How can two IT guys update 23 locations?

The Alberta-based Bonnett’s Energy continues to aggressively automate its operations, with software package and network access control automation on the horizon. This is the next step for the oil and gas company, which last year completed an implementation of Microsoft’s System Centre Operations Manager and Configuration Manager 2007 to keep its operations running more smoothly—and automatically.

“We’re a very geographically disparate company,” said IT manager Alex Saltman. Bonnett’s Energy has 23 locations sprawled over northern British Columbia and southern Saskatchewan, along with all of Alberta. “And we have a light IT staff.” How light? “Two people,” he said.

Saltman’s goal was to keep resources low and throw some technology at the problem. His main issues were compliance and central management. Said Saltman: “We’re a publicly traded trust company, so we need to monitor and manage tools. We had no way to ensure product compliance, so we needed something to help with computer inventory and tracking. We also wanted to deliver software and updates to all locations from (the central location of) Grand Praire.”

Central deployment was also difficult, with Saltman et al sometimes resorting to shipping install CDs out and asking the user to chip in on installing the software on their end. Patchy network connections would also cause communication failures, resulting in the deployment starting all over again.

Derick Wong, a senior product manager with Microsoft Canada, said, “The trend in system management is that we’re at a point where networks are getting too complicated to manage normally. Bonnett’s Energy was a small team, so if you’re adding stuff to your network, you’ll finally really need to manage and will need more control.”

Saltman looked at some SNMP-based toolsets and hosted options, but they didn’t have the in-depth discovery features that he needed. Saltman said, “It could show if something was up or down, but it couldn’t show the health of it.”

Microsoft’s System Centre Operations Manager and Configuration Manager 2007 won out for its abaility to suss out the health of applications, hardware, servers, and network devices. This has enhanced Bonnett’s Energy’s customer service to its outpost offices, said Saltman, as the IT staff is able to proactively address issues instead of getting panicked calls from its workers.

Compliance is another important benefit, thanks to the applications’ asset management and tracking functionality. “Now we can see what’s updated and patched, and not only can it deploy them, but provide reports on it,” he said.

The programs can also report on resource utilitzation and capacity, allowing for better tracking of when it’s time for an upgrade or whether to shift some programs around for optimum efficiency.

The upcoming remote imaging project will also help with efficiency. Said Saltman: “If a computer is misbehaving, we can access it remotely instead of having to ship it and waiting for the delivery time.” The automating of network access controls and other software packages ahead will also cut down on IT staff time suckage.

And the central deployment option is a real help, said Saltman. “No more shipping,” he said.

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