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Channel Success: Managing a Pure Microsoft Environment With Novell ZENworks

Novell Cool Solutions: Trench
By Martin Weiss

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Posted: 2 Oct 2003
 

The Challenge

The goal of the project, which started 1.5 years ago, was the implementation of a centralized system that had to satisfy the tough requirements of a comprehensive system for:

  • Software distribution
  • Hardware and software inventory
  • Policy management
  • Handling of security standards
  • Remote management of workstations through the helpdesk

The assumption was that a pure terminal host environment would gradually be transformed into a PC environment with emulation and client/server applications. It became quickly apparent that labor-intensive manual IT support of workstations was no longer feasible under the given circumstances.

At the request of BG, a competitive analysis of different products and vendors was performed by COMLINE AG, and it revealed that a solution consisting of ZENworks, eDirectory and Novell Account Management was not only the least expensive but also the most functionally complete alternative, with the best integration possibilities.

The Solution

COMLINE AG was tasked with implementing this solution, which took several steps:

  1. Planning
  2. Installation and configuration of two base servers under NT4 as well as three integrated Windows 2000 servers running Active Directory
  3. Installation of eDirectory, including Novell Account Management
  4. Installation of ZENworks and upgrade to ZENworks 4.01
  5. Creation of OS images for the workstations
  6. Automation of all necessary application installations via snapshot and scripting
  7. Tests and revisions
  8. Development of policy and rights structures
  9. Pilot rollout
  10. Review
  11. Rollout
  12. Branch connectivity via 64k or 128k ISDN link
  13. Upgrade from ZENworks 3 to ZENworks 3.2

The pilot rollout was completed successfully after about 20 man days. Following it, operation was taken over completely by BG. Further consulting and supervision will be done by COMLINE. At this point, about 300 users, 250 PCs and 4 NT Servers are being managed. Every user can log on to any workstation, and any applications, rights, policies and user-specific configurations will "migrate" with the user, without using roaming profiles.

When a user initially logs on to a PC, all applications are configured for that user (such as user name in MS Office, Lotus Notes configurations, etc.) This takes about 2 minutes. The rest of the information is stored on the user's home directory. All applications are set up to be self healing and can be repaired via Verify in case of an error. Installation of branch office PCs via CD-Rom is possible. Mobile users receive CD ROMs via mail in case of new applications or new versions and then install the software on their laptops. All workstations are imaged centrally. With some applications, there is a forced install when the user first logs in (e.g., IBM emulation or MS Office), other applications are installed when they are first used (e.g. Acrobat Reader).

Two IT administrators support the server and the PCs. They automate applications, create operating system images and service the environment.

Adequate user support is guaranteed by a user service (help desk), where users receive support regarding application use and password reset problems.

Sometimes a PC experiences an error that cannot be reproduced on other PCs, and which none of the applications in Verify can solve. Rather than spending a lot of time attempting to resolve the problem, a flag is set in eDirectory to reinstall the PC. When the PC is restarted the next time, a complete re-image starts. During the re-imaging process, which lasts about 20-30 minutes, the user can log on to any other PC. Since all workstation images are identical and thus standardized, most occurring errors can be reproduced on any other workstation. Problems can be more easily localized and solved. A lot of times, problems can be found during initial tests or during the test rollout and can thus be fixed ahead of the full production rollout. When PCs malfunction due to manual installations or user error, a new "standard" can be recreated without much effort.

All data is stored exclusively on servers, which means that data security on workstations is a non-issue. In case of laptops, which necessitate data storage on the road, a special application ensures data security via a manual process. This process has to be executed before a reinstallation.

Hardware and software inventory is implemented via FSC Deskview Agents (WMI Layer for improved hardware information) through ZENworks Inventory. By performing a data export out of the inventory database or via ODBC, PCs are included in customized reports, including their serial numbers. This ensures a fully automated inventory process.

Case Study on using Novell ZENworks

  • We have been working with Novell ZENworks since the spring of 2001. ZENworks allows us to
    • Image PCs with the appropriate operating system
    • Perform software distribution
    • Access every PC in the network remotely

    Prior to using ZENworks, and if everything went well, we used to spend three to four hours to re-image a PC. Now, this time has been reduced to 30 to 40 minutes.

    Once a PC is imaged by ZENworks, it can be reset any time with the click of a mouse. The same holds true for software distribution.

    We can add or remove applications at will (e.g., during updates). Today, we have about 250 PCs that we manage using ZENworks, and we are planning to add another 250 in the near future. ZENworks Imaging works extremely well for us and software distribution is an easy and comfortable process.

    In short, "sneakernet" is a thing of the past!

    The Company

    BG-PHOENICS GMBH is an IT service provider for

    • Social insurances against occupational accidents
    • Other social insurance carriers,
    • Their institutions and similar organizations

    On the basis of long-time project experience and strong vertical knowledge, we design, implement, operate, and support high-end business solutions with cutting-edge technology.

    Michael Sokob, Wolfgang Rupp, System and Network administration
    S?dwestliche Bau-Berufsgenossenschaft /BG Phoenics GmbH


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