Small and midsized businesses rely on software applications and other technologies but often don't have the financial or human resources to manage these technologies. Managing applications, distributing and upgrading software, and responding to Help desk requests are time-consuming tasks for a limited staff, and most small and midsized companies are trying to keep from drowning in a flood of technology. Systems administrators spend time fixing problems rather than proactively managing their networks' resources. Administrators must distribute and update software, keep email servers running, and keep servers and applications available. Many network management packages exist, but most focus on enterprise-scale systems and are costly, time-consuming, and exceed a small system's capabilities. What most businesses need to control their computing resources is a turnkey solution that is fast, easy to use, and affordable.

Tivoli IT Director 2.1 is the small-business answer to Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0. IT Director lets you distribute software, gather accurate inventories, monitor resources, and remotely control other systems across your network. The main difference between IT Director and SMS is that IT Director doesn't require extensive training to use.

IT Director gives small and midsized businesses enterprise-like management tools that are easy to install, simple to use, and affordable. The package comprises three components: IT Director Management Console, IT Director Management Server, and IT Director Management Agents. All administrative functions start from the Management Console. The Management Server is where management data, the server engine, and the management application logic reside. The Management Console and the Management Server must reside on your managing server, but you install Management Agents on each client or server that you want to manage. Three types of Management Agents exist: native managed systems, SNMP devices, and MultiPlatform Manager (MPM) systems.

Tivoli designed the software package to include management functions that most small organizations want, including automatic discovery of systems running IT Director software, MPM systems, and SNMP devices. You can also manage your applications, build granular custom system and network queries, and build an IT Director Web site for your users. You use snap-in application modules to manage as many as 1500 systems from one console. The program works within a Windows-centric network that can include AS/400 and OS/2 clients.

Tivoli packages the software with support for Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), Netscape SuiteSpot servers, and, for those that require it, Microsoft Commercial Internet System (MCIS). Tivoli sells support for Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, and Lotus Domino separately.

The package also includes support for monitoring Windows NT clusters. The software lets you isolate clusters for viewing and monitor cluster resources and events. You can collect data from clusters and set thresholds that, if exceeded, will set off one of the program's notifications. Unfortunately, you can't add to or modify the cluster or its resources, and you can't start or stop services. I wish Tivoli would include a more robust tool to manage clusters, but gathering information about your clusters without a separate tool is helpful.

To set up my management system, I installed IT Director on a Dell 610 workstation running dual Intel 450MHz processors, 128MB of RAM, and an 8GB hard disk. I configured five workstations and a Data General Cluster-in-a-Box with the IT Director Management Agent. Then, I networked the computers on a 10Mbps network in one domain and subnet.

The program includes two CD-ROMs: one for an AS/400 management console and agent, and one that includes a management console for NT and agents for Windows 9x, Windows 3.x, Novell NetWare, and OS/2. I inserted the NT installation CD-ROM into the workstation's CD-ROM drive, and the installation wizard started immediately. Each screen detailed options and recommended the best option to choose.

IT Director integrates well with Tivoli Enterprise, which is Tivoli's monitoring and management program for enterprise-scale networks. The program automatically pushes its management agent software to systems that have Tivoli Enterprise management agent software installed. This feature saves time by moving small and midsized companies to IT Director without incident.

IT Director is a flexible program that lets you create and edit tasks, groups, and resource monitors. Flexible programs can quickly become unwieldy without an organization component. To organize IT Director, you can create groups, which are logical sets of managed systems, to help you find systems quickly for software distribution, patches, or maintenance. For example, you can create a group of desktop systems with 333MHz or faster processors and NT 4.0 installed. Two types of groups exist: dynamic (the default), and static. When your network changes, dynamic groups' contents automatically update, but static groups' contents don't. Dynamic groups are great for realtime network monitoring, and static groups work best when you frequently add and remove group systems and want to measure data at a specific time with a certain configuration.

To test grouping functionality, I created a dynamic group and filtered for a specific physical memory, OS version, and processor speed. From the IT Director main console, I right-clicked Groups and selected New, Dynamic to create a new group. The Dynamic Group Editor, which Screen 1 shows, opened. From the Installed Memory folder, I expanded Physical Memory installed, then dragged the 130228 entry to the Selected Criteria pane. Next, I expanded Version from the Operating System folder and dragged 4.0 to the Selected Criteria pane. A dialog box popped up and let me link the two criteria as All true (where only systems meeting both criteria would appear) or Any true (where systems meeting either criterion would appear). I clicked All true, which linked both criteria in an All true folder. Finally, I opened the Processor folder and expanded Maximum speed of installed processor (MHz), then dragged 333 to the All true folder in the Selected Criteria pane.

To edit group settings, click an entry, then choose Change criteria value from the Edit menu. You can change the operator to Equal to, Not equal to, Greater than, Greater than or equal to, Less than, or Less than or equal to and change the value to any number from 0 to 99999999999. On my network, I set the physical memory criteria to Greater than or equal to and the value to 64,000KB (64MB). I set the processor speed to Greater than or equal to and the value to 266. I wanted to track NT 3.51 or later installations, but I was disappointed to discover that I couldn't change the OS version. Tivoli needs to correct this problem. I named my group 130MBRAM+NT4.0+333MHzproc, saved the changes, and listed my new test group in the Groups pane.

Event Action Planning 101
Although not as robust as Tivoli Enterprise, IT Director includes so many management tools that it might overwhelm some users. Event Action Plans solve this problem. In IT Director, an action is a task such as sending a page or email message to an administrator or initiating a ticker tape message on the IT Director console when the system exceeds a preset threshold. The program lets you use Event Action Plans to bind event filters to one or more actions. Then, when an event occurs, the program performs whatever actions you have specified. You can include as many event filter and action plans as you need in one Event Action Plan.

To create an Event Action Plan, select Tasks from the main console, then select Event Action Plan Builder. The Event Action Plan Builder, which Screen 2 shows, will open. I selected File, New, Event Action Plan, and entered Windows NT Lab in the name field. The Event Action Plan Builder window has three panes: Event Action Plans, Event Filters, and Actions. You decide which events you want the program to notify you about and drag these events from the Event Filters pane to the appropriate Event Action Plan in the leftmost pane.

You can also customize actions you want to take. I told the program to email events to me. I double-clicked Send an Internet (SMTP) E-mail in the Actions pane, entered my email address and the name of the SMTP mail server, and entered Notice a critical event has occurred in the Subject of E-mail field. I clicked File, Save as, named the event critical email, and clicked OK. Next, I dragged critical email from the Actions pane to the Critical Events filter in the center pane. To activate the Event Action Plan, I dragged my new action plan to my test group.

Testing for Success
IT Director generates events when the system exceeds a threshold that you've established. In my newly created group, I wanted to view all systems that exceeded a specific CPU utilization percent.

I right-clicked All Systems and Groups in the leftmost pane of the main console and selected Resource Monitors from the pop-up menu. I expanded the Director Agent folder, then expanded the CPU Monitors folder. Next, I right-clicked Group Threshold. The Group Threshold: All Systems and Devices dialog box appeared. I entered the name highcpuall and left Generate events enabled to begin generating events immediately after I saved the threshold. I cleared the Generate events on value change check box, selected Above or equal, and entered 50.0 for the High Error threshold and 35.0 for the High Warning threshold. Finally, I clicked OK to close the dialog box. I expanded Resource Monitors from the Tasks pane and dragged All Available Thresholds from the Tasks pane to All Systems and Devices in the Groups pane. I clicked OK to finish the setup. I tested IT Director's responsiveness to event thresholds by forcing my test system's CPUs in excess of 70 percent until a scrolling ticker on my server informed me of the high CPU error.

Using the Internet to Monitor Information
You can use IT Director to create and publish an Internet home page that lets you or your users view monitoring information on a managed system, request configured software distribution packages, or view realtime event status. Using the Web Site Builder to publish a Web page is simple. From the Tasks menu in the main console, I chose the Web site directory, entered a page title, and chose to enable monitor publishing, event publishing, and software distribution package publishing. I created a Web page in less than a minute. After I logged on, I could use several hyperlinks in the left pane of the Web page, as Screen 3 shows, to open information. When I clicked the Software Distribution link, the program listed all the software packages that I could install. I selected the package I wanted and clicked Install.

Swiss Army Knife?
IT Director lets you manage other LAN management suite agents, such as SMS, Intel LANDesk, and IBM Netfinity. The program uses the MPM API, which is a comprehensive and expandable specification that lets management programs communicate. When you install the IT Director Management Server, NT agent, Win95 agent, or OS/2 agent, the program prompts you to install the corresponding MPM provider for the LAN management application on the machine. After you install the software, you select MPM Systems from the Tasks, Discover Systems menu to discover systems. After you discover the IT Director agents, the agents report to the IT Director Management Server and specify whether the system on which they're installed includes MPM provider software.

IT Director and MPM systems differ in several ways. You can't delete individual MPM systems from IT Director dynamic groups, inventory statistics from MPM systems aren't as granular as are those from IT Director systems, and MPM systems don't support file distribution servers. Furthermore, if you delete the IT Director system that serves as the MPM site, then the program automatically deletes all MPM systems.

The software's remote control is a useful feature. Remote control lets you take over a user's NT 4.0, Win9x, Windows 3.x, or OS/2 system for repairs or to conduct user training. Although you can concurrently monitor multiple systems from one console, you can remotely control only one system at a time. In addition, you can't remotely control systems running SNMP devices, NetWare, or OS/400. However, small and midsized businesses will appreciate remote control for their Help desk functions.

You configure IT Director's security through the Console Security dialog box. Select Options, Console Security on the main screen to access this dialog box. Each time a change occurs and you open the IT Director console, you automatically update and import all the domain's user accounts into the Console Security window. I found the extra user accounts unwieldy at first because you can't filter them. Although you can't change the accounts' user information, you can modify IT Director-specific information. You can also create IT Director server accounts to administer the program, but these accounts don't show up in NT users' lists. The software includes an option that lets you view unauthorized server users, but you can't sort users by their domain privileges. You can add a new user through the File menu or edit a current user's settings by right-clicking the username in the Console Security window and selecting Edit from the pop-up menu. You can choose from four information tabs: User Properties, Privileges, Group Access, and Task Access. The User Properties tab lets you set user IDs and enter user information. The Privileges tab lets you choose privileges to grant to the user from the Available Privileges pane, which includes 11 choices from Allow access to server file system to Allow wake-up of systems. The Group Access tab lets you limit the groups that users can access, and the Task Access tab lets you select which tasks a user can access and configure.

Inventory Taking
Many companies need an equipment inventory, but inventory products are expensive. One of IT Director's strengths is its granular inventory data collection. This feature lets you use 35 standard queries, including basic system, disk IP address, and partition information queries. The program takes an initial inventory of each computer when you install an IT Director agent on the system. You can view the inventory of one system at a time, or you can view group inventories. I opened the inventory for all systems and devices, which launched the Inventory Query Browser: All Systems and Devices dialog box. The left pane lists standard queries. To build a custom query, right-click the Custom query folder and select Build Custom Query from the pop-up menu. In the window that appears, you can choose the items you want inventory data about and drag the items from the Available Criteria pane to the Selected Criteria pane. To remove items from the inventory, drag the items to the Available Criteria pane. You select Options, Server Preferences and make the appropriate changes to the Inventory Collection Preferences tab to change inventory data refresh rates. The granularity of the collected inventory data makes IT Director valuable because you can save your data as an HTML file or Comma Separated Values (CSV) file for export to other applications.

To view software installed on one or more computers, open the group's Inventory Query Browser, expand the Standard folder, and select Software, as Screen 4 shows. In the right pane, the program lists all the software that matches an entry in IT Director's software dictionary. To customize the dictionary, select Options, Edit Software Dictionary. The dictionary window lists folders of entries by program type in the left pane and entry definition data in the right pane. To add a dictionary entry, I selected File, New, entered the program's title and vendor information, which I included in the systems management type, and entered backup as a keyword. Finally, I associated the program's main executable and Help files in the Associated Files box and saved the changes. However, when I performed another software query of all systems and devices, the program I had just entered didn't show up in the list. I rechecked the settings and queried again to no avail. Even a call to Tivoli's technical support yielded no results, and I was disappointed that my custom software entry didn't work.

Distributing Software to the Masses
One of IT Director's most helpful features is integrated software distribution, which works similarly to SMS but is easier to use. To open the Software Distribution Manager, right-click Software Distribution in the Tasks pane of the main console. Screen 5 shows some of the 28 software-package templates you can choose, including Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0 clients, Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0, Office 97 or 2000, and NT 4.0 service packs. Wizards help you use an SMS program definition file (PDF), InstallShield file, or IT Director File Package to create a distribution package to use with IT Director. Finally, you can create a custom package by double-clicking Custom Package Editor in the Software Distribution Manager and entering information in the multiple tabs.

I wanted to test the templates, so I double-clicked Microsoft Office 2000 Premium, which opened a wizard. This wizard included all the steps I needed to complete to create the package, including an administrative installation of Office 2000. I closed IT Director, performed the administrative installation, restarted IT Director, and finished the steps for the Microsoft Office 2000 Premium template. I clicked Next, entered the path to the administrative installation I had completed, and clicked Finish. I created the package in about 20 minutes. I dragged the new package to the 130MBRAM+NT4.0+333MHzproc group and clicked Execute Now to initiate an installation of Office 2000 Premium. The installation completed on all the systems in about 15 minutes and didn't require a reboot of the client systems. The software distribution tool is easy to set up and configure, and it will save many small and midsized companies time and money in application and update rollouts. If you can create an installation package for an application or update an OS, then you can use the program's software distribution feature to push the installation to your IT Director client's systems.

The Final Tally
IT Director helps businesses of 1500 or fewer seats with their network management without breaking the annual budget. I was pleased with the program, especially the breadth of its inventory information and the simplicity of the software distribution tool. The Web Site Builder helps users install software and helps administrators monitor managed systems.

The program isn't all gold, though. I was frustrated with the thick manual and disorganized online Help. When I wanted to accomplish a task, neither the manual nor the online Help explicitly laid out steps to do so, and they didn't offer links to point me to the window I needed to work in. I made three calls to Tivoli's technical support group and received fast responses that got me working again, but the company needs to improve the software's online Help and manual. Despite these drawbacks, if you want enterprise-like management tools at a small-business price, then IT Director is the package for you.

Tivoli IT Director 2.1
Contact: Tivoli * 800-284-8654
Price: Starts at $8995 per server and 20 client licenses
Pros: Easy to install and configure, uncluttered interface, user-friendly software distribution templates for 28 popular applications, cost effective for small and midsized businesses, dynamic groups to monitor systems or devices in realtime, monitoring Web page, extensive inventory program, great technical support
Cons: User's manual and online Help are difficult to use; OS inventory item is limited to Windows NT 4.0