Systems management: what Novell's Zenworks has to offer

Novell's Zenworks is its suite of automated...

Novell's Zenworks is its suite of automated system management tools for the end-user environment and datacentre.

Zenworks is really two main products. One is Configuration Manager, which manages desktops or servers running Microsoft Windows or Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise (SLE) platforms - a throwback to Novell's local area network (Lan) management origins. The other is Zenworks Orchestrator, which manages datacentre server technologies and the associated issues.

Andrew Eliopoulos, worldwide director of product marketing for Novell's identity and security management solutions, says the tool will appeal to companies troubled by increasing governance, risk and compliance issues. "These are the critical issues to business," he says, arguing that these are services that can be catered for through systems management.

Configuration Manager replaced Novell's Desktop Management Suite, taking on a broader range of responsibilities. It now looks after asset management, patch management and Linux management. These were formerly separate products. The maturation of these management products was complemented by features that offer management of mobile devices. The PocketPC, handheld devices and even RIM's Blackberry server have been brought into the endpoint security fold.

Zenorks Orchestrator is a more recent addition to the Novell portfolio. It can apply policy-based, automated management to heterogeneous virtual and non-virtual servers. But its major functions are resource discovery. Duties include workload management, provisioning, dynamic scheduling, lifecycle management of Virtual Machines (VMs), policy management, auditing and accounting, and software-compliance assurance.

These virtues can be extended to more technologies through management packs which Novell or partner independent software vendors (ISV)s can write and market, just as Microsoft, which also originated in Lan management, does. Currently, Novell offers Zenworks VMM Pack, which allows Orchestrator to manage a range of server virtualisation technologies, and Zenworks high performance computing (HPC) management pack, which meets the need for managing an HPC infrastructure.

Novell's initial promotion pricing encouraged existing Zenworks for desktops, servers and handheld customers to migrate toward ZCM (Zenworks configuration manager). But existing customers can use ZCM within their existing environments and ZCM doesn't force customers to replace what they already have. Novell has been working for some time to release its configuration management solutions from having to be tied to the requirement of installing Novell's eDirectory as well for configuration management.

One of the weaknesses is that Zenworks does not manage enterprise storage. Development is planned, but that is not much good right now. Network management is lacking too. The two major Zenworks product sets currently offer management facilities that are separately accessed and not integrated. However, since management of the areas of infrastructure relevant to each of these products would normally be undertaken separately, this need not be a big problem for customer organisations.

The two major product components have quite different technical foundations, mainly because Orchestrator was separately developed. Although Novell tries to dovetail them into a common architecture for the overall suite, it is a possible weakness. Eventually, integration will improve operational efficiency.

Zenworks has strong support for virtualisation, and can rationalise virtualised environments with non-virtualised, which gives the product set a major advantage. The lack of this facility in systems management generally has led to annoying inefficiencies, which only Zenworks can resolve.

Zenworks is especially appropriate for Linux environments, where a lack of enterprise-strength management has been a serious barrier to Linux adoption. But the provision of problem investigation and resolution facilities is lacking. "I am surprised this is an area that Novell has neglected," says Roy Illsley, Butler Group's senior research analyst.

Zenworks is good at management of client devices and server populations. The Configuration Manager is particularly mature and fully-featured, supporting a wide variety of facilities, including asset management, desktop configuration, patch management, and endpoint security. Zenworks Orchestrator provides particular value when Linux environments manage the datacentre, and in integrating management of virtualised and non-virtualised environments.

Though this scope and approach fits well with the rest of the Novell product portfolio, most organisations have an IT context that is broader still. So Zenworks may fail to meet some customer requirements - on a systems management level - by failing to manage datacentre storage technologies.

Sadly this mismatch also means Zenworks has little in the way of problem resolution support. "This is serious because most customers would look for a systems management tool to have such facilities," says Illsley. "While we recognise that Zenworks could ably meet the needs of many customers, I think it is unlikely to be seen in the immediate future as a best of breed systems management tool with which to take on the whole IT infrastructure," he says.

Novell's Zenworks' vital stats

Main products: Zenworks Configuration Manager, Zenworks Orchestrator

Major customers: Westinghouse Electric, Western and Southern

Market share: 9%

Annual revenue: $900m

Number of staff: 5,000 world wide

Licence fee $70, $114, and $225, respectively, per user or per instance

Butler/Datamonitor Financial rating: 4.82

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