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A Guide to Endpoint Management Features and Functions

A Guide to Endpoint Management Features and Functions
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Endpoint management solutions can track inventory, deploy new apps and patches, monitor and manage devices, and more. Here's what to look for in your next endpoint management solution and how the top five point management products compare.

When an organization grows, so does its asset footprint. The task of managing IT assets becomes much more challenging as business expands beyond a couple of servers, workstations, and network devices -- otherwise known as endpoints. What once only required simple IT management — putting PC names, printers, network subnets, antivirus definition dates, and installed applications into a few spreadsheets — soon becomes overwhelming. What the IT department needs is a solution that automatically tracks all of its endpoints, from procurement to retirement. Enter the suite of endpoint management products.

Whether you're choosing your first endpoint management solution or switching to a new product, it's vital to properly understand what these products can do for your organization. In this article we guide you through the maze of features and functions offered by endpoint management products, and discuss what they can do for your business. Finally, we help you decide whether an endpoint management solution is right for your business.

Endpoint Management Is an Umbrella Solution

Endpoint management solutions can include well over 10 distinct feature sets. Typical features include automatic software and hardware inventory tracking, patch management, mobile device management (MDM), complete operating system and software application deployments, antivirus client management, and even workstation and server console remote control options. With so many features covered under the endpoint management umbrella, it might be overwhelming to choose the right solution.

Let's break down the common components that you can expect from a good endpoint management solution.

  • Asset Management

Endpoint management solutions typically offer asset management functionality. Depending on the product, this is done a number of different ways, both with and without an agent installed on the endpoint. In any case, a good solution will gather up all the important details regarding the hardware, operating system, and applications running on a workstation. It then stores this information in a central database for easy reporting. Need to know how many PCs you have with less than 1GB of RAM? Or perhaps you want to know how many servers are running Windows Server 2008 and older? An endpoint management solution can help you with this and more.

  • Patch Management

Not only does an endpoint management solution enable you to see the type of devices that exist in your environment, but it also enables you to discover and apply patches to them. Utilizing an endpoint management solution to do this (rather than a dedicated, one-off product) allows you to integrate your asset inventory data with patch levels. Product consolidation is a big benefit of employing an endpoint management solution. Need to see how many of the patches on your servers need the latest Microsoft update? Do you need to get those patch updates applied at a specified time? With a good endpoint management solution, you're taken care of.

  • Operating System Deployment

Endpoint management solutions also give you an easy way to deliver operating systems to servers and PCs. Gone are the days of inserting a CD, manually partitioning the hard drive, and installing the operating system. With a good endpoint management solution, you can now deploy an operating system to a single device or a thousand devices all at once. Leveraging PXE boot technology, the operating system can be pushed to a device over the wire with little to no interaction with the end user.

  • Application Deployment

Once the operating system is installed, an endpoint management solution can also install any applications you may need on a single device, or thousands of devices, all at once. Do you have a certain set of applications that usually get applied per department? Using an endpoint management solution, you can now package up and deploy all that software in just a few minutes instead of sneaker-netting to each machine.

In addition, not only can you deploy software to your machines, but you can also ensure that software stays installed. Endpoint management solutions give you the control, so you can be certain the software you deploy to your organization's machines gets installed and stays there.

  • Compliance Evaluation and Remediation

Do you have a default workstation policy or default server policy that dictates the type of configuration each machine will have, by default? Perhaps you have a checklist of best practice security configurations you perform on your machines when they get rolled out or a standard set of software applications that should be installed and configured in a certain manner. 

Good endpoint management solutions allow you to define baselines for your business-specific requirements on your servers and workstations.  Once a baseline is set, you can report on and even remediate the settings back to the baseline. This is great for security compliance regulations such as HIPAA, HITECH, SOX, GLBA and so on. Just have the solution's auditor run a report on the state of every machine in your environment, and you're sure to get a big checkmark on your next audit.

  • Mobile Device Management

Everyone is going mobile these days and taking their devices with them. Whether it's a company-owned iPhone, iPad, Android, laptop, or even an employee's own personal equipment, a good endpoint management solution will help you manage these devices. It will track your equipment, manage the apps on your mobile devices, apply security policies, and more. Endpoint management is capable of extending your asset inventory reach beyond your network to include BYOD (bring your own device) and COPE (corporate-owned, personally enabled) devices.  

Although mobile device management (MDM) and the encompassing enterprise mobility management (EMM) markets are still mostly separate with dedicated solutions to meet organizations' mobile needs, there are a number of endpoint management vendors that have integrated these capabilities into their products. What's more, organizations are now opting for single management platforms capable of handling all endpoints.

See: Mobile Device Management: Vendors and Comparison Guide

These features represent only a subset of the benefits a good endpoint management solution can bring to your business. Each product is a little different, but you can expect the core services to be very similar to the features listed above.

Is an Endpoint Management Solution Right for Your Business?

Now that you have an understanding of what endpoint management is, you should determine whether this solution is right for your business. To help you decide, we've prepared three questions that will help you come to the right conclusion. 

  • Will your business need most or all of the features provided by the endpoint management solution?

You've seen some common features of endpoint management products; but, do you actually need all of them? It's critical to first consider whether you need all of the features offered, and what — if any — overlap might exist between the new solution and the other products you currently use in your business (for example, an existing asset management or MDM solution). Take an inventory of all your existing management products, and consider how they might conflict with the new solution. You may find that you already have products that do everything this new solution will do. 

What features of any existing products do you like? Perhaps you already have a software application deployment product with some must-have feature. Ensure the endpoint management solution you're evaluating has it as well. If not, perhaps it's better to stay with your existing product.

  • What would it take to move to an endpoint management solution? 

After performing an inventory of your company's needs, existing products and determining any overlap with the new solution, perhaps you found several of your products perform one or more of the same functions as the endpoint management solution you're considering. Will you replace these products? If so, what would it take to migrate functionality to your endpoint management solution? How well will the new solution integrate with your existing infrastructure.

  • Do you have the in-house expertise to deploy and manage the endpoint management solution?

Endpoint management products are inherently pretty big; they have dozens of useful features that you can utilize in your environment. However, your team may already be strapped for time and unable to properly implement the solution. Installing an endpoint management solution requires a significant time investment. If you plan to leverage all that a good solution can provide, be prepared to invest upwards of on to three months to properly plan and implement each feature.

A good endpoint management solution allows you to take back control of your network. You'll gain valuable insight about all your devices and ensure your network is exactly as you want it. 

On the next page, we take a look at the top five endpoint management vendors and how they compare, so that you can find the best provider for your organization's needs.