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Zenworks is actually good for something

Given that the two directory and policy goliaths are Microsoft and Novell, and that Microsoft is Microsoft, this makes the logical place to start looking for decent policy management to be Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). When I sat down to discuss SUSE with a fellow sysadmin, who happens to be quite the SUSE evangelist, he told me that - contrary to my previously held beliefs - Zenworks is actually good for something.

Understand that I haven’t really used Zenworks since 2003. The experience was so traumatic that I declined to repeat it. Admittedly, the project was about comparing management of Windows systems at the time, but I found AD and GPOs significantly easier than Novell’s eDirectory and Zenworks. In seven years, it has come a long way.

I was impressed by the Linux management tools. A SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) and SLED setup running eDirectory and Zenworks looks like it would be a very easy-to-manage network. You could even have Windows clients attached, and it’s far smoother sailing than it was in 2003. It’s limited in OS support however, managing only Windows, SUSE, and Red Hat. Debian and Ubuntu are ignored, and OSX is left out in the cold.

The latest version of SLED ships with a license for something called Likewise Enterprise (LE). LE apparently is an easy-to-use piece of software that lets you join the most popular Unix based distributions, (including OSX) to a Microsoft AD, and push GPOs out them as simply and easily as you would to Windows. After listening to my friend rave about LE, I simply had to see this for myself.

We set up a test lab: four different Unix GPO applications. The first demonstration attached a series of SLED, Fedora, Ubuntu, CentOS and OSX systems to the domain and pushed policies out to them. I was absolutely floored by the number of policies that LE can manage.

In a moment, every objection I have had against Unix operating systems as Enterprise desktops that wasn't about application compatibility was erased. Sometime in the past few years, when I wasn’t looking, Unix based systems caught up.

Random greenhorn sysadmin number forty-two can now cheerfully manage a collection of Unix based systems from the AD as easily as managing Windows. Go try it, and see if any policies you care about are missing. I couldn’t find any.

My buddy wasn’t done with me, and next on the line was Quest (formerly Vintela) Authentication Services (QAS). This talked to all the major flavours of Linux and Unix as well as OSX. At first it is not as easy to use as LE, but I was impressed by the number of policy options. If QAS GPO offerings are behind those of LE, QAS had a demonstrable advantage with a robust Single Sign On (SSO) setup for these operating systems. It was far easier to configure and use than any cross-platform SSO I’ve used to date.

We moved on to a third option called DirectControl offered by Centrify. Having entered into this project with the idea that decent GPO support for Unix was most likely a pipe dream, the fact that there was a third solid offering in this field astonished me. Yet, despite some thorough testing, DirectControl stood up to every requirement I could impose on it.

As we were walking out of the lab, still talking about the products we were testing, we were accosted by a systems administrator and acolyte of the Cult of Apple. We went to his lab and we given a demo of ADmitMac by Thursby Software. While it supports no other Unix based systems apart from OSX, it does a capable job of pushing GPOs out to Macs, and marrying them to Microsoft’s AD.

Having thoroughly geeked out for the evening, we departed to the nearest pub. We learned many lessons, and I’ll use my next article to share the GPO-related ones with you.

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