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Healing System frees help desk

Healing System frees help desk

Computers that work one day and fail the next consume a good deal of a computer support team's time every day. When PCs go down, users cannot do their jobs, the help desk staff becomes tied up and upper management demands better IT support. Tioga Systems' solution is to give end users the tools they need to revive their desktop machines.

Healing System 2.0 lets users diagnose and fix common Windows problems, often without help-desk assistance. Using information that Healing System gathered while a PC was working, this help desk tool can undo problematic changes to the Windows registry and even repair or replace files on the fly.

Tioga's studies suggest that Healing System can cut the total cost of PC ownership by 45 to 65 per cent by reducing downtime and the delays involved in getting systems back up. This overly aggressive estimate may be reasonable for unmanaged PCs, but you can obtain similar savings with other tools, including Microsoft System Management Server, Novell ManageWise, and Seagate ManageExec.

Simpler policies and tools, such as disk-imaging and software-distribution tools, have an impact similar to that of Healing System. These tools will still be needed as fallbacks in instances when Healing System does not work. The advantage that Healing System offers lies in having to use the more drastic tools less often.

Still, the savings in a well-managed environment will be lower than Tioga suggests.

Healing System is a new kind of product and has few competitors, Motive Communications' Motive Duet among them. Novell's ZENworks package offers similar functionality, but Healing System can automatically repair software outside the confines of a menuing system and operates on non-NetWare platforms as well.

New to Healing System 2.0 is protection of Windows 32-based OS components. Also added are remote healing, which lets a help desk assist users remotely, and mass diagnostics and repair functions, which let the support staff target several PCs on a network. And it now has integration for user-generated how-to questions and "top 10 problem" resolution processes.

I installed the Administration and Healing Consoles on my Windows NT 4.0 server and the client software on the target machines. The client software can be installed in "silent" mode, so that users never notice new software being added to their PCs.

I then used the Administration Console to trigger an installed-software audit. The client software runs with minimum intrusion on the client. Audit and repair tasks are stored in the system log, allowing you to find out what tasks have already been done. After only a few minutes, Healing System had gathered information about the configurations of both the hardware and the software installed on my PC.

Once the audit returned a list of installed applications, I had to create and schedule a protection scheme and a DNA probe for them. Setting up the protection schemes was tedious, so many shops probably will probe only the key applications they are running.

The application DNA probes, which are the heart of Healing System, examine a PC's selected software. A DNA probe looks at the software's dependencies, including setup and configuration files, used .dll files, related registry entries and databases. The probe unravels these dependencies and records the data, which is used as a reference point in the event that something goes wrong later.

Once Healing System builds its database from the DNA probe information, the magic begins. When setting up the protection scheme, I could choose between three levels of healing: heal at launch activates when a program fails to load properly; healing by the user works if the heal at launch option was not enabled or did not catch a problem; and remote healing lets the help desk take steps to resolve the problem.

To test the self-healing capabilities, I corrupted the main program of my Opera Web browser and then ran the Healing System client against the browser. It recognised that the opera.exe program had been changed, and it copied the correct file. Next, I deleted several .dll and .ini files and Opera's address book. Healing System resolved all of the problems, except for the missing address book.

I was amazed by the range of information tracked by Healing System. For instance, it noted data applications on a NetWare server that couldn't be seen by the server running the Healing System Console.

Healing System's Remote Healing Console allowed me to see what had changed on the PC and to decide what to update. It was thorough enough to find all of the cached files the browser had used and deleted and was ready to replace them.

I have one major complaint about Healing System: before it can be deployed, the PCs need to work correctly. It cannot be installed on a limping PC to resurrect it. This may be an issue for some shops that desperately want the help the Healing System can provide. Still, computer failures will continue to happen, and the product will be useful even after the PCs are repaired.

While I used Healing System, the number of odd problems on my PC seemed to increase. Microsoft Office locked up twice, and after a reboot, I found three Healing System tasks running, even though I hadn't scheduled any. And none of them showed up in the job log.

I was impressed by what Tioga is trying to do, but I am uncomfortable with the problems I encountered while the Healing System agent was running on my Windows 95 PCs. I would first implement Healing Systems with a limited rollout to see how common any problems are.

The bottom line ***

Tioga Healing System 2.0

Summary: With the in-depth knowledge that Healing System gathers about PCs, this help desk tool can make repairs on Windows desktops with little user intervention.

Business Case: By giving users the power to repair malfunctioning software easily, your total support costs can be reduced greatly. Healing System's remote healing option allows your support staff to assist users from the help desk, which saves money by keeping the IS department at their desks, not on the road.

Pros:

Allows end users to repair their computersSupport staff can aid users via the network when necessaryQuick and easy to useGood technical supportCons:

Profiles only properly running PCs and repairs only profiled computersSome functions, such as DNA comparisons, need improvementStability concerns with the resident agent on Windows 95/98 platformsPlatforms: Client: Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000. Server: any network server that can be seen by the clients and supports long file names, including Windows 95/98, Windows NT, NetWare, Vines, and Linux. Console: Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Windows 2000.

Cost: Available on application from the Web site.

Tioga Systems

http://www.tioga.com


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