Centennial Discovery 2005VendorCentennial SoftwareProduct typeHardware/software inventoryIT requirementsWindows NT/2000 or XP for discovery server; clients can be Windows 95 or later; AIX, Sun Solaris, HP-UX and SuSE Linux clients also available.

Centennial Discovery 2005
Vendor Centennial Software
Product type Hardware/software inventory
IT requirements Windows NT/2000 or XP for discovery server; clients can be Windows 95 or later; AIX, Sun Solaris, HP-UX and SuSE Linux clients also available. SQL Server required for inventory database (runtime MSDE version included)
Functionality profile Hardware and software inventory across a range of client platforms
Usability profile An easy product to install and use (and not just by IT staff); the Web Edition, in particular, gives business managers fast access to asset and compliance information too
Price from £700 (25 users)

A dedicated hardware and software inventory tool, the latest version of Centennial Discovery not only identifies the hardware and software on the network but also its physical location, via a unique LANProbe utility.


Detailed information on the discovered hardware and software is stored in a central database, with automatic categorisation and grouping of the data plus the ability to monitor software usage and licence compliance.

A straightforward Windows-based console is used to manage the main discovery server, offering flexible scheduling of audits plus comprehensive reporting and querying tools. Alerts can also be configured to tell you when configuration changes are made, or even when a device is moved.

Multi-platform support is another plus, and the Centennial software can be evaluated free of charge before buying. There’s also an optional Web Edition that adds browser access and a range of extra tools such as an upgrade-costing wizard and direct links to vendor Web sites.

WhatsUp Professional
Vendor Ipswitch
Product type SNMP Network monitoring
IT requirements Windows Server 2000, Windows 2003 Server or XP; SQL Server required (MSDE database engine included)
Functionality profile Automatic discovery of network devices and graphical mapping of the network topology; device availability can then be monitored, with limited remote management of devices also possible
Usability profile One of the simplest network monitoring tools around, WhatsUp Professional is quick to install and easy to use; its lack of integration with other management tools is the only real issue
Price from £235

A very straightforward and usable network discovery and mapping tool, WhatsUp can be used in-house by small businesses or -- through support for SSL encrypted remote access -- as an out-sourcing tool. To this end, the Professional version also employs an SQL database to store topology information, enabling it to manage networks with thousands of devices.

A choice of discovery methods is provided, including SNMP, ICMP and Network Neighbourhood scans with the option to also scan for active network services. Discovered devices can then be grouped and monitored using graphical topology maps, with optional device list views also available.

The usual facilities to drill down and obtain more information, configure alert thresholds and so on are provided, with comprehensive reporting another key feature. Administrators can also send messages to local users from the central console and both reboot and switch off devices remotely where applicable.

Systems Management Server 2003
Vendor Microsoft
Product type Inventory and software distribution tool
IT requirements Windows Server 2000 required, with SQL server available to host inventory database; clients require Windows 98 or above (Windows 2000 or later needed for latest advanced client)
Functionality profile Hardware and software inventory tool, plus software distribution; specific security patch management features and good support for mobile users
Usability profile A relatively straightforward product to use, with wizards to help with most management tasks; well suited to SME use and can be scaled to handle larger enterprise networks
Price £725 for SMS 2003 with 20 client access licences (CALs)

Microsoft’s SMS can’t really be described as a management suite, but it does provide a lot more functionality than some point solutions. It's basically a hardware and software inventory tool that can also be used to distribute security patches, updates and new applications to client systems. Indeed, it could equally be classed as a patch management tool.

SQL Server is required to host the inventory database, and this can be dynamically queried to determine suitable targets for software distribution tasks.

The 2003 release has been enhanced with a smaller advanced client that features enhanced support for WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) and full integration with Active Directory. The new client is also bandwidth and location aware, using the Windows Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) to distribute updates; this is a real boon when it comes to mobile users and low-bandwidth wireless links.

On the downside, SMS is Windows only. However, third-party add-ons are widely available, and some of these support other platforms. Microsoft also offers 'solutions accelerators' or blueprints, based on ITIL best practices, detailing the best way of using SMS tools for new application installation, patch management and so on.

More point solutions

Vendor Highlights Multi-platform Integration
with other tools

Alloy Software Cross platform inventory management tools yes yes
Altiris Range of point solutions, including inventory and software distribution; this vendor also sells integrated management suite solutions yes yes
CastleRock Specialist SNMP network mapping and reporting tools yes no
Citrix Online GoToMyPC product which allows remote control of PCs over the Internet no no
LANDesk As well as a management suite, LANDesk offers a range of standalone server management, network inventory and other point solutions yes yes
NetSupport Specialist remote control, inventory and helpdesk tools no yes
OpenNMS Open source network monitoring project ( yes yes
PrintAudit Tools to monitor and charge for both local and network printing no no
RealVNC Popular remote control tool available free of charge or paid-for with additional functionality yes no
SANmelody Specialist SAN management software for multi-vendor Fibre Channel and iSCSI SAN deployments yes no
SolarWinds Range of network monitoring tools focused on hardware performance management yes no
SunBelt Software Server management and network monitoring tools yes no

IBM Director
Vendor IBM
Product type Desktop and server management suite
IT requirements Windows or Linux management server plus access to a SQL database host (support available for Jet, MSDE, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, DB2 and Oracle); agents required for managed systems (agents are available for Windows, Linux, AIX and a variety of other platforms)
Functionality profile Majors on server management, with support for all eSeries platforms and some non-IBM hardware; inventory, software distribution and remote control tools are also included; a number of optional add-ons are available; can be integrated with Tivoli and other management frameworks
Usability profile Much simpler to deploy and use than the full Tivoli platform on which the software was originally based, IBM Director is a usable SME tool with benefits beyond the pure IBM environment
Price Base software included free with IBM servers

Not as widely known as the Tivoli enterprise platform, IBM Director provides SME customers with a comprehensive set of tools with which to manage their servers and desktop systems. Moreover, the basic package comes as standard with all new IBM servers, and can be further extended with add-on packs and third-party tools if required. IBM Director can be integrated into Tivoli and other enterprise-level management systems and features support for non-IBM hardware and all the leading software platforms including Windows and Linux, plus IBM iSeries, pSeries and zSeries products.

Unsurprisingly, the emphasis is on server management, with tools, for example, to monitor and manage RAID storage and IBM blade servers. However, desktop inventory and software distribution tools are also included, along with a usable remote control facility.

A Windows-based console is used to manage IBM Director operations with limited Web-based access also possible. Many of the optional modules will be bundled when the forthcoming version 5.1 ships (expected Q3 2005), along with a new software development kit to encourage further development of add-on modules.

LANDesk Management Suite 8
Vendor LANDesk
Product type Desktop and server management suite
IT requirements Windows server host running Windows 2000 or later, with SQL database required (runtime MSDE software included); client support for Windows 95 and above, Apple Mac, Unix/Linux and handheld devices
Functionality profile A comprehensive set of management tools including hardware/software inventory, software distribution, licence monitoring and remote control; can be extended with add-ons for general asset management, patch and security management if required
Usability profile Although the LANDesk suite isn't the easiest of management tools to get to grips with, the latest implementation sees many usability enhancements and it's particularly popular with larger SMEs
Price from ~£50 per user for the base suite

A well-established solution, LANDesk Management Suite (LDMS) offers SMEs a comprehensive set of management tools that can be further extended as required. The latest release also features a streamlined console, performance enhancements and out-of-the box support for handheld devices.

Automated discovery of managed devices, hardware/software inventory and software distribution are core features of the LANDesk package, along with licence monitoring and remote control. It's also possible to extend the inventory features to include business as well as IT assets, and take control of security updates via the optional Patch Manager add-on.

The company recently released a Security Suite add-on. Among other features, this offers vulnerability scanning of client systems, spyware detection and removal, plus the ability to block access to specific applications, IP addresses and USB ports.

A Windows host is required to run LDMS, along with a SQL database, but MDSE software is included and, on the client side, there’s extensive cross-platform support.

PC-Duo Enterprise
Vendor Vector Networks
Product type Desktop management suite
IT requirements Windows Server 2000, Windows 2003 Server or XP; SQL Server required (MSDE database engine included); client software for DOS and Windows
Functionality profile A modular suite with optional modules for hardware/software inventory, software distribution, licence metering, remote control/diagnostics and a helpdesk
Usability profile A straightforward package to deploy and use, PC-Duo's modular approach means that it can be configured to suit a wide range of management needs
Price from £17 per user (for basic inventory functionality)

PC-Duo Enterprise is a modular system management suite designed very much with the SME in mind. The main interface is the Enterprise Console, implemented as a Microsoft Management Console (MCC) snap-in, which communicates with client agents via a simple shared directory. Collected data is stored in a site database, and this can be implemented using either the basic Jet software supplied or an alternative such as SQL Server or Oracle.

A range of optional management tools can be purchased for use with PC-Duo, starting with a very comprehensive hardware and software inventory module. Add the diagnostics module and you can compare configurations and restore damaged applications remotely. And with the software distribution module it’s possible to push packages and updates out to clients as well as schedule, monitor and manage the process.

Remote control is another useful option, enabling support staff to take full control of problem systems. There’s also an integrated helpdesk application with a Web interface to manage and monitor support calls.

More management suites

Vendor Highlights Desktop management Server management Patch management

Altiris Altiris sells a number of targeted suites for desktop, server and other management tasks, plus an overall lifecycle management suite yes yes yes
Heroix Heroix EQ Management Suite provides for cross-platform monitoring and management of servers and applications no yes no
NetIQ NetIQ sells a variety of integrated suite solutions with an emphasis on performance, availability and security management yes yes yes
Novell Novell’s ZENworks suite is an extensible suite of desktop, server, patch and other management tools; can be hosted on Windows or Linux with extensive cross-platform client support yes yes yes

HP OpenView
Vendor Hewlett-Packard
Product type Network and systems management framework
IT requirements Hardware and software requirements vary depending on the vendor and solution involved; emphasis is on cross-platform deployment and support for industry standards
Functionality profile OpenView is used to deploy a wide range of management solutions -- you name it, and there’s almost bound to be an OpenView solution, somewhere, to handle it
Usability profile Usability depends on the application involved, and there's no single common interface; even so, OpenView is generally SME-friendly
Price Price depends on vendor, number of clients and licensing arrangements, but can be expensive compared to smaller management suites

Often confused with the original network monitoring tool that started it all, HP OpenView is now a powerful platform that can be used to implement a wide range of IT and business management applications. Many of these are developed and sold by HP itself, but there’s extensive third-party support for OpenView and hundreds of independent applications available based on the HP software.

Most small businesses start out with the Network Node Manager product, effectively an SNMP network discovery, mapping and monitoring tool. This is seen as an industry standard and is widely supported with plug-ins from other vendors to monitor and manage their hardware/software products.

There are OpenView products to manage user access and authentication, network security, patch management and so on. A helpdesk application is also available along with tools to manage regulatory compliance.

Although it's termed a management framework, it's worth noting that OpenView is also a brand, and the level of integration can vary from one product to another.

IBM Tivoli
Vendor IBM
Product type Network and systems management framework
IT requirements Requirements vary depending on the modules involved, but Tivoli's principal support is for Windows and Linux, along with IBM iSeries and zSeries platforms; there is additional cross-platform support for Solaris, HP-UX and other Unix implementations
Functionality profile Extensive facilities for managing network devices, software, services and business processes, which can be further extended using add-ons both from IBM and third-party developers
Usability profile Can be complex to setup and configure without expert assistance, but relatively straightforward once in use
Price Price depends on the modules deployed, number of clients and licensing arrangements, but is typically a significant investment

As with OpenView and other management frameworks, there’s no single Tivoli product. Rather, it consists of a diverse and extensible suite of tools that can be deployed, as required, to monitor and manage not just the network infrastructure, but servers, desktops, applications, processes, security and so on.

As well as the base Tivoli framework, for example, there are monitoring tools for servers running Windows, Linux and Unix, plus a range of applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes/Domino and a variety of databases. You can also get software to handle software distribution and server provisioning, manage access security, storage and compliance requirements.

Third-party add-ons are also available, plus there’s a new Change and Configuration Management Database for compliance with best practice recommendations from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

Exactly what you need to buy and how much it will cost will depend on individual circumstances, and deploying Tivoli software from scratch can be a daunting task. But that’s the case with all of the management frameworks, and there’s plenty of help to be had, both from IBM and its reseller network.

More management frameworks

Vendor Highlights

BMC Software BMC sells a range of management tools under its Performance Manager brand (formerly PATROL); SME solutions focus on asset and change management plus helpdesk products
Computer Associates CA's Unicenter management framework is popular with larger customers, and is increasingly being modified and targeted at SMEs

BigFix Patch Manager
Vendor BigFix
Product type Cross-platform OS and application patch management
IT requirements Windows 2000 server or above required to host the BES software, plus IIS and either MSDE or a SQL Server database; client agents available for Windows 95 and above, Mac OS, Red Hat and SuSE Linux, AIX, HP-UX, Sun Solaris and other implementations of Unix
Functionality profile A popular cross-platform patch management utility that can handle updates for Apple Mac, Linux and Unix as well as Windows systems; can also patch application software using vendor- or customer-generated updates
Usability profile Patch Manager is part of the BigFix Enterprise Suite, but it's very easy to deploy, and well suited to use by SMEs
Price Pricing depends on the number and type of client and BES modules purchased, but typically costs $20-$50 (~£11-£28) per client for basic patch management

BigFix sells a suite of cross-platform security and other systems management tools that can be integrated together as components of its BES (BigFix Enterprise Suite) platform. BigFix Patch Manager is one of those tools, providing for the automated download of pre-tested patches for a range of operating systems and applications.

BigFix agents are deployed to every system that needs to be updated, with agents available for all versions of Windows from 95 onwards, Mac OS and most Linux and Unix implementations. Updates are made available via the BES server in the form of 'fixlets', either by BigFix itself or authored in-house.

Fixlets are encrypted for security and can be tested for compatibility before being distributed locally to appropriate targets. An intuitive administrator console is used to manage the update process; this can also be used to mange the optional inventory, software distribution and endpoint security tools also available for the BES platform.

Windows Server Update Services (WSUS)
Vendor Microsoft
Product type Windows patch management
IT requirements Windows 2000 server or above is required, with IIS 5.0 and either SQL Server or MSDE to host the patch database; WSUS can be used to patch clients running Windows 2000 or above
Functionality profile Can retrieve and distribute patches for Windows, Office and other Microsoft applications; patches are stored in a local SQL database and then distributed to clients using the Windows Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS)
Usability profile A very easy tool to use, the latest version has a lot of extra options to help automate the patching process and limit the amount of data that needs to be transferred
Price Free download for licensed Windows customers

Microsoft has its own patch management application, known as WSUS (Windows Server Update Services), which can be downloaded free of charge from Microsoft's Web site. This can be used to manage patches for both Windows and Office and will eventually also handle Exchange, SQL Server and other common Microsoft applications.

When installed on a local Windows server, WSUS will retrieve patches from the same Web-based update service that's used to apply updates to individual Windows PCs. These patches can then be tested for compatibility before being marked for general distribution. Clients are simply pointed to the local update server rather than the Web update service and updates retrieved using the built in Windows Background Intelligent Update Service (BITS).

Although it's limited to patches produced by Microsoft, WSUS is a useful and usable management tool. A browser-like interface is employed with flexible scheduling facilities for update retrieval.

Note that WSUS is a replacement for the earlier Software Update Server (SUS) tool and that users of Systems Management Server 2003 get similar functionality as standard.

More security & patch management

Vendor Highlights Security enforcement Security management

Check Point The leading vendor of enterprise level firewall and VPN products, Check Point also has its own security management platform yes yes
Ecora An automated patch management solution for Windows, Solaris and other platforms; also sells change management and tools to monitor/manage regulatory compliance no yes
ISS Offers a range of vulnerability assessment, protection and security management tools yes yes
McAfee Best known for its antivirus products, McAfee also sells anti-spyware, intrusion detection and other security tools with integrated management yes yes
NetIQ Offers a range of integrated security management, content filtering and compliance solutions yes yes
Patchlink PatchLink Security Suite majors on cross-platform patching of all major operating systems and applications no yes
Smoothwall UK-based developer with a range of software-based security solutions for the SME yes no
Symantec Sells a range of security enforcement and management tools for both large enterprises and SMEs yes yes

Keynote Web Site Perspective
Vendor Keynote
Product type Web site and application performance monitoring
IT requirements Subscription-based service that requires no special software at the customer location
Functionality profile Measures Web site and application performance from an external customer perspective; can capture a range of metrics including transaction data
Usability profile Browser interface is intuitive and can be used both by IT support professionals and business managers
Price Price depends on the number of URLs monitored and the number and location of monitoring stations, starting at around £150 a month per URL

Keynote bills itself as the Internet performance authority, with over 1,600 monitoring points in more than 50 cities worldwide providing subscribers with Web site and e-business application performance data from a customer perspective.

Several services are available, including Web Site Perspective, a popular small business tool that requires no special software to be installed at the customer site, yet can break down performance into a number of useful metrics. These include domain name service lookup or redirect time, as well as Web-level information such as the time taken to download individual page components, enabling support staff to precisely pinpoint the cause of any performance delay.

Transaction performance can also be measured, and tools are available to generate the necessary test code without the need for scripting. Extensive reporting and graphing tools are also provided, the service being delivered and managed via a straightforward browser front end.

Microsoft Operations Manager 2005
Vendor Microsoft
Product type Server monitoring and management
IT requirements Windows Server 2000 or above for management server with SQL Server 2000 or above to host MOM database (MSDE can be used). Monitored servers require Windows 2000 or later
Functionality profile Focuses on Windows server/application management, although third-party management packs are available as well as a connector to communicate with other management platforms
Usability profile Built-in rules in the management packs help to simplify use, along with much-revised management consoles in the latest release
Price From £311 for the 10-server Workgroup Edition

Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 (MOM 2005) extends the basic facilities of the previous release to monitor and consolidate events reported by remote Windows servers. Web-based administrator and operator consoles are easier to use, and there are extensions to the various management packs adding application-specific rules to handle problems on a variety of Microsoft applications.

As well as consolidating and reporting events, MOM 2005 management packs also include scripts to actively resolve problems, either in response to an alert or under manual operator control.

MOM 2005 can be deployed agent-less, collecting data using industry-standard protocols such as DMI, or configured to use custom Windows agents. It supports 64-bit applications and can forward information both up and down a multi-layered management network.

The key focus is on managing Exchange, SQL Server and other Microsoft applications, although third-party management packs are available as well as a Web-based connector framework for integration with other management tools and platforms.

An SME Workgroup Edition, for networks with up to 10 servers, is available.

WebTrends 7.5
Vendor WebTrends
Product type Web application performance monitoring
IT requirements Can be implemented as an on-demand service or installed on customer servers; software version requires Windows 2000 and is mostly Windows-orientated, although data can be collected from Linux/Unix systems.
Functionality profile Captures Web analytics that break down Web site and application performance into a variety of metrics that can be graphed and reported; useful export facilities and reporting tools for Excel
Usability profile Straightforward visual path interface with colour-coded charts and facilities to drill down for additional information; Excel reporting option is also easy to understand and very useful for SMEs; the only drawback is the wealth of information presented
Price The small business implementation starts at $895 (~£513) for the software or $35 (~£20) a month for the on-demand service

WebTrends is a performance-monitoring tool that can be implemented using local software or as a hosted service (WebTrends On Demand). It’s mostly Windows-oriented, but can also collect data from some Unix/Linux systems.

Performance data is displayed via the graphical Visual Path Analysis module, with a breakdown to help identify bottlenecks. There’s also a useful SmartView feature that lets you, for example, see the number of visitors who clicked through a particular link. The number of clicks and the path most users take can also be superimposed directly on a pages as they’re viewed -- information which can be invaluable when redesigning sites or planning new applications.

Along with the built-in analysis and reporting tools, another useful facility in WebTrends is integration with Microsoft Excel. The SmartReports for Excel option provides Visual Basic integration of Web traffic data, enabling customers to download click stream information directly into a spreadsheet and then generate reports and graphs as required.

More performance monitoring & management

Vendor Highlights Software Hosted services

Empirix A provider of integrated tools for performance testing and management of Web and voice applications yes yes
Mercury Interactive The global leader in business technology optimisation, Mercury offers a range of performance monitoring and testing tools yes yes
OpenDemand Packaged tools for load testing Web sites and e-business applications yes no
Quest Software Software-based tools for performance monitoring and management of network infrastructure, databases and applications yes no

NetSupport DNA Helpdesk
Vendor NetSupport
Product type Web-based helpdesk application
IT requirements Windows NT server or above running IIS; client access is via a browser
Functionality profile Provides a solid set of helpdesk features to raise, assign and manage support tickets; solutions database facility and good reporting tools; integration with other NetSupport management tools is worth having
Usability profile An easy-to-navigate browser interface plus optional integration with the NetSupport DNA management suite make this a good helpdesk solution for SMEs
Price From £950

Available as a standalone application or part of the NetSupport DNA management suite, DNA Helpdesk is a Web-based solution providing detailed recording and tracking of user support problems.

No special software is required at the operator end, and with the latest release it’s possible to automatically assign and escalate support calls based on predefined rules, such as user or problem type, with a structured history another useful feature. End users can also raise support tickets directly and monitor call status online.

A database of common solutions can also be created, and the NetSupport package includes a comprehensive set of management reports that can be run to see how many calls have been handled, call status, average resolution time and so on.

ServiceDesk Plus
Vendor ManageEngine
Product type Web-based helpdesk application
IT requirements Can be hosted on Windows or Linux system; client access is via a browser
Functionality profile Combines the usual helpdesk facilities with asset, purchase order, SLA and contract management; other features such as network management can be added
Usability profile Targeted as an SME solution, the browser interface is straightforward and easy to navigate while the extra functionality, such as SLA monitoring, is very useful
Price From £350 a year for two operators

ServiceDesk Plus combines a helpdesk, asset management and software licence tracking functionality in a single easy-to-deploy Web-based application. It can be hosted on Windows or Linux and integrated with other management tools from the same vendor.

Along with the usual facilities to raise, assign and escalate support tickets, ServiceDesk Plus features a self-service portal for users to raise and monitor tickets themselves. Purchase order tracking, contract management and the ability to define and monitor service level agreements (SLAs) are other key features of the package. It’s also possible to build/search a custom knowledgebase and run reports to extract comprehensive management/status information.

ServiceDesk Plus can be integrated with the vendor’s OpManager network monitoring tool, which, among other features, allows for the automatic issuing of helpdesk tickets when network faults are detected. Other management tools can also be added and there’s a free version of the software available, limited to networks of up to 25 clients.

More helpdesk solutions

Vendor Highlights

Altiris Altiris recently added a Web-based helpdesk to its popular suite of integrated management tools
BMC Market leading Remedy helpdesk is now a BMC product -- very functional, but may be overkill for most SME customers
FrontRange Solutions Sells a range of helpdesk and other management tools suitable for SME deployment under the HEAT brand
Vector Networks Web-based helpdesk module available for PC-Duo Enterprise management suite