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Desktop Management – Where are you now?

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SANS - Survey on application security programs

Since desktop PCs first entered the world of business, IT managers and help desk staff have struggled for years to keep the machines running. And as anyone involved in IT support will tell you, the majority of the struggles have not been with the PC hardware or software but with the users attached to them.

As we kick off this workshop we want to take a look at the daily challenges of managing desktops, laptops, a growing range of other devices used to access corporate systems and, naturally, the users that always have problems they did nothing to initiate.

When it comes to looking after the desktop estate and planning for future developments it is essential to possess certain basic information about how things stand. Chief among this is an accurate account of the desktop hardware estate itself along with the applications and other software tools that are loaded upon them. Research results supplied by readers of the Register shows that the vast majority of organisations have desktop and laptop estates that comprise machines of varying ages and it is common for there to be everything from the most modern, up to date specification of machine in use through to kit that can be three and four years old, or even older, with specifications that are way behind those available in new systems.

We don’t want to be age-ist about technology – no doubt there are still PCs out there running MS-DOS quite happily; at the same time, we know that supporting old kit in parallel with new can cause problems. Over to you: does having to support desktops and laptops of varying ages provide you with unusual or unexpected challenges? Are you simultaneously faced with issues concerned with supporting multiple generations of operating systems and application release levels or have you managed to limit the scope of support?

One factor in all of this is the possessive and often defensive mentality sometimes adopted by users. Many see the desktop or laptop as belonging to them rather than it being a piece of company equipment supplied to help them perform business functions. This undoubtedly adds to the frustration of managing PCs as users often have wildly exaggerated expectations of just how much freedom they have to install new programmes or change settings whilst still expecting IT to support them come what may.

So, do you have policies in place to tackle how far users can customise their machines, and do the users follow them, particularly senior management? Customisation is one symptom of a wider problem – that of users bringing in their own kit. As one piece of feedback from the recent desktop research study (that we are currently crunching) put it:

“The next time any user brings in their latest gadget they bought at the mall kiosk and informs me that the salesman told them to 'take it to your IT guy and he'll set it up for you to use at work', there will be a hostage situation.”

This thinking can also extend to how some users believe that the age and power of their laptop in some reflects on their status within the organisation, in much the same way as they may see their company car. It does make us wonder just how geared up desktop support can be to deal with such challenges, particularly given that it has traditionally been a very reactive function with the majority of interactions being initiated by the end user either in response to some perceived “fault” or to request new capabilities.

In a world where IT is being asked to do more and more, can such a reactive role for desktop support continue to make sense? Can a better knowledge of the desktop inventory estate along with its associated users, business needs and company policies put IT in a position where it can make desktop support far more proactive? Will better monitoring and management capabilities help IT lift its perception in the eyes of those who have until now only talked about desktop support when they have problems to fix? Or we destined to lumber into the sand, until things reach a point where some brave help desk operative dares to scream “enough!” Your views are, of course, welcome.

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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