Vendors turn the corner on support
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We've all been there: You're sitting at a computer, aggravated, on the phone with clients who can't get their computers to work, and your best option is to try and picture what's occurring on their desktops at that moment by asking, "What are you looking at now?" If this exercise of normally fruitless telepathy works, maybe, just maybe, the PC user won't lose that file he or she has spent the last two days working on.
Now, thanks to a number of companies led by LANDesk, those frustrating days might be over. New on-demand agent-based monitoring tools are allowing companies to provide higher levels of service and support without requiring them to jump in a car,or worse, on a plane,to solve a partner's or customer's technical problem.
The jewel of the bunch is LANDesk's Instant Support Suite Pro 2.0, released in December, a desktop management and remote problem resolution tool that the company claims will increase first-call problem resolutions and time-to-resolutions, as well as decrease the costs of implementing remote help desk installations.
The product's two primary breakthroughs are that it loads on demand then is discarded once the session is over, and its ability to communicates through an organization's firewalls and proxy servers. It works like this: A user calls a help desk with a problem, and the technician directs the user to website where he can click on an icon that downloads the Instant Support Suite agent. The agent is a 500k Active X file that downloads in seconds over a high-speed connection and allows the technician to look live at the user's desktop and repair the problem. Once the session ends, the user discards the agent and the system is back to normal, its security protocols unaffected. "This lowers the cost because you can fix problems remotely without physically sending someone out to the site," says Ben Cahoon, LANDesk's director of product management. "Before this, companies had to buy PCAnywhere and install it on every computer, then track down all those PCs and reinstall the patches and updates when they came out later." (Cahoon says a Mac version of the software is in the works for next year.)
Location, location, location
Partners that have been using the new product already are seeing significant results. Bryan Boam, senior network analyst for Network Consulting Services, Inc. in Salt Lake City, says the product is a "huge advancement" that begins to solve one of his company's biggest historical problems. "Because of the firewalls and other security issues, we always had to drive out to a site to fix a problem," he says. The enhanced remote access capabilities the tool provides may have long-term ramifications for the reach of his business. "We've lost potential customers in the Rocky Mountain region when we decided that the cost of climbing on a plane to go see them wouldn't be feasible," he says. "Now we can go back to those people, ask if they're happy with the service they're getting from other companies, and see if they'd like to switch to us."
The handful of competing tools on the market evince a burgeoning trend in the remote service and support space. WebEx offers a Support Center Service, Gotomypc.com has a remote access and control product, and Desktop Streaming supports a hosted remote screen-sharing service. Freshwater Software also has their version of agent-less monitoring called SiteScope Monitor Development Kit, which can be used to track servers across a network. But LANDesk's silver bullets are its firewall access and disposability. "None of those other products can handle these tasks as well as LANDesk can," Boam says.
Another indirect improvement Boam sees springs from LANDesk's liberation from Intel. Spun out late last year from its parent, the newly independent company already is proving itself to be more flexible and responsive to its partners. "Before they were always bound by Intel's schedule, so they weren't so great about things like regular product updates. But they're greatly improved as an independent company in terms of their marketing, communications, and their ability to be heard by their developers," he says.
This doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. When asked what's missing from version 2.0, Boam and others say it needs more in-depth usage reporting and a better way to do billing, something LANDesk is exploring for future versions. Ironically, LANDesk had a product that accomplished this, but the company dropped it to produce this one. "A marriage of the two products would be ideal," Boam says.
Instant Support Suite Pro,the non-Pro version, which doesn't solve the firewall hurdle, has been out for some time and deployed primarily within organizations,is sold as a console-based license at a rate of $3,995 per console for 1-5 consoles and $3,596 each for 6-10 consoles. LANDesk is offering a 45-day trial version on its Web site.