Utilize Your SMS Wealth - Part II

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Sep 4, 2001


Pierson Glyn-Williams
Systems Integrator

Disclaimer: Let me state clearly, that I am in no way associated with the Altiris company. All information I provide is at my own discretion and in no way is my employer responsible for the articles or comments I so choose to publish.  If you are interested in becoming more familiar with any of the associated products mentioned throughout this article, previous articles or future articles, please visit the related vendor sites.

Now that we have identified the different data sources for our project, it is important that we explain why and how we are using the Altiris products in our Inventory Management System.

In the last article we looked at the conceptual framework behind designing an Inventory Management System.  The information from this series of articles is based on cumulative knowledge, which is one of the reasons why I didn't provide subtitles for each of the articles. We discussed the fundamentals of what is required in designing an Inventory Management System.  We presented the different databases and emphasized accuracy in selecting our data sources.  Now that we have identified the different data sources for our project, it is important that we explain why and how we are using the Altiris products in our Inventory Management System. 

Altiris essentially provides us with the reporting capability where SMS currently falls short.  Altiris has a lot of the canned-reports that we require, making their product an ideal solution for our Inventory Management System solution.  Altiris allowed us to create a new database and populate it with detailed inventory data from client machines.  The Altiris database isn't as loaded as the SMS database, since we are only using it to hold inventory information and process event policies. Our Inventory Management System is simply a Web-based interface that will allow for data entry, smart fields, exception alerting and for running comprehensive Web reports.  In a more general sense, the Inventory Management System will write, read and query the database created by Altiris. 

We purchased three products from Altiris: eXpress Notification Server, Inventory Solution and Contract Management Solution.  Let me give you an idea of how each of these products function and how they will be incorporated in to the Inventory Management System solution.

Altiris eXpress Notification Server 5.1 is the core product for ourInventory Management System.  The eXpress Notification Server [Notification Server as we will call it or simply NS] is a complete Web-based solution that supports the line of Altiris Notification Server Solutions.  Basically, the Notification Server has distribution capabilities using an agent/client method, Web-based reports with drill down, Web-console, processing of events and the ability to forward data to your SMS Server. As we mentioned above, the Notification Server is what gives us the option for creating a separate SQL database aside from SMS to be used for developing our Inventory Management System Web application.  Also, by creating a new database we can now build our Web application around it and leave the SMS database alone.  This Notification Server is the key component for the Altiris product line.  The way the Notification Server works is it deploys a NS client to each machine and allows us to run policies against them.  Notification Server also gives you the ability to have your client run with zero-footprint. With the combination of Altiris products you can essentially duplicate the full functionality of SMS.  However, in our case example, we are only using three of the Altiris products to assist us with our Inventory Management System. We will review a little later on how all the events and policies will be integrated in to our Inventory Management System.  Basically, the Notification Server gives us a foundation from which to build our Web application on.

Altiris Inventory Solution 5.1 is a solution that can be run as a policy from the Notification Server to poll and collect detailed inventory information from your client machines.  There are two methods of generating client data, one through the use of MIF files which most SMS Administrators will be familiar with and the other is XML.  Our NS Clients are set to generate XML data since it is much smaller in file size than MIF files and it can be set to only generate change information for incremental posting to our inventory database.  Inventory Solution is basically a collection of agents (in the .exe form) that run against a client machine to post data to the Notification Server which can then be forwarded to your SMS database.  In our case, we are letting the NS Client run the Inventory Solution policy to only update our Notification Server database. Inventory Solution can poll S/N and BIOS info, detailed software data, disk, operating system, configuration and registry settings, full Microsoft Exchange profile data and much more.  Two of the key features of Inventory Solution are its ability to report on the primary user of each machine based on usage and the full canned-Web-reports that come shipped with product.  Also, the ability to perform reports based on parameters from a Web-form which will allow us to send queries from our Web-application seamlessly.  We will get more in to integration and development in the next couple of articles. Inventory Solution also gives us the ability to collect inventory data on standalone machines.  Remember our primary concern is accurate data and this solution allows us to be as accurate as one can get from an inventory point of view.

Altiris Contract Management Solution

The Contract Management Solution basically extends the Notification Server database to include fields for tracking the lease information on your PCs, servers and service agreements.  We are currently maintaining lease information in the solution we are planning on replacing.  Altiris allows us to import this information to give us in-depth details of the assets under contract and linking this information to system inventory, contact/location information and all associated costs.  Also, we will be setting up Contract Management Solution to alert us when a lease has expired using event policies on the Notification Server.

We have now covered all the data sources and products involved in creating our Inventory Management System. In the upcoming articles, we will take you through the implementation of Altiris and begin the development process of our Inventory Management System. 

Pierson Glyn-Williams

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