Software deployment tools
There are many different ways to install and maintain software, which you can read about in the other three blogs of this series. But they all leave room for improvement. Which you already know, or you woudn’t be visiting our site or reading this blog. How much better can they be? It all depends on what you want. Let’s check out the various options.
This is Part 4 in our software deployment series. You can find the other episodes here:
What is software deployment? Part 1 – From mainframe to the Internet
What is software deployment? Part 2 – Slowed down by Snearkernet
What is software deployment? Part 3 – Login scripts, GPOs or install it yourself?
Let’s first take a step back to see the big picture. What do you actually want from a software deployment tool? What functionalities are a must have, and which ones are nice-to-have?
First of all, you want to be able to install applications remotely. But what about the operating system? You can install both with Windows Deployment Services from Microsoft, which is free. (We’ll get back to this a bit later.) Basically you want applications and their updates.
Secondly, you want to know which computers have had an application installed as well as if anything may have gone wrong. An added bonus to see how many installations of an application are being used, in relation to the number of licenses you have.
Complexity, made easy
These are perfectly reasonable expectations. But when you consider how many different applications there are and how they’re installed, you quickly realize that fulfilling your simple wishes can be quite complicated. Especially when you factor in how many different roll-out options there are such as: does the user decide, which installation file comes from the network or from the Cloud, the necessary installation parameters and more.
Many tools specifically target large organizations with more than 500 workstations. The requirements these companies have for their tools are very different for an SME with about 50 to 100 computers that need regular updates.
Now let’s review some software deployment tools on the market.
ABC-Deploy is a one-man project made by Danish developer Flemming Varmer and dates back to the mid-1990s. In terms of functionality, it is close to Easy Software Deployment, but its endpoint price is higher. You can use a free version, but it does not support Active Directory groups and OUs. ABC-Deploy rolls out and handles most installation files, but not application virtualization. However, it offers a “Package Store” with standard installations for many well-known software programs. For updates you need ABC Update, which is free.
PDQ Deploy and PDQ Inventory
We pair these two tools because if you want to roll out and have an overview of your organization’s hardware and software, you have to purchase them both. PDQ does not charge per endpoint, but per admin. This can be relatively expensive if you’re an IT administrator managing 50 computers at a school, for example. You can see that PDQ is focused on the enterprise market. The “Package Library,” a database with over 250 popular software programs, is not free, except for a few programs. And PDQ does not support application virtualization.
SmartDeploy is an interesting player that handles things slightly differently from the others. Basically this tool works with “images.” You may think you have one image for all of your computers, but that’s wishful thinking because no organization has 100% of the same PCs in-house. That’s why SmartDeploy distinguishes images into different layers. It allows them to keep the hardware drivers separate from the operating system and applications. And that offers the possibility to have one image for Windows — because you want every computer to have the same functionality, regardless of brand and type. With this level of functionality, you can see this tool works best for larger organizations.
Symantec Client Management Suite
Symantec’s Client Management Suite (now part of Broadcom) offers a completely different angle. Its starting point is security, and it makes sure computers are up-to-date, especially with security patches. Deployment is only one part of the suite. Symantec CMS (what a confusing abbreviation) not only works with Windows, but also with macOS and Linux. This may be a size too big for many organizations. But this tool does fit perfectly into the whole of Symantec tools, such as anti-virus and intrusion detection.
Microsoft Endpoint Manager
Microsoft Endpoint Manager (EM) offers a full suite of tools, which are built around Intune and Endpoint Configuration Manager. Sadly, Microsoft has never been very intuitive in choosing names for products, which can be confusing. Intune is a management tool that mainly works in and out of the Cloud. You use Endpoint Configuration Manager for both in the Cloud and physically onsite. This suite also does more than just roll out the operating system and software. Security is its most important element. Interestingly, Microsoft also offers support for devices that people bring to work themselves. With EM you can give these BYODevices access and as importantly, restrict them from certain parts of the network or applications.
Liquit is another tool with its own scope based on their Digital Workspace. A user logs into their computer, tablet, or other device and then sees a screen with applications. This screen is predefined by the administrator, based on a user and computer profile. To use an application, users click on the icon (ok so far nothing new here). But with Liquit, you can determine how and where this application runs. It will often be a locally installed (or installed) app, but you don’t have to. The app runs just as easily in the Cloud as on a virtual machine. Basically, it’s deployment with a twist.
Easy Software Deployment
Now it’s only fair for us to put our own tool in the market against these other players. And although Easy Software Deployment is advanced, it’s also not the best solution for every kind of organization. Easy Software Deployment has everything needed to roll out applications and keep them up-to-date. But unlike most other tools, Easy Software Deployment is especially good at rolling out software based on user profiles.
You can also monitor how the operation is progressing, which computers already have it installed or don’t have the application yet and where it went wrong and why. Software metering is built in to let you keep an eye on the number of licenses. You can use Active Directory, but in some cases — between ten and twenty PCs / users — that may be a little overkill. In these cases, Easy Software Deployment can simply handle a Windows Workgroup.
Because Microsoft has its own free tool to deploy the Windows operating system, Windows Deployment System (WDS) deployment tools often ignore this. But that means a lot of manual setup. Easy Software Deployment uses and automates the functionality of WDS. You can read our separate, easy-to-understand manual for more information about this.
As you can see, many providers focus on larger organizations. And tools used in the enterprise have very different price tags, especially if you pay per connected computer, which is the most common pricing concept. And without unnecessary complexity that is linked to the management of large numbers of computers and users. Bottom line? You need to find the ideal balance between price and functionality, specifically for SME organizations.
The descriptions of the software deployment market players mentioned are as accurate as possible. They are written based on the freely available information on the websites of the various providers.