As Novell's Zenworks For Desktops 4, codenamed "Prometheus," approaches its target release date, some early users are already claiming measurable gains. Other administrators, though, are opting to hold off for a while, a situation universally true for beta software.
With new releases of its products, Novell is now taking a number of steps that are helping its Zenworks family of application management and distribution products to compete, analysts say.
"Prometheus, for example, will run not just on Netware servers, but also on Windows servers, without Netware," according to Fred Broussard of IDC.
"The infrastructure requirements of Prometheus don't quite lock you into Netware," agrees Novell beta tester Matthew Krieger, who is associate director of global network architecture at Reader's Digest. The HTTP-based product operates on major Web servers.
Krieger says that Reader's Digest is finding this capability very useful in integrating other publishing outfits recently acquired. "We don't want to have to go in and rip out their existing Windows infrastructures."
Prometheus is slated for release to manufacturing by the end of this month, according to Novell officials.
Reader's Digest, though, has been using Zenworks for Desktops for the past three years. The UK arm was the first company division to deploy the Novell product, with the rollout of version 1. In those days, most of the Reader's Digest organization still relied on either Seagate's WinInstall or Microsoft's SMS for remote installation and maintenance.
Then, around two-and-a-half years ago, Reader's Digest decided to build a global desktop image based on Windows 95. "We've always been an NDS shop. All of our file servers are NDS, for instance. We saw a lot of value in being able to global tree on a regional basis. Zenworks was the only product which would let us do that," according to Krieger.
By now, Reader's Digest has deployed Zenworks to about 2800 of its 4000 seats on its global enterprise net. The global image is now based on Windows 2000.
Also important with Prometheus, in Krieger's view, is the fact that the need for a Netware client essentially goes away. For most applications, a Web browser will perform just as well.
Sean Welsh, an administrator at Mount Sinai NYU Health System, also applauds the elimination of the Netware client.. "This will let Zenworks act more like a service. Integration should be even easier," he observes.
Welsh's organization, however, is foregoing a beta this time around, even though it's previously tested other products from Novell, including DirXML.
"It really isn't the most prudent practice to be on 'the bleeding edge' all the time. Beta software can be buggy. So, we only go out on the edge for products with capabilities that are critical for us," he says.
Meanwhile, Mount Sinai NY Health System deployed an earlier edition of Zenworks for Desktops on all 5,000 seats at each of two sites, for a grand total of 10,000 seats. Mount Sinai is still using version 2, but it's quite possible that it will start performing a lab evaluation of version 3.2 in another two or three months.
Competitively speaking, Zenworks for Desktops is well positioned in terms of features and functionality, according to IDC's Broussard.
"If all you're dealing with is individual Windows PCs, you can use either Zen for Desktops or SMS. Organizations are thinking about things like creating group policy objects, as opposed to sending out unique software to each group. I wouldn't say you get this with Windows 2000, either, although it does have capabilities for remote backup,"
Ted Haeger, Zenworks Witness for Novell, points to literally dozens of other new features in Prometheus. Administrators can now force run workstation applications as a user, for example. "GUID" stamping is now done when an application has been successfully installed.
"Caching of applications now occurs on the workstation side as well as the user side," he adds. "The location of the master cache can be specified using a registry key."
Through a "checkpoint restart" capability, mobile users can postpone downloads of large applications. A few of Prometheus' other major new features include a launcher debug tool; support for .MSP patch packages and MSI "verify" options; the ability to detect whether or not a user is remote; "application reporting," for reporting to a database through a firewall; and "application chaining," for linking applications together based on a hierarchy of dependencies.
Reader's Digest and Mount Sinai, two Zenworks for Desktop customers, are not using Zenworks for Servers, however. The same goes for other products in the Zen family: Zenworks for Handhelds, and Synergy.
Zenworks for Handhelds currently supports PocketPC and Palm devices. For the future, Novell is reportedly considering other possible mobile platforms, including WinCE tablets.
Zen's support for handhelds will grow increasingly important, Broussard suggests. IDC already estimates the proportion of enterprises with "some enterprise support" at about 50 percent, according to the analyst.
"You might only be talking, though, about two or three groups within the organization - the sales department and senior management, for instance," Broussard points out.
Broussard adds that, with the increasing crossplatform support in Zen for Servers, he wouldn't be surprised to see Zen for Desktops start supporting more operating environments, as well
"You can have just about anything going in to an enterprise - not just NetWare and Windows. Linux shipments, for example, are slowly making their way into the enterprise, too. Anything that gives Novell more traction with Linux is going to help."
Overall, though, Novell's crossplatform support is definitely an asset. "Novell is being especially smart in starting to support Microsoft's Active Directory through DirXML," according to the IDC analyst.
Could Novell be confusing the user base, though, by offering too many products in the management space? "I'm not going to pin that on Novell. I don't mean this is any negative way, though, but there will always be network managers who aren't aware of all the capabilities of all the solutions out there," Broussard responds.
"The network manager's job is to be keep the network stable - not to keep on top of all the latest enhancements to everything. When it comes to certain capabilities, though - such as the ability to upgrade multiple servers at once - things can get tricky. It might be good for Novell to be sending out a clearer message in areas like these."
Many users, though, seem highly aware of specific enhancements from one edition of a Zen product, to the next. In version 3.2 of Zenworks for Desktops, Welsh expects to see improvements to tiered electronic distribution. "In version 2, tiered electronic distribution couldn't handle open files. It would fail, and switch people off," he says.
Other capabilities he's looking forward to in 3.2 include automatic workstation import and registration, and increased flexibility with system impersonation. "Objects will be able to install without end users having to act like administrators," according to Welsh.
Meanwhile, Krieger maintains that Reader's Digest is already experiencing measurable benefits from Prometheus.
"We're measuring the benefits mostly in terms of speed of execution. We can't be taking something like six months or a year to deliver global software services to new users, or we'd go out of business," according to Krieger.
"With Prometheus, we can have you up and running with new software in about 20 minutes. That's more important to us than getting rid of 100 employees. I will say, though, that the help desk now has more time available to do 'strategic thinking,'"