Police your network with WRQ's software manager

Users constantly bombard network administrators with requests for software package purchases, obscuring exactly what applications users have installed on their machines. If you're unsure about what software your clients are running, you can't know whether your machines are Year 2000 (Y2K)-compliant. WRQ's Express 2000 Software Manager can help you get a firm grip on what applications are installed on your clients' machines.

Express 2000 Software Manager is a suite of applications you use to manage your company's computing environment. Express 2000 Software Manager contains five components: Express Meter, Express Inventory, Express 2000, Express Reports, and Express Enterprise. Each of these components plays a vital role in your system management. You use the Express Console to perform all of your management activities.

Background
You can compare Express 2000 Software Manager to Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), because WRQ's product performs many of the same functions as SMS. However, Express 2000 Software Manager is more powerful and offers many features not found in SMS.

Express Meter is the software-metering component of the Express 2000 Software Manager suite. Software metering is a practical and legal way to reduce your software purchasing costs. Software metering means purchasing only a few copies of a software package, then restricting the number of users who run the software at one time to the number of copies you purchased. However, many companies (e.g., Microsoft) implement restrictions in their software licenses to prevent you from metering applications. Thus, you must check your software licenses to ensure you can legally meter your applications.

Express Inventory is the component responsible for inventorying the hardware and software installed on your client workstations. This component has numerous benefits: The major benefit is that you receive a complete and accurate inventory of all the hardware and software installed on all the client workstations on your network. This inventory can take days, if not weeks, to manually collect. A second benefit is that the product includes an extensive product knowledge base that identifies software installed on remote machines. This component lets you monitor whether users install unauthorized software on their machines.

Express 2000 is a Y2K-compliance testing and management component. This component tests your hardware configuration to ensure that you're Y2K-compliant. Also, Express 2000 uses the product knowledge base to maintain a comprehensive database containing the applications in your environment that are not Y2K-compliant.

These three modules feed information to the fourth component, Express Reports. Express Reports is a collection of management reports the software maintains within a Microsoft Access database. You can use the information collected by Express Meter, Express Inventory, and Express 2000 to generate comprehensive reports and graphs about the status of your computing environment. For example, you can create a Y2K-compliance report that lists the Y2K status of all the software installed on all the machines in your network. The reports you generate with Express Reports are invaluable and can save you money and time otherwise spent manually collecting, sorting, and reporting data.

Express Enterprise facilitates data interchanges between multiple instances of Express 2000 Software Manager. For example, you use Express Enterprise if you want to share information the software collected from a marketing department on one server and an accounting department on another server. This component is optional and isn't necessary in small environments.

These features sound promising. However, you might wonder how the software performs in the real world. I found that the software worked remarkably well, although the learning curve was longer than I had hoped.

Installation
I installed Express 2000 Software Manager on my internal 10Base-T network. My server system is a Micronics-based dual-Pentium II processor running Windows NT Server 4.0. Several client systems are also on my network. One client, a Toshiba Tecra 730XCDT, runs NT Workstation 4.0. Another client, a 166MHz Acer America Pentium processor, runs Windows 95.

Express 2000 Software Manager installation is a multistage process. First, you need to set up your NT server with the product's server components. After you complete this step, you configure a set of application libraries and distribute the client component to a small group of test workstations in your environment. After you review the results, you can complete the installation of the client component to the remainder of your workstations. Although WRQ categorizes both the server and client components' setup as the installation, I prefer to differentiate and call the server setup installation and the client setup distribution.

I began the server setup by installing the server components on my Micronics server. After inserting the distribution CD-ROM into my server, I ran the INSTALL program located in the root directory. You can install three components:

  1. Express Software Manager, which installs the Express Console component.
  2. Express Enterprise Services, which includes both the Express Library Manager and Express Client Install Manager. These components are necessary only if you want to automatically update, consolidate, and export data you collect from workstations into multiple libraries; if you want to share licenses across libraries; or if you need to install the Express client component on NT workstations for users who don't have administrative rights.
  3. Adobe Acrobat Reader, which lets you view online manuals.

I opted to install only the first module because I didn't need Enterprise Services and I already had Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on the server.

The server installation is typical: I answered a few questions about my username and company name, and I provided an installation location for the product. I had to reboot the system before I was able to start using the software.

Distribution
After I completed the server components' installation, I was ready to begin the distribution stage and deploy the Express 2000 Software Manager client components to my workstations. This point in the product configuration becomes complicated.

Before you deploy the client software to other hosts on your network, you must set up an application library. You accomplish this setup by running the Express Console, which automatically invokes a Library Wizard to aid you in the rest of the setup process. During this predeployment setup, you must provide the software with a network folder where clients can access the library file. The wizard prompts you with questions, such as whether to enable crash protection. After you answer all the questions, the initialization continues. Upon completion, the system is ready for you to start deploying.

As part of the application library initialization, the software automatically creates a subdirectory called clients. This subdirectory contains all the files you need to deploy to clients. From your client workstation or through a system logon script, you access the network folder and run exinst.exe to install the Express 2000 Software Manager client component. This component ran sluggishly on my clients.

The Test
To test Express 2000 Software Manager, I collected information about the software installed on each of my client systems. I also wanted to check for Y2K hardware compliance. The software collected the appropriate data and told me that my laptop's hardware is ready for Y2K (as Screen 1 shows).

To collect information about product installation on client workstations, or to meter application usage of products installed on a central application server, you must tell the system configuration about the applications. To report an application to the software, you add the application to the Application Library. Express 2000 Software Manager includes an extensive application knowledge base you can automatically add to the Application Library. WRQ includes over 7000 products in the application knowledge base. (WRQ maintains an updated application knowledge base on its Web site.)

After you add an application to the Application Library, you can double-click on the application from the Express Console window and the system will bring up the Application Properties screen, which Screen 2 shows. From this window, you can manage the product's licensing, determine what support files are present, meter usage, restrict specific users' access, and view Y2K information.

Express Meter lets you meter both local and network-installed copies of software packages. If you intend to share licenses between application libraries, you need to activate Express Enterprise. For concurrent licenses, you can automatically shut down the application and recoup the license after a predetermined period of usage or idle time. This functionality is particularly useful in large environments in which users run an application and then minimize it rather than closing it.

The Results
Overall, Express 2000 Software Manager is easy to use and includes several helpful capabilities. This functionality is great, but the product is so feature rich that learning what features the product contains, without even attempting to figure out how to use them, might take weeks. Although the learning curve is long, you will not need a great deal of time to figure out how to use the basic features.

The product's inventory, usage tracking, and metering components are indispensable to a network administrator in a busy shop. However, WRQ needs to offer the product in smaller user quantities, which would complement the NT user-license structure Microsoft offers. The minimum 25-seat pricing structure discriminates against smaller shops in which software metering and license compliance are as important as in enterprise environments.

Express 2000 Software Manager
Contact:
WRQ * 206-217-7100
Web: http://www.wrq.com
Price: $49.50 per seat (25-license minimum)
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, or Win95, 30MB of hard disk space, Functional network, 800 * 600 VGA monitor