Centralized PC power managers not created equal

Autonomic, BigFix, and Symantec Altiris solutions offer a wealth of potential power savings, but also differences in policy depth, granularity, and ease

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BigFix Enterprise Suite 7.2
Like the Autonomic and Symantec products in this roundup, the BigFix Enterprise Suite 7.2 runs on a Windows server and has the same sort of SQL Server requirement. It proved easy to install and deploy, and rolling out the agents to Windows Server 2003, Vista, and XP systems was a snap. In addition to Windows agents, BigFix has agents available for multiple varieties of Linux, as well as Solaris, HP-UX, Mac OS X, and AIX.

BigFix integrates well with Active Directory, making it easy to find the systems to which you want to deploy agents. The agent can also be deployed manually, using an installer on a network drive.

Once the agent is installed, you have an array of management options. You can set a policy to enable any of the power management options available through Windows, from always-on to hibernating after any desired period of inactivity. You can apply different policies to different users or groups, either policies already existing in Active Directory or new policies created within BigFix. You can also create a policy that wakes PCs at night to receive software updates and patches, then puts them back to sleep afterward.

Creating power management policies for individual PCs or groups of PCs is fairly straightforward in BigFix.

Like Autonomic, BigFix can manage power options not available through the Windows power management control panel, such as the suspend sleep state or CPU state used in hibernation, if the hardware supports it. BigFix gives you most of the flexibility in creating and applying power management policies that Autonomic provides, save the if-then-else scripting that allows you to incorporate the day of the week and other variables beyond time of day.

Moreover, you can track power usage, save and close open documents before powering down, and track the amount of time that the computer is idle during the day. Reporting tools allow the administrator to estimate how much power is being used by all systems, and how much can be conserved by implementing a power savings plan. BigFix can also deploy a utility to track real-time power usage on each managed system.

In addition to the power management functionality, BigFix has a multitude of other management features, including inventory of PC hardware and software, managing software updates and patches, setting the desktop configuration and controlling settings for any control panel software, and even locking down password policies and keeping the user from installing unauthorized software.

At $7 per seat for the basic framework, which includes PC asset management and the power management features, BigFix's offering is quite inexpensive and easy to implement.

BigFix can manage power options not available through the Windows control panel, such as suspend sleep state, if the hardware supports it.

Symantec Altiris 7.0.354
Like the other vendors in this roundup, Symantec offers power-management features as part of a greater PC management suite called Altiris Client Management Suite. The company offers a freely downloadable evaluation version of Altiris. My demo version installed fairly easily, although the basic installation required agreeing to 33 end-user license agreements, due to the modular nature of the product. If you want to keep using the product beyond the evaluation period, $95 per seat buys you a lot more than just power management, but it may be a sticking point for those who merely want to save on power.

Altiris supports a wide variety of hardware and operating systems, including many versions of Windows and Linux and several varieties of Unix. However, BigFix still beats out Symantec in terms of supported platforms.

Once the framework was installed, I was able to easily select systems from Active Directory and download agents to them. From there, I took an inventory of the current power management scheme and deployed a new one. One caveat: You should not try to run the server and management interface on an older computer. On my 2.8GHz Xeon single-core system with 1GB of RAM, it often took upward of a minute to select a single item from a list. A quad-core system with 8GB of RAM proved much peppier.

The inventory I looked at was specific to power management, though Altiris has a great many other inventory capabilities and reporting tools to gather information about what hardware is installed on your network as well as what versions of software and drivers you're running, what the patch levels are, and so on.

Setting a power management policy in Altiris is straightforward, and policies can be created that affect Active Directory groups or groups specified by attributes such as OS version or hardware type.
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