Remote control can be a valuable tool in any enterprise network. Controlling end-user systems as well as network servers remotely can lead to better service for end users and more efficient use of support resources. But if it's poorly administered, remote control can be a huge threat to an enterprise network: often, the easiest way to break in to a large network is to scan phone systems or networks for PCs running remote-control software with little or no protection.
Proper administration of remote control is critical if it is to be a valuable enterprise tool. Computer Associates' (CA) ControlIT 5.0 is an attempt to provide enterprises with remote-control capabilities that are managed centrally for better security and configuration management.
Potential users of ControlIT include IT support staff, who can access client Windows machines from the help desk to quickly solve problems; system administrators, who can use the product to administer servers remotely; and end users, who can use it for remote access to desktop machines.
ControlIT's most prominent competitor is Symantec's pcAnywhere, which has more features for telecommuters.
ControlIT can improve the effectiveness of support and administration resources and empower telecommuting users by giving them access to their desktop machines. It does all of this within a framework of centralised administration that should hold appeal for enterprise customers concerned about security. Unfortunately, the product appears to be a bit immature and might be a hard sell outside of those shops that already use CA products.
I tested ControlIT on a relatively simple network consisting of a Windows NT server and several clients. For its security model, ControlIT requires a Windows NT domain to use its centrally administered features. This isn't a big deal for the typical large organisation, but it might prevent smaller companies from considering ControlIT, which is unfortunate given its competitive pricing.
To keep things simple, I also installed the included Microsoft JET database instead of SQL Server, which ControlIT also supports. The database flexibility is a beneficial feature because larger organisations with many users and hosts would want the scalability and architectural flexibility of SQL Server, while smaller organisations will be fine with JET. ControlIT uses the database for storing user, host, and configuration information.
The management console for ControlIT is pleasant to work with. It includes an intuitive, Windows Explorer-like interface for configuring users, privileges, and hosts. I was able to quickly configure users and customise the settings for the hosts on my network.
When I fired up the browser-based viewer, which is used to control the target machine, the problems began. The first time I started the viewer in my Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 browser, it crashed the browser with no explanation.
Later, I was able to connect to the target machine, although the viewer contains little in the way of customisation or help - the 'Settings' button was greyed out throughout my session. I was able to perform simple tasks in the viewer, such as checking and changing the network configuration on the machine and launching applications out of the Start menu.
But when I launched IE on the target machine, the viewer was unable to keep up, and it turned the Web page I accessed into gibberish.
Next, I attempted to turn on encryption to make my connection more secure. Although I changed and verified the settings, the viewer failed to create an encrypted connection, which is crucial to enterprise security.
Typically, what differentiates an enterprise product from a consumer-oriented product is its flexibility, scalability and management capabilities. Too often, vendors use the 'enterprise' word to justify kludgy configuration, a lack of user friendliness, and bugs that would not be tolerated by non-corporate users. This appears to be the case with ControlIT.
Although the product offers promise as an enterprise remote-control product, especially in an environment integrated with CA-Unicenter, it needs some more work before it will be a winner for enterprise users.
ControlIT 5.0 also contains some enterprise-friendly features that are not as robust as those in pcAnywhere. However, I believe that the problems I encountered with ControlIT limit its appeal outside of CA shops.the bottom lineControlIT 5.0Summary: ControlIT remotely controls Windows PCs on an enterprise network. It helps support staff fix problems and configure systems. It has some appealing features but lacks polish and seems to suffer from bugs.
Business Case: With a remote-control tool, enterprises can improve service levels and use support resources more efficiently. ControlIT can facilitate the trend toward telecommuting. On the flip side, one of the easiest ways to break in to a network is through poorly administered remote-control products.
Pros: ¥ Centralised management of user-access and application settingsCons: ¥ Immature browser-based viewer crashes browsers ¥ Encryption failedPlatforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NTPrice: 30-day free evaluation copy available at http://www.cai.com/products/controlit.htm Australian pricing is not yet available.
Computer Associates 1800 224 636