Desktop Central – a replacement for WSUS, GPSI, and much more.
For most organizations, including larger non-profits, centralized machine management is just something of a dream. These environments face two large hurdles: lack of funding and stretched support staff. I see this all of the time in education – many of our school systems do not quite reach the threshold where a product like System Center is required. Instead, these administrators are stuck in a management purgatory where they can’t find the funds for individual products and do not have the time to learn multiuse tools.
This problem has scaled in the last few years. Mobile devices and non-domain joinable hardware continues to spread. Many of these devices do not have a management system. The ones that do are completely incompatible with each other. The time strapped admin certainly does not have the resources to learn many different mobile device management systems. For a product to be successful in this environment, it must answer yes to three questions:
- Is it capable of managing traditional and mobile devices in one pane?
- Is it easy for an administrator to learn and use?
- Is it affordable over the long term?
Today, we are going to review ManageEngine’s Desktop Central and see how it stands up to our three problems.
Test 1: Managing traditional and mobile devices
If your environment is anything like mine, you have a lot of different device types to support. I have supported environments with domain-joined Windows machines, workgroup machines, iPads, Macs, Android tablets, and Ubuntu boxes. That list was just the client side of the equation!
Desktop Central’s name is a bit misleading. It supports a whole lot more than just desktops. You will find support for Windows, Apple, and Linux operating systems. This includes client and server versions. It also supports Android, iOS, and Windows mobile devices.
Even though it is not something to brag about, some organizations are still stuck with legacy machines running Windows XP, Vista, and older versions of Windows Server. I am willing to bet that this problem will be a lot worse on Jan. 15 2020 as Windows 7 will have reached end of life. A nice and surprising thing about Desktop Central is their support for end of life operating systems. Organizations that are stuck with these older machines still have full management capacity through Desktop Central.
What about management features though? This single product can handle patch management, software deployment, asset management, and configuration. Mobile Device Management can handle over the air enrollment, profile management, app deployment, and security configuration. Both devices types (traditional/mobile) have detailed auditing and reporting features. Of particular note is the integration between tools. For example, logged on user reporting ties into the remote desktop control tool. It is safe to say that Desktop Central passes our first test in spades.
Test 2: Ease of Use
First impressions can be everything. For software, that impression is formed in the installation stage. How difficult is the installation for Desktop Central? Not difficult at all. Everything is contained in a single download and the wizard is a simple straightforward process. The management portion of Desktop Central does have to be installed on a Windows OS (client or server). In the future, it would be nice to install the management components on a Linux OS as well.
Once installed, you can begin managing devices. The entire product is web based, which is awesome in my opinion. Each management component has a standardized UI and is very intuitive. Useful metrics are upfront and centered. FAQ, a Knowledge Base, and instructional videos are available at the bottom of each screen. The web-based console is also customizable through the use of widgets.
When using Desktop Central, I can’t help but to compare it against native solutions. This makes me aware of how many shortcomings those built in tools have. How would you deploy software in your environment that only comes as an executable? How would you generate a detailed list of machines and their unpatched vulnerabilities? These two common problems are clunky and difficult to solve in a native Windows environment. Group Policy Software Installation was never designed to be a full software deployment tool and WSUS does just enough to frustrate you. Both have partially built features that make you wonder if Microsoft is not trying to upsell you (GPSI User Driven Installations come to mind). Try imagining these scenarios stretched across non-Windows operating systems. Overall, Desktop Central is very easy to setup and use!
Test 3: Affordability
When purchasing software, I am reminded of a funny quote.
If SpaceX’s website can tell me the cost to put something into orbit, I shouldn’t have to call your company to get software prices.
I am happy to say that ManageEngine does not hide anything and does not force you to call them for pricing! Pound per pound, there is no doubt that Desktop Central is much cheaper than products like System Center. This is especially true if you do not want to pay for a bunch of products that you will not be using (SCVMM or SCDPM for example). ManageEngine’s pricing takes that modular methodology and runs with it! This makes it possible for you to select the exact components and pricing that you need for your environment. Prices and support options are clearly displayed. Multiple purchase methods are available (subscription based/perpetual license).
Desktop Central comes in three versions. The professional edition is designed for single sites and starts at $645. The enterprise edition is designed for many sites and starts at $795. This edition can also save organizations additional money through Windows licensing costs as it contains similar features found in the Enterprise/Education versions of Windows OS (an AppLocker substitute is the main example). The third version is for SMBs and is free for up to 25 devices. It also includes support for 25 mobile devices. It is nice to see this option available for smaller (future) customers.
Overall, Desktop Central is a win
ManageEngine’s Desktop Central passes the three big tests organizations face. It is fully featured, easy to use, and not cost prohibitive. Its modular nature enables advanced functionality and it can be integrated into other ManageEngine products. This enables some powerful combinations. Imagine things like tying in your helpdesk to your software deployment system.