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IT administrators used to have separate tools to manage PCs and mobile devices. Today, there are tools that handle nearly all types of clients, although some do it better than others.
Client management tools combine operating system and application deployment, compliance, asset discovery and inventory, and patch, security and policy-based configuration management for computers and mobile devices.
Most products are delivered via appliances or as software as a service (SaaS). Some are a hybrid of the two; they are software-based and run from a central server with agents on each client. As organizations increasingly bet on the security of the cloud and seek to benefit from the flexibility and scalability of SaaS, the future of client management is trending toward SaaS-based tools.
Microsoft Windows operating system still dominates corporate desktops, so most management products support Windows devices. Some tools also support Apple's Mac OS X. On the mobile device management (MDM) front, several products let admins identify and manage Google Android, Windows tablets and smartphones and Apple iOS devices. It's more difficult to find comprehensive client management tools that support less popular mobile operating systems, such as BlackBerry and Symbian.
Key client management features
One common thread among client management tools is a unified console that admins can use to manage PCs and mobile devices. Such a console typically has a customizable dashboard with lots of system status summaries, charts and graphs, as well as easy access to management actions. From the console, an administrator can manage these core features:
Operating system and application deployment simplifies delivering operating systems to multiple clients by letting administrators push preconfigured OSes to PCs over the network. They can also easily deploy applications this way. PC and mobile management tools can deploy apps to mobile devices by linking to app stores such as Google Play and Apple's App Store, and they can deliver in-house apps, too. Application policies give admins even more control over deployed software; the policies can prevent end users from uninstalling or backing up applications.
Asset management detects and identifies clients that are connected to the network, and inventories details such as hardware type, operating system, available memory, installed applications, security state and so on.
Patch management keeps OSes and applications up to date, which is vital to any organization's overall security plan. Client management lets administrators automate the application of patches and security updates to clients, and it logs these updates in a database.
Security management is one of the biggest concerns for client support professionals. Client management uses policy-based security, which restricts user actions regarding copying, transferring, save locations, PIN use on mobile devices and a plethora of other settings. Security management may also include antimalware protection, antiphishing and content filtering via URL screening or blocking, as well as the ability to establish security baselines, which admins can compare to the security state of clients over time. Another feature of some client management tools is advanced system rollback, which replaces damaged or infected files with clean versions from a secure file repository.
Policy-based management and compliance lets administrators follow best practices to maintain client configurations centrally by handling account policies, role- or device-based policies, application controls and more. Policy-based management simplifies the auditing process associated with compliance by providing a track record of measures taken.
Another important feature that isn't always part of the core client management feature set is virtualization, or integration with virtualization software. Many midsize to enterprise IT shops use virtual desktop infrastructure, so some client management tools add support for virtual desktop deployment and management.
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