Keep track of hardware and software on your systems

\[Editor's Note: At press time, Fundamental Software had released Enterprise Configuration Manager (ECM) 3.1, which includes several updates and enhancements (e.g., support for remote computers, integration with management frameworks through SNMP, improved documentation). For more information about this release, visit the company's Web site.\]

Keeping manual records of the hardware and software in your organization can be time-consuming and can result in incomplete and inaccurate information. Fundamental Software's Enterprise Configuration Manager (ECM) 3.0 creates a timely, accurate, and customizable collection of configuration data and provides reporting tools to produce only the information you need.

Installation and Database Creation
ECM can use either Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or SQL Server 6.5 as the database for storing configuration information. I installed SQL Server 7.0 with SP1 on a custom Celeron-equipped computer running Windows 2000 Advanced Server, then I installed ECM. ECM includes a one-page Installation Guide describing installation and configuration procedures and a CD-ROM Enterprise Configuration Manager User's Guide and Enterprise Configuration Manager Install Guide in Microsoft Word format. (A few places in ECM's manuals referred to an earlier version of the product, making the manuals seem outdated.)

ECM's setup program helped me choose which components to install (I installed all of them) and specify a destination for files. The components are Agent, Console, Collector, Web Server, Installation User Guide, Reports, and Snap-ins. Agent sends data about systems on the network to Collector. Collector is a Win2K and Windows NT service that uses the data to update the SQL Server database. Console is ECM's main user interface (UI). Web Server provides an Active Server Pages (ASP) interface on Microsoft IIS 3.0 or later so that you can use a Web browser to query the ECM database. Reports installs the Reports Analysis program that ECM uses to create custom SQL statements for report generation. Snap-ins are ECM components that operate inside Microsoft Management Console (MMC). The ECM setup wizard detected the local copy of SQL Server on my system and asked whether I wanted to use a local database for storing ECM data. I clicked Yes, and the wizard asked me to specify a default account for Collector to use when it gathers data from remote computers.

After ECM installed the components, the ECM Database Creation Wizard helped me create the SQL Server database. I specified the local rather than the remote SQL Server option, after which the wizard created a device and a database and ran ECM's SQL script. For SQL Server 6.5 installations, the wizard automatically handles tempdb sizing considerations; SQL Server 7.0 uses dynamic sizing. ECM's SQL script built tables, views, and reports and configured appropriate account access to those objects.

Configuring the Collection Process
I launched ECM's Configuration Console from the Start menu so that I could connect to the ECM database. On the Configuration Console's Authority tab, I specified accounts that had administrative rights to other domains in my network. On the ODBC tab, I specified the ECM database's name and provided credentials that let me attach to the database. I then opened the ECM Console and ran Auto Discovery, which found the five systems on my network. The systems were running Win2K Professional, NT Server 4.0, or NT Workstation 4.0. In ECM, configuring the collection of computer hardware and software information is complicated. ECM's Configuration (General) program, which Figure 1, page 136, shows, has numerous tabs with options you need to set for collection and collection-related operations.

ECM offers options to control how information collection affects systems and the network. For example, you can specify a maximum number of agents that Collector can receive data from concurrently, limit the number of threads that Collector uses, and tell Agent to compress data before sending it to Collector, thus minimizing network and server overhead. Other options let you control the network traffic that collection creates. The Collection Time Wizard helps you set up collection schedules for various information types. Other options let you set filters to collect specific Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) data. You can configure ECM's Collector to upload individual files and Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) information to the database. I set up a daily schedule to collect data of interest (e.g., event logs, Registry keys, ERD data, IP information) from my systems. I configured a weekly schedule for collecting WMI data.

The ECM Console
The ECM Console, which Figure 2 shows, organizes and displays collected data and lets you communicate with Collector and Agent. The Console uses color codes and icons to represent machine roles and various conditions that affect systems. For example, various icons represent PDCs, BDCs, servers, and workstations, and icon color reflects whether the system is operating. To display a legend for the colors and icons, you right-click in the right-hand pane and choose Show Legend from the resulting menu.

The Console's left pane shows five data views. Enterprise view displays data for every machine in the enterprise; you can limit the displayed systems to those that belong to a user-defined display group. Systems view lets you view one system's data. Password Change lets you change service account and local account passwords synchronously across multiple machines. You can use Service Control to control the configuration of services across multiple machines. The History category keeps track of Collector audit information, collection history, changes in collected data, and changes in collected Registry data.

After running a collection on all my machines, I used various views to analyze the data. ECM's ability to display data two ways was helpful. For example, I used Enterprise view to find all systems running the FTP publishing service. Enterprise view displayed the service's status (i.e., started, stopped) and account information. To determine whether the FTP publishing service was running on a specific machine, I opened Systems view, targeted the machine, and viewed a list of all services running on the machine. Systems view also showed each service's status and account information.

Generating Reports
To generate a report of the data that ECM collected, I launched Reports from the Start menu and followed onscreen instructions for using the Tools menu to refresh Registry views. To ensure accurate reporting, you need to refresh Registry views after each collection. ECM offers a small selection of informative reports for hardware, software, and compatibility. You can print the reports or export them to HTML, Microsoft Excel, or text format. Creating custom reports in ECM is difficult. You must formulate your own SQL statement and create multiple Rich Text Format (RTF) files to describe report characteristics.

Compliance Monitor
Compliance Monitor, a separate application within ECM, lets you define Packages and Templates that specify different hardware and software combinations. A Template contains one or more Packages, and you can use Templates as standards against which you measure compliance throughout an organization. Settings categories that Compliance Monitor checks are Local Accounts, Device Drivers, Event Log, Files, Services, Shares, System Variables, Registry, and WMI Data. When you create a Package, you need to copy settings from a machine that ECM has collected data from. The Package I created included settings specifying that a compliant system must have a specific version of atapi.sys, must be running the COM+ Event System service, and must have a temp system variable set to C:\winnt\temp.

After you create one or more Packages, you create Templates and assign Packages and systems to the Templates. I assigned my Package and all my computers to a Template that I created, then clicked Go on the Compliance Monitor toolbar to begin checking my computers' compliance. Seconds later, the Template's Results branch displayed results. Compliance Monitor reported a list of about 20 noncompliances, many of which were because I based my settings on a computer running Win2K Pro and checked the compliance of computers running different Windows versions. You can also view compliance results from the Web-based Console and the Reports utility.

Scheduling Tasks
You can use ECM's Task Scheduler to automatically execute Compliance Monitor Templates and the Reports function. Task Scheduler also can automate the Registry view updates for reporting purposes. Task Scheduler relies on the native Win2K and NT schedule service, so any problems with that service will affect ECM's ability to schedule tasks. I opened Task Scheduler from the Start menu, then configured separate schedules for Templates, Reports, and Registry view. All tasks ran according to schedule, and ECM saved Report results in HTML format.

Web-based Operation
ECM's Web Server component is a Visual Basic (VB) IIS application that you can publish on any system running IIS 3.0 or later. The easy-to-follow instructions in the Enterprise Configuration Manager User's Guide helped me publish Web Server in minutes. Some documentation providing connection information for OLE DB access to the database was missing, but Fundamental Software's technical support answered my questions. You need Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 or later to connect to the Web-based Console. The Web-based Console, which Figure 3 shows, primarily shows collected information. You can't perform a collection or install an Agent from the Web-based Console as you can from the ECM Console.

A Powerful Management Tool
ECM is a powerful tool for managing your enterprise infrastructure. Some of ECM's features require you to spend considerable time learning how the product works. Therefore, Fundamental Software sends a systems engineer to new customers' sites to assist in ECM's initial configuration.

This product might appeal to companies seeking a strong configuration-reporting and management tool without the overhead of larger, more complex tools, such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS). The SQL database's scalability makes ECM viable for large-scale installations. If you don't currently have an automated method for tracking computer configurations in your enterprise, consider ECM.

Enterprise Configuration Manager 3.0
Contact: Fundamental Software * 719-447-4600
Price: $500 per server, $50 per workstation
Decision Summary:
Pros: Thoroughly reports system configurations; accesses data remotely through a Web-based console; offers a useful variety of data displays
Cons: Complex initial configuration; difficult process for creating custom reports; outdated user's manual