Manage the computers on your network from one console

Some people think network administrators have cushy jobs. Those people are wrong. Sure, getting paid to play with hundreds of computers is fun, but most of a network administrator's day is usually spent fixing problems, the farthest thing from having fun. Norton Administrator Suite Premier Edition won't fix all your computer problems, but the software will make your job a lot easier by letting you manage every Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, and OS/2 computer on the network from one console. You can use Norton Administrator Suite to perform some of the same functions on your WAN as Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), but without an NT-only restriction.

Norton Administrator Suite ships on one CD-ROM and includes five components: Norton Administrator, which lets you automatically inventory hardware and software products; Norton AntiVirus, which provides virus defense; Norton Desktop Administrator, which lets you centrally manage users' desktop interfaces; pcANYWHERE, which allows remote access to PCs; and Exposé, which lets you manage your servers in a mixed network operating system (NOS) environment. The software requires about 70MB of disk space, including scripting functionality. The installation program lets you selectively install or uninstall the individual components in the suite, so you can choose which components to implement.

Norton Administrator Suite is rich in functionality. By combining several essential server management tools, such as Site Manager (which lets you manage multiple sites from a single server) and Exposé for server management, Norton Administrator Suite serves as your one-stop network management shop. Additionally, the scripting tools let administrators use a familiar language to create automation scripts that run in both DOS and Windows environments.

The Norton Administrator component is effective and easy to use. For example, after installing the suite on an NT server, I created a hardware inventory over the network with just a few clicks of the mouse. I then filtered out every 486-based system with less than 16MB of RAM so that I could modify only the Pentiums.

One of the suite's better features is the software distribution utility. If you've ever used OS/2's Configuration Installation and Distribution (CID) process, you know how much time this tool can save. The principle behind software distribution is to reduce software installation time by storing the setup files at a central server. Clients then access and install the software from this central point. The software distribution utility in Norton Administrator Suite includes support for the system inventory tools, letting you specify which computers to install software on (e.g., you can tell the program to leave the 16MB 486 machines out of the Office 97 pool).

Norton Administrator Suite includes software-metering features, utilities that monitor software usage based on the number of licenses you own. These features let administrators install software on a central server; purchase the appropriate number of licenses; and limit the number of users who can access the software simultaneously, thus minimizing the risk of license violations.

Creating a metering record is as easy as entering the name of the product, selecting the applications included in the software (Norton Administrator Suite maintains a list of many popular suites, including Microsoft Office and Lotus SmartSuite), and specifying the number of licenses owned, as Screen 1, shows.

Unfortunately, the product's documentation is an electronic manual in Adobe Acrobat format, rather than a hard-copy book. Because Norton Administrator Suite has so many features, Symantec needs to provide a comprehensive 200-page manual that you can flip through.

Another shortcoming of Norton Administrator Suite is the absence of some features useful for systems administrators. I expected disk and storage management functions, including disk quotas, to be part of the suite. However, Norton Administrator Suite supports other storage management programs (namely Cheyenne Software's ARCserve), which you can access from Norton Administrator Suite's toolbar. In the future, I would like to see Norton Administrator Suite include BackOffice management tools.

These minor shortcomings aside, I was surprised and impressed with the product's usefulness. Installing a copy of Norton Administrator Suite on a server makes network administration easier. With Norton Administrator Suite, you'll almost forget the days of running from computer to computer.