Product Review: Desktop Authority

by Ricky M. Magalhaes [Published on 30 Aug. 2006 / Last Updated on 30 Aug. 2006]

This article reviews Desktop Authority, a desktop management tool for Windows-based networks, which enables administrators to secure, manage, support and inventory desktops and applications. By integrating configuration, inventory, reporting, patch management, anti-spyware, power management and remote management into a single solution, administrators can efficiently and effectively manage the desktop environment from one console, thereby lowering the total cost of desktop ownership.

If you would like to read about ScriptLogic's product Active Administrator please go to Product Review: Active Administrator.

Product: ScriptLogic’s Desktop Authority 7.05

Product Homepage/Request an Eval: click here

We start this review by installing Desktop Authority 7.05 in our lab.

This installation of Desktop Authority was installed on a heavily utilized Pentium 4 1.60 GHz desktop, with 512 Meg of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive, occupying 147 megabytes on the hard drive.

The installation of the binaries took less than five minutes on the heavily utilized desktop. This was done to simulate a typical administration machine. The installation was repeated four times on clean desktops to ensure that the product would install on different platforms and that the installation would be for the most part smooth.

The first question on installation you are asked is to define where the log files will be stored, the log file directory is shared and is called LOGS$. I found that you can connect to this share remotely as intended. If the local account is secure then I have no problem with this. So keep this in mind.

MSDE was also installed on the system as well as SQL DMO. This takes less than 2 minutes. You then have the option to install to an SQL instance or to install to your MSDE instance. A database instance is then deployed in a path of your choice. We found that two databases were installed: one for the configuration and one for the reporting component. The rest of the final configuration tool took about three minutes, so in total less than ten minutes on a low spec machine that is loaded with other applications.

Man power reducing TCO

Reducing the use of IT staff for menial tasks is important, as their time can be better used for more challenging tasks. Repetitive tasks like spyware removal, drive mapping, proxy setups, outlook profiles and patching are such tasks addressed by DA7 and discussed in more detail in the review.

To GPO or not to GPO

Yes! A product that helps with GPOs and you don’t have to be a GPO guru to enjoy the granularity. I found that the product compliments GPO and not entirely replaces it if you did not want it to. What I did find however is that most of the tasks I wanted to get done, I got done quickly and without having to search through hundreds of GPO keys and patch management software.

Script or not…

Recently I was at a client that had scripts calling scripts that referenced scripts that had nested scripts, etc. To trudge through these scripts, and to find out how the users are affected and the applications that stop working if one of the referenced scripts is moved, is tough. In a comprehensive audit these settings and scripts need to be checked and reported on. How is this done without a process flow?  

However using Desktop Authority I found a way to get things done using the granular control it offered in AD and otherwise, so again a potential script replacement or supplement. The feature that is compelling to the IT professional when using DA7 is that instead of being presented a complicated script you get to tinker with a pre-programmed polished GUI. This is done centrally and the scripting side of things is seamless and with a few clicks users can be searched for with DA7 and a script assigned to the user. I was able to do this in AD for individual users but not at the speed at which I was doing it using DA7.

I particularly liked how effortlessly it filtered through my thousands of users and I was able to quickly filter out the respective users to assign the script. A great addition to processing a script is being able to add custom logos and corporate customization.

Exceptions

To create an exception can be a tedious process using either GPOs or groups or OUs depending on how you decide to create the exception. Irrespective of the size of network you have, it can be time consuming. DA7 simplifies this process with a one stop screen. The Exception screen allows the IT professional to exclude respective computers from the execution of scripts or functions. This is a very useful feature that is very welcome.


Figure A: Exceptions screen

Save power?

Yes that’s the question I asked when I saw this feature. You can save power using this product, and power = money. If it costs $2 to run a PC for a day and you have the ability to power down the PC when it’s not being used, then potentially you can multiply this throughout the whole organization. So if you are able to save a third of all electrical costs then again you have made money. This even works if the users are logged off. After doing a little digging I found a power saving calculator that helps with calculation and estimation of power savings.

Hardware inventory with a difference

Desktop Authority 7 has the capability to inventory hardware; this inventory information is stored in the MSDE or SQL database that you set up during installation. This information can then be analyzed and can be reported on. From a security perspective this is very useful as hardware modifications can be monitored. This feature is particularly important when monitoring storage and movement thereof, for example the movement of USB storage within an organization. 

This feature was tested in our lab on our desktops. More RAM was added to the desktop that was being monitored and it was identified in the report once the user logged back in. We then removed the RAM and again it was identified. 

Many organizations have security policies and no means of enforcing or reporting on them so a product like this will help in monitoring and implementing the security policy. This feature I like and recommend. This is a good feature but it would be better if we could disable the newly installed hardware, if we desired.

Software inventory

The second component of the inventory service offered by Desktop Authority 7 is the capability to monitor and inventory the software installed on a computer. Again, from a security perspective, this feature is greatly appreciated. Reduction of support is a byproduct of this attribute and reporting is also available for this component. Some support calls are caused by unsupported software installations, so not allowing the installation of such software reduces calls. The software inventory report is adequate, reflecting software name, publisher, version, install location, install source and last detection. This feature is logged to the database.

Reporting

The reporting feature in Desktop Authority is very useful as it allows you to customize the reports. It allows the IT professional to customize the report to suit the organization with the ability to change logos, headings, text color and a myriad of other settings on the report. With over 60 predefined reports, the IT pro may find little need to create lots of custom reports. These reports have been created reflecting the most frequently written reports in mind. When clicking on a predefined report you are able to adjust parameters to meet your requirements. The predefined reports contain such reports as User Activity – Per computer, Admin Audit – Administrator Activity (I like this one for auditing reasons), Admin Audit – User Maintenance (also a nice one from an auditing perspective), Desktop Software Inventory – Total Installations (another good one to look at when auditing).

You also have the option of creating custom reports with 2D and 3D charts in a ScriptLogic report writer. The custom reporting option is an extremely flexible solution. Along with these reports you are able to schedule the running of each report, and email the report in a format of your choice namely excel, PDF, rich text etc, to a distribution list of your choice. Again very useful as the IT professional will not have to write the report every time and all that is left is interpretation of the report, once sent. Personally, I believe that reporting is a way of monitoring and measuring and, although delayed, it still helps. In some of my previous articles you will see that I mention the typical MBA cliché, that is, if you can’t measure you can’t manage and this stands true in networks too. So scheduled reporting with an element of corporate customization gets a big thumbs up from me.

Access control

Comprehensive access control to the whole Desktop authority application is available allowing the IT professional the capability to assign different roles to different users.


Figure B: Role based administration available within the product

This feature is well thought out and important in such a design and shows that the DA7 team have security in mind, good work.

Agents

You have the option of installing an agent on the client machine and hiding the icon in the task pane. The agent or DA service allows you to manage the computer remotely.

Speed

In this area I cannot fault the speed of the application at all. It runs quickly and efficiently even when enumerating through large networks, well done DA team, very good.

Profiles

Profiles are like templates with unique objects under classifications for example, Printers, Registry, Remote Management, Security Policies, Service Packs, Shortcuts, Time Synchronization, and Windows Firewall settings. These settings can be created and modified under each object for the users and computer on the respective network. 

The one thing that I always enjoy is finding out how others do things as I learn new methods from this. In DA7’s case, there is a sample profile that is created for this reason. It is really helpful as it helps to understand how to mold your solution for your network.

Patching

There are many programs that do patching, Desktop Authority 7 does patching in a different way and includes granular management on patching for Microsoft and other non Microsoft products like Adobe. The reports available are comprehensive and this is excellent for auditing patches on a system and because the patches are comprehensively installed. The problem I have always had with large clients is configuring the remote locations to update from the closest distribution server for efficiency’s sake. This product is able to resolve this issue without having to tamper with GPOs.

Spyware removal and memory scan

This central Spyware scanning facility allows IT professionals to remotely install and administer the scanning of Spyware. The results of this scan can be reported on and a central fix can then take place. If that fails, an engineer can be sent to the locale to fix. We were able to get the quarantine to work; this is a great plus.

Support and documentation

How many times have you looked through a contract for contact information or for documentation on how the product works? This is typical if the product has not been written correctly and fortunately this is not the case with DA7. With access to support numbers, email addresses, discussion forums and knowledgebase articles from within DA7, a fairly comprehensive support structure is built-in if the IT professional is challenged. The knowledgebase articles are searchable, and the product links to a live web backend that is kept updated and current with various support suggestions. The one thing that I value when purchasing a software product is the support and easy access to information once payment has been made. Yes, Google is great, but I want a more official response, from the developers themselves, so that I know that I am getting the rubberstamped solution, especially when dealing in the compliance arena with little room for error. This product really stands out in the support category. Well done, DA7 team, this is good.


Figure C: A nicely laid out CHM (help) file with a contact us section, and other important information, nice work!

Summary

When I started the evaluation (Review) of Desktop Authority I thought, “Mmm just another app that does patch management and helps with common GPO settings and might remove some spyware.” But on this rare occasion I was wrong. This product is worth having if your organization needs scripting management, hardware and software inventory, and if you are after compliance this is the tool for you. This instrument helps from an operational perspective and will help in implementation and remediation of outstanding loose ends before and after an audit. I particularly like the reporting functionality as it helps when presenting results to management. From a consultancy perspective this product can aid in reducing the time it takes to roll out solutions as it provides a central hub that consolidates operational branches that are often neglected and invisible to management, until the time of the audit.

In conclusion this product exposes parts of the network and active directory in one central console, whilst it provides an interface to help keep your network and hosts secure and compliant.

Total score is 4.5 which equates to a great product worthy of being part of your toolkit.

WindowsNetworking.com Rating: 4.5 / 5


Get more information about Desktop Authority 7.05

If you would like to read about ScriptLogic's product Active Administrator please go to Product Review: Active Administrator.

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