How to Keep Office and Mobile Systems Current
By Graeme Greenhill
INFORMATION technology is the lifeblood of law. Case management, document management, time accounting, billing all must co-exist in an intense, increasingly distributed environment. Software management consumes more and more of systems administrators' time as applications become more complex. Major software migrations, such as moving to Windows 2000, can be monumental undertakings.
However, much of the drudgery can be eliminated with proper planning, and support from a system that manages the organization, warehousing and deployment of software.
For large law firms, widely distributed servers in multiple offices present special challenges. How can administrators make sure that systems are in synch and compatible and that applications remain operational and up-to-date? Throw in software license compliance issues, virus updates, and remote workers and there's more room for chaos. A disciplined approach to software management is the key to getting all of these issues under control.
Software management provides a central point of control for an organization's software. It includes both hardware and software "asset reporting," and the automation of software administration. This helps system administrators monitor use of software and licenses, automate software roll-outs, determine the cost of proposed upgrades, and manage financial information such as depreciation schedules and licensing fees.
An automated software management system should provide the following services:
Inventory control and reporting: Establish and maintain a software inventory for each machine. Analyze reports so you can plan for future acquisitions and installations. Control installed software -- both for the security and stability of both desktop systems and laptops.
Software management: Warehouse, distribute and install software, from acquisition to eventual decommissioning.
Error recovery: Repair problems automatically. Connected systems should have "self-healing" capabilities that enable them to automatically and transparently repair or replace a damaged file. For instance, if a Word .dll file is damaged or missing, the application would automatically replace the file without user intervention. This reduces calls to the support staff and yields substantial cost savings.
Reliability: Client-side state management is the most reliable. Here, the client system determines what updates are required and requests them from the server based on deployment policies set by administrators. Download integrity is maintained because the client system knows whether it has received the update. If not completed, the client system will request the update again.
Security: If exposed to the Internet, the system should utilize all standard Internet firewall and security facilities. Manage-ment services can be placed on a secure server that is outside the firewall and be combined with digital certificates, password protection and other security features.
Connection management: Software management requires intelligent connection management including auto-detect for the nearest server, server failover in the event of a connection failure, download restart, picking up where the last download left off, and trigger filtering so administrators can schedule distributions and update mobile systems upon connection.
Bandwidth management is important for internal local area network (LAN) management but it is also critical for mobile systems. Mobile system support should download only the specific files required rather than updating an entire application, and requires automatic file compression to further reduce download times. Software management tools should use "bandwidth throttling" to define a fixed percentage of available bandwidth for software updates and it should be able to prioritize the distribution of business-critical applications, such as anti-virus patches.
Event management and schedule control
Administrators need to be able to schedule events appropriately, while allowing certain users the power to defer some scheduled events. This may be particularly true for attorneys who use notebook systems with clients or in depositions or other situations that should not be impacted even by a software update in the background.
On the administrator side, there should be a single system that handles all software management -- internal and external -- that fits the current infrastructure by leveraging LANs, Internet and operating systems. From the users' standpoint, software management should be transparent. The only result should be a more reliable, up-to-date system at all times.
Graeme Greenhill is president of ManageSoft Corp. of Nashua, N.H.