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Systems management suite taps online forum for smarts

By acquiring the forums, systems management vendor Kace Networks will extend its appliances with online knowledge.

A maker of systems management software has introduced a hardware appliance that can glean data posted to an online community and present it to users trying to manage servers and workstations.

The online community in question is, which boasts more than 100,000 unique visitors a month, including systems administrators looking for configuration data about their hardware and applications. Now systems management vendor Kace Networks Inc. has purchased and is integrating data from the site into its own Kbox appliance.

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To have a community where we can gather command lines about what's tested and what works saves us a lot of time.
David Hauser,
CTOGotVMail Communications LLC

Andi Mann, a senior analyst for Enterprise Management Associates of Boulder, Colo., said it means that when you buy Kbox, you're buying the knowledge base.

"The big problem in IT administration is knowledge," he said. "There are a lot of things technology can do, but one of the big gaps is knowing what to do. Once you know what to do, it's not that hard."

Mann added that the information in Kbox that comes from derives from moderated discussions, so it's not like some prankster can just come along and mess up the server appliance.

Kace's approach stands in contrast to other systems management vendors' approaches to keeping up with configuration data. Mann said that some are building knowledge bases into their products that are updated from time to time, but the benefit with Kbox is that it has instantaneous and automatic access to the updated information. Others vendors may rely on information from consulting groups and service engagements, a method that Mann characterized as "less effective and more pricey."

Provisioning new servers and desktops, and then keeping track of all of the necessary patches and changes, can be cumbersome. It was a hurdle for GotVMail Communications LLC, a telecommunications service company and Kace customer.

GotVMail uses two Kace products. One focuses on the provisioning of new desktops and laptops for employees. It builds an image of a software stack and streams it to the PC depending on an employee's role.

"We don't have to have an image for every specific employee," said David Hauser, co-founder and chief technical officer at GotVMail. "We can have an engineering image, a customer service image or whatever."

The second management server is one used on a day-to-day basis. It deploys software throughout the company, from servers to desktops and laptops. It applies patches, performs mass software upgrades, and other functions. For Weston, Mass.-based GotVMail, that's a good thing, especially considering the company's rapid growth; it has increased its workforce by about 5% each month.

GotVMail has also been frequenting to get information on how to deploy software to its liking. The site has numerous forums and allows IT workers to search on the site for specific software deployments.

"To have a community where we can gather command lines about what's tested and what works saves us a lot of time," Hauser said. He is excited about the joining of Kace and

"I've actually seen some demos where literally you're in the application and there's an expand box," he said. "It goes to the AppDeploy knowledge base for that application title. The title is right there, so you're not jumping back and forth and making errors."

Rob Meinhardt, CEO of Kace, compared the merger to TiVo. Ten years ago, he said, people would look at TV Guide and set up a recording using the VCR. Now there are technologies like TiVo that marry the scheduling with the recording.

"We think it's giving us an opportunity to offer TiVo-like simplicity for a systems administrator," he said.

Meinhardt said that there are several hundred companies using Kboxes today, although he wouldn't be more specific. Kace typically competes with products like Altiris, LanDesk Software and Microsoft Systems Management Server.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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