Determine how clients compare to a corporate standard

Administrators and Help desk support personnel often struggle with inconsistent file versions on computers throughout an organization. Computing Edge's Baseline +Plus 2.2.1 eases this struggle by analyzing the difference between a baseline installation and a client system that isn't working. The software takes a snapshot of a standard configuration; then, when a problem arises, Baseline +Plus can generate a report that details the problem files.

The Baseline +Plus CD-ROM contains the Baseline Agent, Notification Server, and Web Reports for Baseline +Plus. You can install 30-day evaluation versions of all three products or purchase a license key for a permanent version of the products. The CD-ROM also provides product documentation in HTML format.

You can use the software to add functionality to Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 1.2 or SMS 2.0, or you can operate Baseline +Plus independently. However, the Web Reports component requires a few minor tweaks if you use it outside an SMS environment.

To test Baseline +Plus, I set up a small network of one server and two clients in an SMS 2.0 environment. I used a Compaq ProLiant 4500 server that had four 166MHz Pentium CPUs running Windows NT Server 4.0 and two Compaq Deskpro 5100 workstations loaded with NT Workstation 4.0 and Microsoft Office 2000 Professional. I cloned the clients to simulate a typical corporate environment, and I used the software CD-ROM's autorun HTML interface to install Baseline Agent on the first client.

After a quick and painless installation, the Baseline +Plus Configuration Editor asked me to choose from a list of baseline samples. The wizard gave me the option to create a new configuration or use one of the samples. I chose to create a baseline configuration. The configuration parameters include file types to scan, directories to scan, files to exclude, file properties to report, and SMS reporting options. I configured the software to report all files on the client's hard disk that had .dll, .exe, or .ocx extensions. I accepted the recommended settings for the other configurable items, and I saved my configuration.

The Snapshot Generation Wizard launched a system scan based on the parameters in the baseline configuration. The scan, which took about 2 minutes to analyze 446MB on a 100MHz Pentium processor system, identified and gathered properties for the 1264 files that fit my selection criteria. Then, the software launched the Snapshot Editor, which prompted me for a name, version, and description of the new snapshot. The editor also gave me the option to add, delete, or edit the existing file descriptions. I chose not to make any changes to the baseline, saved the snapshot, and exited.

Next, the software compared live files on a client system to the baseline image, which took 2.5 minutes. When the comparison completed, the Baseline +Plus Viewer Wizard launched the Notification Server Viewer to display the results of the comparison. Although the viewer displayed important data, the information wasn't organized in an easy-to-use format. The scan confirmed that nothing had changed in the few minutes since I had created the baseline.

To test Baseline +Plus' ability to detect changed files, I created a new baseline to monitor .exe, .ocx, and .ini files. Then, I added an .exe file, deleted an .ocx file, and modified an .ini file on one of the clients and ran a new comparison. The software correctly reported the modified files, as Screen 1 shows.

To test the product's SMS integration features, I used the Package Definition Files (.pdf) file on the Baseline +Plus CD-ROM to create an SMS package on the server. The package included four programs: Generate new local baseline, Compare to local baseline, Invisible standard compliance against baseline, and Visible standard compliance against baseline. I scheduled the four programs to run individually on both SMS clients. The first program generated a local baseline, Local_master.bls, on each client. The second program compared the current configuration with the Local_master.bls baseline and reported the differences. The third and fourth programs compared the current configuration to Baseline.bls. Baseline.bls is a snapshot of the standard configuration. All programs ran as expected and generated data appropriate to the task performed. The programs also reported data from the local baseline comparisons to the SMS database.

Finally, I installed Web Reports for Baseline +Plus on the server. The software ensured that my system met the requirements to be a Web Reports/Notification Server host, and the setup application included links to required components. Although the Web Reports installation was less intuitive than the Baseline Agent installation, administrators who have experience with SMS and Microsoft SQL Server shouldn't have any problems. Non-SMS sites can use the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), which is a free version of SQL Server minus a few features, to house baseline data. The Baseline +Plus CD-ROM includes the components and instructions necessary for either installation. After I installed Web Reports, I could view, organize, and print Baseline +Plus data from all the systems on my network. I used one of the 25 preconfigured reports to create a report and charts that displayed my collected data. Web Reports automatically uses Microsoft IIS to publish reports, so you can view, sort, copy, and print them with a Web browser.

Baseline +Plus is a great troubleshooting tool. And the product's modest per-seat cost ensures that the software will quickly pay for itself.

Baseline +Plus 2.2.1
Contact:Computing Edge * 801-847-0022 or 800-585-7002
Web: http://www.computingedge.com
Price: $13.95 per client (volume discounts available)
Decision Summary
Pros: Minimizes client demand for support; supplements SMS functionality
Cons: Documentation available only online