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Product Review: Sitekeeper(tm) 2.0

  • June 25, 2003
  • By Tom Cannaerts
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In brief
Basically, SitekeeperTM from Executive Software® does two things. It is able to make an inventory of remote computers, both software as hardware, and it enables you to install/uninstall software on remote machines. They also claim that it is so easy to use, there's almost no learning curve. We took the test.

Installation
The installation of the software didn't give us any problems at all. Once the program has been installed, you need to configure it's database. The program requires a SQL Server database. A wizard guides you to the steps needed to set up a database.

If you already have a database (when installing SiteKeeper on a different machine), you can simply choose to use the existing database, otherwise it will create an empty database for you. If you don't have SQL Server, you can also choose to install the Destop Engine of SQL Server. Once the database setup is complete, the program is ready to use.

Installing the agent
SiteKeeper requires you to install an agent on the machines you want to manage. Note that when using Win2K Professional (or server) or ;Windows XP Professional, this can be done automatically. On the other windows operating systems, you need to install them manually, which is quite a pitty. On the other hand, if you need to install an operating system on the machine, you could just quickly install the agent, it won't come down to a few minutes, right? Once the agent is installed, the machine is ready to be managed.

Managing machines
From the main view, you can manage all machines. In order to manage a machine, you need to add it first. This is done using a wizard. You can add machines either by selecting from the network view, or by specifying an IP range or the computer name directly. Once they are added, they appear in the list in the main window.

Scanning machines
Once you have added the machines, you can scan it. A little wizard will guide you through the process. A machine will be scanned both for hardware and software. Depending on the machine's speed, scanning takes between 5 and 20 seconds per machine. When it has scanned all machines, a notification is given back to the user.

View inventory
All the scanned data is stored in the database. Various reports can be generated on this data.
One of the reports is the "Software Inventory per machine" report, showing you a report containing the installed applications for each machine. This can give you a nice overview of what software is installed on a specific machine.

Another report will allow you to approach from the other direction, allowing you to see on what machines a specific program is installed. This could be useful to see if all users have the current version of a program, and which have an old one.

The same kind of reports can be generated for hardware as well, allowing you to to see what hardware is installed. This information can then be used for the purpose of inventory, or for troubleshooting your application (it could be that a specific problem occurs when specific hardware is installed/not installed.)

Remote installations
As mentioned before SiteKeeper allows us to install software remotely. This is done with the PushInstallerTM. By selecting multiple machines, you can install a program on multiple machines in one go. It also allows you to scheduele installations, so that you can install programs at night so the user doesn't experience any inconvenience. Of course, the given machine must be running in order to receive the install.

Add/Remove program
Again, a wizard allows us to step through the process of installing/uninstalling software on remote machines. The data it needs is the path to the installation file, and the login information to use when installing. This allows you to install the program using an account that has more permissions than the current user.

Note that the user you specify must have access to the file. If it is placed on a share, make sure it is accessible by that user. Pressing next will install/uninstall the program. Unfortunately, you cannot monitor the installation on the remote machine. This means that if the installation requires user input (like serial numbers and installation path), you will need to enter these at the remote computer. However, the wizard does allow you to give extra command line parameters to the installer, wich in many cases allows you to pass that data. If the program you're trying to deploy is one you've written yourself, it is most likely that you will be able to customise the installation so that is does not require any further input. Also, there are commercial products available that allow you to change/customise existing installations so that the correct choices are made without having to be there yourself.

Licences
SiteKeeper enables you to keep track of licences. This is nothing more than entering the number of licences you have for a specific product. Once you have done that, you can get a report comparing the acquired licences with those actually installed, allowing you to see if you need any additional licences.

Conclusion
SiteKeeper is a usefull product when looking at the aspect of deployment. If you have control over the installer (either because you created it yourself, or through the use of command line parameters), network deployment of your application will be far easier. I would not really categorize this as a developer tool, but more like an administrator tool, however, since (unfortunatly) the maintaining and deployment of self-written or inhouse software often is a task of the developer (or developer and administrator are one and the same person), it is good to keep in mind that this product can help you a lot.

Pricings of the product mainly depend on the number of licences. Each machine you want to scan requires a licence. The base package (the software + 10 user licences) is somewhat expensive, expecially keeping the limited number of machines in mind. In that case it could even pay off to do the installations manually. However, edition upgrades are much cheaper. Except for the base suite, you can buy seperate licences for either the Inventory module or the PushInstall module. Bottom line, the more licence (thus the more machines to manage), the more time SiteKeeper can save you, and the more it will pay off.

I also must admit that the program is indeed very easy to use. I managed to succesfully do the things I described without having to read through tons of instructions. It has a good, easy to use and appealing user interface. That, combined with the functionality of the program, makes it almost a pleasure to use. However, at some points I find that the web-like interface lacks functionality (like right-click context menu's) where one would expect it.






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