Editor's note: Due to a lack of vendor response, this buyer's guide table is not available. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if your company makes a product that should be listed here.
Choosing a systems management suite is an important commitment. Desktop and server OSs come and go, but ideally, your systems management suite will be working for your company permanently.
For enterprises, a systems management suite is an even larger commitment than for smaller businesses. These suites must manage and interact with thousands of machines, so deciding to change to another product will be expensive and exhausting. At this level, if your systems management suite isn't meeting your needs, you should seriously consider third-party add-ons to extend your suite rather than outright replacing it.
Vendors sell systems management software in a variety of ways, but remember that at the most basic level, these tools exist to save your IT department man-hours by making their work more efficient. Look at what specific tasks your IT team spends its time on and consider how each suite would affect the time these tasks take. What seems like a small missing feature now might end up costing your team many hours later on, and what seems like a major feature might pay off only a few times.
High quality enterprise-class systems management suites are a big investment, so there's no excuse for skimping on research here. Use the buyer's guide table with the online version of this article only to jumpstart your research, and remember that some products might have been left out, either as an oversight or from lack of vendor response.
Ready for Trends
Virtualization is a must-have these days, to the point that some people are starting to consider virtualization a skill that all IT pros need, rather than a specialty. Virtual Exchange, virtual SQL Servers, and virtual SharePoint are all common and becoming more common. In the same way, your systems management tools will almost certainly be managing some virtual servers, and likely some virtual desktops, before long. If your systems are already partly virtual, they'll become more virtual.
Consider the virtualization solutions you already use and those you might use in the future. Mixed environments, with different hypervisors, server virtualization, desktop virtualization, and application virtualization all working together are becoming the norm, and you need your systems management tools to be able to handle them.
Your systems management suite will also need to be able to handle environments that are mixed in the sense that they contain machines other than Windows computers. The Mac is making serious progress, especially in the minds of consumers. Linux servers are fairly likely to be present in your network, and there's always a chance that there'll be a need for Linux PCs, too. Mobile phones are getting more powerful, practically by the day, and the iPad and other tablets running smartphone OSs are likely to show up in your environments. It's possible that "bring your own PC" workplaces are going to catch on it the near future, too. All of these devices bring management problems with them, and you need your systems management suite to help.
Even if you're able to restrict your business to Windows PCs, you're not going to be able to get away with skimping on OS deployment features. Windows 7 is a serious upgrade from Windows XP, and if your company hasn't started that migration, you're going to have to come up with a plan before XP support ends. Recent versions of Windows Server have also gotten very good press within the IT community, so you should be ready to move to them, too. All signs point to Microsoft releasing OS updates more often in the next few years than it has in the last few, and you'll have to be able to deal with them. OS migrations create application compatibility problems, and your systems management suite might need to be able to handle solutions, like application virtualization, virtual machines running on desktops (including Windows XP Mode), and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization.
Questions and Answers
As with any IT purchasing decision, the most important factor in choosing a systems management suite is to know exactly what you have and exactly what you'll need. The IT landscape changes very rapidly, so you shouldn't forget to account for what you'll be dealing with in the future, too. It's hard to predict how rapidly your vendor will update its technology to deal with the latest trends, so it's a good idea to contact other customers to see how happy they are with updates.
Also as always, make sure you have a clear picture of exactly what you're getting from a management suite vendor. Software licensing contracts are notoriously complicated, so be thorough. You don't want to add one too many machines and be stuck paying a huge bill, or have to spend more to get a feature you assumed was included.