Novell Inc. has just unveiled Z.E.N.works (Zero Effort Network), an application that could make it easier for schools to administer networks across Windows-based personal computers.
WinTel PCs are notoriously difficult to administer in a network, requiring upgrades and maintenance work to be done on the units themselves. As network administrators know, compatibility issues and a lack of PC standardization have contributed to the problem.
According to Forrester Research, the cost of desktop management averages nearly $4,000 a year per PC in the United States. With the distressing ratio of support staff to computers in schools, that figure is probably even higher.
Z.E.N.works is an application that automates software distribution and lets you monitor and repair computers on the network from a central site, thereby reducing your ownership costs, said Novell spokeswoman Katrina Larson.
There are major benefits for schools, said Larson. “They can really cut their costs by leveraging expertise of the IS staff.” This means freeing up the technology director’s time for more demanding tasks by automating some processes and making it easier to do others.
First, there are the so-called “digital personas.” These amount to a cache of information about each user already stored on the central server. More about that in a moment.
Then there’s Z.E.N.works’ centralized management feature‹allowing the administrator to configure workstations (individual PCs) and to distribute software users will need from central location, reducing the amount of time staff members have to spend visiting every workstation on the network. An application icon appears automatically on the desktop of all the computers tethered to the network.
And finally, Z.E.N.works is “2000-compliant,” meaning it will recognize a date two years from now as the next century rather than 1900. The software also helps ease other difficulties posed by 2000, said Larson. It can simplify the deployment of other vendors’ year 2000 patches and updates throughout the network.
Systems administrators can perform “mass customization” of individual desktop units using what the company calls a “digital persona.” Network managers can easily distribute software as well as diagnose and solve software-related problems without physically visiting each networked computer or disrupting users.
Z.E.N.works is, according to Novell, the first directory-enabled desktop management tool. That means that it works with Novell Directory Services (NDS), which provides a central repository of information about the users, applications, and equipment on a network.
A “digital persona” is an individual profile that sets up and configures the computer a given user is working on. Preferences such as menu choices, desktop configuration, and printer drivers are associated with each individual’s unique user profile rather than with specific workstations.
No matter what PC a student is using, for example, any machine on the network will display the student’s personal settings‹say, eMail information in Netscape‹and other network configurations just by logging in with a password. This means you can greatly reduce the time it takes your end-users to set up desktop configurations.
Z.E.N.works’ digital persona also recognizes when the user has moved to another workstation in, for example, another building. To reduce the drain on a local or wide area network, Z.E.N. automatically adjusts to select the nearest location of a requested application. What that means is the program will find Microsoft Office or a printer device the user is calling up on a server that’s closest to the current workstation.
In addition to centralized management, Z.E.N.works lets network administrators use NDS to store a snapshot of the applications on a network user’s personal computer. If an application becomes corrupted or is accidentally deleted, Z.E.N.works will automatically restore a working version of the program. Novell calls this Z.E.N.works’ “self-healing” feature.