and software inventory to make sure that no other updates or equipment was needed to bring the troubled system back up.

We used PC-Duo Enterprise to distribute software packages to desktop systems. The software packaging system worked well enough, and the scheduling features in PC-Duo Enterprise made it easy to send packages when our network was quiet. Because the hardware and software inventory system is integrated with the software distribution system, we had no trouble creating reports that let us target groups of machines for specific software upgrades.

We were able to use several different methods, including using the Microsoft Windows Installer, to create application distribution kits. The process was no more or less complicated than with other systems weve used.

Another thing wed like to see Vector do in the near future is make administrator functions easier to control. The product allows an administrator full access to any module installed on the particular console machine. It would be much better, from a management standpoint, to enable a superadministrator to assign administrative roles, thus limiting lesser administrators range of actions to a particular geographic area or department function, such as sales or accounting.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at