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Apple Remote Desktop 2: An Inside Look

By Blane Warrene MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 9, 2004 9:45 AM PT

The release of Apple Remote Desktop 2 in June was yet another sign that Apple is building an increasingly enterprise-centric portfolio.

Apple Remote Desktop 2: An Inside Look

Apple Remote Desktop 2 (ARD) seeks to integrate asset management with technical support and automated software distribution. According to Apple, ARD was a complete rewrite for OS X with integrated open standards seeking to introduce system administration and support across Windows and Unix in addition to Macs.

The inclusion of Virtual Network Computing, better known as VNC, enables Macintosh administrators to access and control Unix and Windows systems with the popular open source tool installed.

Critical Factors in Asset Management

Forrester Research senior analyst David Friedlander suggested that tools that help reduce technical support and system downtime and also automate software updates are critical.

"My contention is that even as a small company, it is best to buy an integrated solution that addresses 80 to 90 percent of need," Friedlander said. "It will significantly reduce management and support costs."

Friedlander, who watches the system management market, noted that Apple is not yet a major player. The company must go head-to-head with established vendors outside of purely Macintosh environments.

"In the mid-market, from a few hundreds seats and up, LANDesk and Altiris are popular among several other vendors," he added. "Smaller companies use tools like Ghost for drive imaging or ScriptLogic for software installations where few IT resources exist."

Power Tools and Aggressive Pricing

While ARD does not unseat existing corporate hardware and software management platforms, it may prove attractive to IT managers working in heterogeneous environments.

The new Apple system features an extensive reporting environment that inventories hardware and software, remote control of systems, screen sharing with those systems and software distribution from a master administrator machine. Advanced users will appreciate the ability to execute Unix shell and Apple scripts remotely.

Apple upped the ante with aggressive pricing levels -- ARD can be had for $299 for up to 10 computers, while an unlimited license runs $499.

Tom Goguen, director of servers and storage at Apple, suggested that power management is what makes ARD2 so functional to IT managers. "We talked to hundreds of customers over the last two years -- spent a lot of time in different environments," Goguen said.

This culminated in Apple being hosted at Virginia Tech's Mac Emporium, a campus computer center running 500 Macintosh systems, during the final development and testing of ARD earlier this year.

Proving Grounds

For Eric Hackl, technology manager at the Winnetka Public School District in Illinois, ARD could not have arrived at a better time. Hackl and network technician Todd Kline are responsible for 600 machines and 2,300 users across the district.

In summers past the two gutted software and refreshed every desktop. This past summer, however, presented a bigger challenge.

"We had less than 8 weeks this year due to school ending later and and [an] early start," Hackl said. "We also had to upgrade servers infrastructure."

To compound their efforts, they were deploying Office 2004 across the district with the new Apple Remote Desktop.

"We've only had it [ARD] for four weeks -- we've been impressed with its functionality," Hackl added.

Saving Time

Friedlander believes it is a lot of work to manually install an application on just ten machines. When that number compounds to 100 or more, the process can become challenging in the absence of distribution tools.

Hackl told MacNewsWorld the district has used Apple's asset management tools since Apple Remote Management on OS 8. ARd saved days of damage control when the IT team had to correct a flawed disk image distributed to the network's computers.

"We built a master image to install to all the computers through Remote Desktop. And we forgot to run Microsoft Word one time on the master computer first, which caused font loading issues on the target machines," Hackl said. Using ARD, "we were able to create a fonts package and distribute the 80-MB file to all 600 systems in less than 30 minutes."

Safety Issues

"We have a lot of staff who want to teach tech. We can now leverage giving screen sharing to those users," he said.

Until ARD, this was a security issue and could not be considered. Now, Hackl and Kline can manage access control lists and provide limited rights to staff without sacrificing network integrity.

For his part, Hackl believes Apple has turned a corner by comparison to its pre-OS X years. "It feels like people are listening to the customer. It has changed from 'Here is what you need' to 'What do you need?"

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