How To Pick Software To Manage Your Business IT Systems

Earlier this week we addressed how to manage the security for your business IT systems. Now we look at software than can assist with your broader IT management strategy.

Lifehacker's Business Tech Guide 2015 is presented by our ongoing IT Pro coverage, offering practical advice for deploying tech in the workplace.

Software Tools To Manage Your Network And Users

Assuming you're like the vast majority of businesses, you'll mainly be running Windows desktops and servers. That means Active Directory will be at the heart of your IT management.

If you have all of your users and devices entered into Active Directory then you'll be in good shape to manage them all.

Microsoft's System Center is a suite of management tools for your IT environment. There are many different components to System Center but we'll just focus on a few.

System Center Configuration Manager, or SCCM, can be used to deploy computers on your network. In the past, if you wanted to deploy 20 computers at the same time you either did them one at a time or built one and cloned it onto the others using imaging software.

SCCM lets you automatically build each system. The advantage of this over image management is that instead of needing a different image for each model of computer you have, SCCM can deploy the correct combination of drivers and software for that device based on its model and who it's being allocated to.

As well as supporting the initial deployment, SCCM can be used to deploy new applications to users or apply updates to existing software.

Endpoint Protection is aptly named as it's Microsoft's management tool for deploying security software onto the client devices on your network. It integrates with SCCM so that updates to the security software can be easily pushed out to users without needing them to do anything.

Operations Manager is a management tool that allows support calls to be logged, either by support staff or users themselves, so that you can minimise service disruptions. In addition, it provides tools so that you can monitor the performance of your IT infrastructure so that you can proactively manage your environment's performance through dashboard reports and systems alerts.

Don’t forget that all that software you install on end-user systems and servers needs to be properly licensed. By centralising the deployment of all your software you have much better control over what is installed so that you can reduce the risk of being in breach of your software licensing agreements.

Virtualisation: Why It Can Be Useful For Everyone

Back in Chapter 1 we discussed virtualisation software as it's used in server environments. In that context, virtualisation can reduce the number of servers you need thus reducing capital costs and operating expenditure. It also allows you to more dynamically react to changing business needs, as deploying a new server is simply a matter of running some software rather than going through the entire server procurement process.

Virtualisation can also be used on client devices. For example, if you have an application that needs to run but not be connected to the rest of the network, it's possible to create a virtual machine, using virtualisation software such as Hyper-V if you're running Windows 8.1, Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7, VMware Player or Oracle VM Virtual Box.

You'll need to ensure that you have a license to run the second copy of Windows in a virtual machine.

Software developers can use virtualisation to test applications in sandboxed environments and IT administrators can use to to test new applications without harming their working systems.

So, like server environments, desktop virtualisation lets you use your hardware more for multiple purposes but with each function compartmentalised from the others.

It's worth noting that virtualisation on personal computers is significantly different to its server counterpart. On a server, the foundation is the hypervisor - a very low level piece of software that acts a bridge between the hardware and all of the virtual machines. This makes the virtualisation very efficient - almost like running the operating system on its own computer.

With desktop virtualisation, the software that allows you to run other operating systems runs on top of your main system. So, although it allows you to run multiple sandboxed systems, it's not as efficient. That means the applications you run under virtualisation on your desktop won’t run as fast as if they were on their own hardware.

Checklist: Management Software

Putting together a comprehensive security and management software suite needs some planning. Here are a few items to consider.

  • Make sure that you have systems in place to ensure that stops intruders from entering your IT environment.
  • Keep track of the data leaving your business as well as what comes in.
  • Install end-point protection software and keep it up to date.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of physical security.
  • Choosing a comprehensive management tool will make system deployment and maintenance easier.
  • User education is very important. All the security measures in the world will fail if users make it easy for the bad guys to access data and systems.
  • Virtualisation software can help you with lots of specific needs on end-user computers, negating the need to buy more hardware.

You should now have a pretty solid understanding of how IT security works. Check in at the same time and place next Monday for an overview of desktop software.

NIT management picture from Shutterstock


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