AutoProf targets server, desktop management

Desktop management vendor AutoProf Inc. next week is scheduled to release software that will let users streamline the centralized management and configuration of servers and desktops.

With Policy Maker Professional, AutoProf is adding 11 Group Policy extensions to Microsoft Corp.’s Group Policy Management Console snap-in. In the next two months, AutoProf plans to introduce Policy Maker Software Update, which will add 11 more extensions to Policy Maker, including one for patch management.

Group Policy works with Active Directory to let customers manage and customize desktop and server settings based on policies stored in the directory. One Group Policy extension can include hundreds of settings. For example, an administrator can prevent end users from installing software by loading a policy onto the user’s PC when the computer boots up and connects to Active Directory. The PC must have Group Policy installed.

But Microsoft’s Group Policy technology has been slow to catch on because it requires Active Directory, it can be hard to understand, and it lacks a broad feature set.

“We should be poised to make use of Group Policy, but we found a lot of things missing, like managing shortcuts,” said Danny Francisco, lead technologist for Okanagan Skaha School District 67 in Penticton, B.C. “On top of that, the Microsoft tools did not give us the flexibility to deal with exceptions.” As result, Francisco and his staff had to write multiple scripts to cover those exceptions, which became a management nightmare.

Francisco says AutoProf eliminated the need for the scripts, filled in the pieces he needed, and added additional features, such as managing terminal services.

“AutoProf gives us choices so we can manage things on an enterprise level,” said Francisco, who has rolled out Policy Maker to 300 of his 2,000 desktops so far.

Policy Maker builds off the Group Policy Editor from Microsoft, which lets administrators edit and configure policies for groups of users or individual machines. Once the policies are edited, they are loaded into Active Directory.

“Group policy to date has been an immature system,” said Eric Voskuil, CTO at AutoProf. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem in that there has not been enough Active Directory deployments and the fact that Microsoft didn’t finish Group Policy. They left that up to the ISVs.”

AutoProf is the only company currently offering extensions to Group Policy, although FullArmor Corp., NetIQ Corp. and Quest offer Group Policy management tools as alternatives to the Microsoft Group Policy management software AutoProf supports.

Policy Maker supports Windows 2000, XP and Server 2003 operating systems and all versions of Outlook, Office and Internet Explorer.

The software costs US$10 per seat for 1,000 seats.

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