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Title: Executive Software’s Sitekeeper
by  Robert Sanborn

One of the problems that nearly all businesses have to face, or should have to, is the tracking of the hardware and software that are on the computers. With just a couple of computers to manage, it can become a no big deal issue with you but if you track more than a few, have trouble remembering what is on what computer, and worse yet, what vintage of software each one is running, it becomes more of a real chore. I do it manually, I create a spreadsheet like table to track what is on what computer and have to remind myself every once in a while, to go do a survey of the computers and see what has changed. And when something changes, I need to dig out the spreadsheet and update it. But you know, when adding and removing software on my test system, it becomes difficult to keep it up to date or if I just bring in a product or change a video card, it gets out of date quite easily. So I asked if there was a better way and what I found was Sitekeeper from Executive Software. Its name tells it all, it is a tool to keep track of what is on your site.

Installation is pretty easy even for such a complicated job as this. The software starts up like most any other but it really keeps track of what it is doing and if you need components, gives you the option of pausing the install to load them. For instance, it prefers to use Microsoft’s SQL Database to house its files and information that you will be building but if it doesn’t’ find it on your computer, it will load a subset program to take care of things. You can allow it as much openness or security as you want but in my testing of the program, I just let it take the usual defaults and it installed easily. What I really like is the wizard process that they use to take you through the installation steps. Where I have, first run into problems is after setting up the program, you need to run the Agent install process on computers that are not Windows XP Pro systems. I told Sitekeeper where to put the files and immediately, it would not allow any of the other computers on the network to get them. It appears that Sitekeeper turned off particular sharing for that folder so what I needed to do was to turn it on for the folder. This was despite that the folder that the files were in was in a shared folder and that I could get to any of the other files in that main folder. Once that was figured out, running the agent on the non-WinXP system was an easy install.

Once installed, things began to bog down but to be honest, I am not sure that I should point the blame at the product. First, remember that this program prefers to work in a Domain type of network environment that uses a server to keep track of everything from documents to users and passwords and the authorizations to let people use particular machines. My testing was done on a peer-to-peer network of computers that had only one machine running a server quality package, Windows XP Pro, while the others ran Windows XP Home and Windows98. So the first time I tell Sitekeeper to look at the computers on the network, it refused saying that I did not give it permission. In a peer network, who cares about permissions? Well, actually I do because I am on a broadband network as well so I am pretty picky about what gets to each of my machines. So I run things like a hardware based firewall router and Zone Alarm on each of the computers. So the question, was it the Zone Alarm causing the problem, the firewall, or what.

The problem was the permissions that I needed to set up on each system. In Sitekeeper, you go to the manage permissions section and set up a common user with a password that each computer needs to set up to allow the Sitekeeper software to go into each machine and run the software. For the Windows XP systems, I needed to add the user and password with administrative privileges to each computer. Once that was done, Sitekeeper was able to scan each computer on the network just fine. As for the Windows98 system, once the agent was loaded and run, Sitekeeper got to it directly with out any problems.

Now that the administrative hassles and difficulties are out of the way, it was time to take a good look at what it can do and tell me about my computers. What strikes me first is that how fast it scans your systems and network. The report is back before I get out of the chair. Granted there isn’t much on the laptop but the test system and my main system are loaded with hardware and software and Sitekeeper gets it quickly. What you first notice is that it gives you everything. The software inventory lists every program that is on each system and while it does a good job of pulling them out and listing them for you, there are a lot that will appear in the “unavailable” Publisher category. In those cases, rather than listing the program application, it lists the individual program files it finds, in my case, a seven-page report of 331 programs. The good news is that you can tell it to hide those that you don’t really need to care about, like “mouse.com” for instance, and focus in on the program that can cause you problems. As a for instance, in looking over my report, I see that on each computer, I am running a different version of “Microsoft Streets and Trips”. This can be really important to you if you are trying to be both the administrator and help desk person for this network. If a user calls you with a problem, it sure would help to know right away what version that they have.

Where things can be a bit time consuming is the licensing tracking module in Sitekeeper. Again, they have a wizard that will take you through the steps of monitoring your licenses but it will be time consuming, as you need to gather the information and make sure you have them. The good news about the process is that you can start and stop at any point as it only takes just a few seconds to rescan the network on my systems. However, once you have finished this process, it really makes the job of managing what is on the network much easier. As with the other reports, you can remove some of the items that don’t need listing or tracking.

The hardware scan is an interesting report. What I like about all these reports is that you can save them in an html format for viewing on other systems, and you can change the sorting order to look at devices, computers, and systems. I do wish that the reports actually included more detail such as drivers, and maybe even a reference to the registry entries that the searched. When I look at the device listing though, it seems that it pulls the name from each system and they might not be standardized. For example, the CD Rom drives are all called “CDROM” and I see all five of them. The problem is that there aren’t five but Sitekeeper thinks that the ThinkPad (Notebook) has two, one from Teac and one from LG. In another example, under device “fdc”, I show floppy controllers for each machine except for the notebook, and under “Floppy Disk”, I show drives for all three machines including an extra on the test system, which is not there. I looked even more and found several other discrepancies like that and further research shows that I do indeed have some ghost pieces of hardware in the registry on my notebook. Two drives it found there that don’t exist can be traced to a digital camera I once had installed, and a USB Drive I once used and both of these are still in the registry of the computer. Could these ghosts cause hardware problems? Hard telling but it is interesting to know that Sitekeeper finds them out for me and with a printed report handy, you can keep it to remind you later when problems occur on that particular machine.

A final piece of the package is the “Pushinstaller” that allows you to add and remove packages from a central location on your network. Like the other modules, it has a wizard that takes you through the steps you need to install the programs and like the other wizards, you need to be careful as you read the instructions as they are different from the usual wizards you find in most installation programs in that you just hit enter to get you through them and can always rely on the defaults. With Executive Software’s Sitekeeper wizards, you really need to pay attention to what is going on. With the pushinstaller, the first thing I tried to do was to uninstall a program that was an older version. I had mentioned that Microsoft Streets and Trips had three different versions on my computers and so I thought, let me uninstall the older ones and install the newer one to the other two computers.  So from the administrator system (which is my test system), I told it to uninstall it from the laptop. It appears from where I was sitting that it uninstalled just fine and the report at the end said it was successful. This is one place where it would be nice if some of the reports gave you a little more information as to what happens. When I went over to the laptop to see what happened, what I found was that Streets and Trips was running. It seems that the pushinstaller had actually launched the program itself. What was confusing to me, besides this, was that as I went through the wizard, it asked for the location of the setup program to Streets on the laptop. Since it wasn’t there, I pointed it to the actual Streets program itself. Obviously, that was the wrong thing to do. Back to the instructions and to try again and it seems that after some trial and error, how you do this is not that straightforward for typical desktop applications. You need to specify command line parameters that are not that intuitive to figure out and you need to have the files to be downloaded installed on a shared component on the computer.  In my trial again to bring my Streets programs up to date, it still gave me difficulties but did finally start the installation on the test system. However, as I probably didn’t set it up correctly not knowing what command line parameters to use, it required me to step it through the installation of the program. At least I got it installed. The more I dig into the details, the more that I see that it is probably Streets that doesn’t allow for unattended installation, which is what the command line parameters are looking for. In my example with Streets, in browsing around, I decided to try the command line parameter /qn. I had found this on a number of other applications listed and so gave it a try. The first time I ran it, Sitekeeper’s Pushinstaller report tells me that it installed just fine. And in fact, when looking at the laptop, I could see it downloading something across the network from the test system. After a while, it comes up with a message saying it was trying to reboot itself but there was a user still connected, do I want to shut down. So why not. What happened was that as soon as it rebooted, I could find no trace of Streets on the system. So what did it download? When I searched the system, I found download text files in the Windows Temp folder and it appears that it need to update something on the computer before it could download the program. So back again at my test system, the master console for Sitekeeper, I told it again to install Streets on the laptop and this time, it sailed on through without any problems using that command line parameter /qn, it asked no questions and when I went back later to look at the laptop, found the Streets loaded just fine.

My inclination here is to believe that I was loading software that was never intended to be handled this way but thought that it would be a good test of the program and I am very satisfied with how it worked out. I was also loading a program that sits on two CDs and forced it to be installed from a folder rather than from the CD rom drives which you would normally do in this situation.

What I like about Sitekeeper is the ease of the wizards to help you finish installing the product. You do need to check the documentation and should read it before installing it as it might save you some of the problems that I ran into. Of course, I probably would have known some of these things had I been more in tune with server based networking but dealing with a program that has its roots in server based networking is something I just don’t deal with much. But once I got it rolling, found it to be very useful even in my limited network of three machines. I was able to scan each system, see what they have, what they needed, and install programs across the network to each one. For people and companies that need a good solid way of tracking this kind of information, Sitekeeper can’t be beat and I do like the way it works. Pricing for Sitekeeper is around $349 for a ten-machine license.

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Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant and a contributing editor for the Indy PC News. Reach him through the net at indypcnews@indy.rr.com

 

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