Dell's Kace control freak ARMed for SMBs

Cover your assets

Runs Linux, does only Windows

The M300's software stack is a little bit different from its K1000 and K2000 brethren, too. For one thing, Dell didn't just take the existing asset management features in the first two Kace appliances and snip it out, but redid the code based on what the company has learned over the years.

The code is still written in a mix of C, C++, PHP, JavaScript, and HTML, but it is different code. And instead of running on BSD and MySQL, this appliance runs the code on Linux and stores data within a PostgreSQL database.

The agent software that gets plunked on PCs and servers so they can be snooped is the same, and so is Kace's proprietary Agent Messaging Protocol. This links devices back to the appliance over the internal corporate network or through VPN running out on the Internet for portable machines. The VPN link can also be used to allow a service provider to remotely manage servers and PCs for an SMB.

The M300 appliance is restricted to monitoring no more than 200 devices. And unlike the larger Kace appliances, it cannot work with Linux or Mac OS machines. Kacin thinks there is little need to manage Linux on desktops out there among corporations.

But he says it is possible that Mac shops – or departments like graphics and design within larger companies where Macs dominate – could compel Dell to make a variant of the M300 that just handles Mac OS devices.

Counting windows

But at the moment, the M300 is restricted to spying on desktops and laptops running Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate, and Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. On servers, the M300 can hook into Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 (both the initial and R2 updates) in the Web, Standard, and Enterprise editions.

At $1,999 plus a mandatory one-year maintenance and support contract that costs $499, the M300 is a bit pricey for the typical SMB skinflint. But it seems reasonable that Dell will do a PC-server-M300 bundle at some point on its website, through its direct sales force, and through its channel partners.

What Dell really needs to do – and it cannot yet do according to Kacin – is ship a pallet of PCs and an M300 appliance out of the Dell factory with all of the relevant data about the PCs and their software stacks preconfigured into the M300.

The M300 can use the warranty tags on each Dell PC to get additional information about support for each device into the M300, something that cannot be done with PCs and servers from other vendors at this point.

The idea, says Kacin, is for the M300 to pay for itself by watching what software end users have installed on their machines and what software they actually use. The M300 will therefore help companies better assess what they need and pay for itself through savings in the software budget.

Moreover, because the Kace agent software constantly reports back to the management appliance, the minute end users do something that messes up their PC or a server, system admins will be able to see what they were up to in terms of adding or updating software when something went wrong, helping streamline the debugging process.

The device has been in beta with a few dozen customers and is currently only available in the United States. Dell is right now doing the assessment of what it will take in terms of language support and other internationalization features so it can be sold in the EMEA and Asia/Pacific regions. ®

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