Symantec offers Altiris tool to automate IT tasks

Symantec Corp. on Thursday branched out of its roots in security to offer business process automation software gained through its acquisitions of Altiris and T-Logic that an executive said will streamline common IT department tasks.

Altiris Workflow Solution uses a drag-and-drop graphical user interface to design processes like patching a piece of software, setting up a new user or making a move, add or change to the network. The product includes technologies from Altiris, a firm best known for its asset management tools which Symantec bought last year, and Transparent Logic (TLogic) , which specialized in business process automation. Symantec had worked with T-Logic as an OEM partner for years but decided its technologies were too critical not to be further integrated with Altiris, according to Symantec product manager Matt Meservuy.

“One of the problems with traditional business process workflow products is they’re either too light or contained in one part of the silo, or they’re too heavy and too difficult to customize,” Meservuy said, adding that Altiris Workflow Solution is intended to be simple enough for non-technical staff to manage as well. “They use Visio, PowerPoint and Excel. Getting those two constituencies together to cross those boundaries to technically-proficient IT managers has been difficult.”

Chip Gliedman, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said he was dealing with a client that referred to “air gaps” in process automation. For every series of automated steps, in other words, there is often one step that remains manual. Vendors like Symantec are trying to close those air gaps.

“The way you become more efficient and effective is to develop proven processes and use them every time they’re needed and every time you can. To get away from the ad-hoc,” he said. “The other tack is to take those processes and automate them whenever possible. If you have a workflow tool that lets you build the tools for specs and scripts and proper procedures and to codify them, you’re half-way there. You expose the initiation of those, like service requests, to the user, you can now further automate the process.”

There are still a few gaps that Symantec hasn’t filled, Meservuy admitted. Altiris Workflow Solution Enterprise, which will come out later, will add a portal to track users where they’re at in a business process, and allow admins to monitor workflows, such as a request to add a new user.

“The thing we have to remember is, a true business process can add multiple weeks,” he said, adding that Symantec recently saw this first-hand when it recently had to acquire some Macs and Sun hardware. “That took three weeks before we got the appropriate sign-offs and approvals. Somebody had to spend some time to track that down.”

Meservuy said he worked closely alongside Symantec engineers so that Altiris Workflow Solution can take advantage of Symantec endpoint protection products. For example, the software could be used to scan a customer environment and alert the IT manager that 5,000 out of 10,000 PCs did not have endpoint protection. The Altiris product could then automatically install the security software.

“One of the big problems Symantec had had in the past is that it had a good portfolio of technology, but it hasn’t always integrated those smoothly or easily,” he said.

Altiris Workflow Solution will also offer pre-designed workflows that will help companies better implement best practices according to the IT Infrastructure Library, Meservuy said.

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