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ALMOST EVERY IT DEPARTMENT struggles with deploying and managing network OSs and applications. Because each IT department's needs vary greatly and so many solutions are available, this Buyer's Guide lists four categories of solutions to cover the major areas in which IT departments need the most help.

The Installation Packages category lists tools to meet the needs of network administrators and software developers. Basic tools let you capture the changes made to a hard disk image during application installation and let you package the changes in a portable installation file. More sophisticated tools in this category give you more flexibility in building and customizing an installation package. A valuable feature with these products is support for creating Windows Installer packages. The benefits of Windows Installer include a standardized installation format and patching capabilities.

The PC Migration category lists tools that let you capture and transport the myriad files and configurations that personalize a computer. End users lose productivity when their desktop systems are drastically altered during a hardware or OS migration. PC migration tools have evolved to make desktop hardware and OS upgrade transitions easier on end users by migrating all the user's personal settings to the new OS or hardware.

The Cloning category lists utilities that have been around awhile and are probably the most familiar technology to network administrators. Early versions of cloning utilities simply duplicated a hard disk image from one PC to another. Today's more sophisticated cloning software automates the cloning process. Systems administrators can use networks to their advantage and clone across the network. Multicasting technology lets you simultaneously distribute one hard disk image to multiple PCs. Cloning tools also include utilities for changing computer names and the SIDs of Windows 2000 and Windows NT systems.

The Application Deployment and Management category lists the broadest range of solutions. Some solutions listed target mobile users and NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (WTS) users; however, most of this category's listings highlight solutions for deploying and maintaining OSs and applications on desktops and servers. Some solutions provide additional functionality, such as asset management and remote control. Other solutions provide enterprise-level support for heterogeneous environments. You might want to purchase a product that incorporates hardware management standards, such as Intel's Wired for Management (WfM) standard. Integrating the complementary capabilities of hardware and software can give you great flexibility in performing hands-off deployment and management tasks.

All the software listed in this Buyer's Guide serves a particular niche. Each product can help to reduce your workload by making the distributed resources on your network more manageable and satisfying your customers.