Software Expertise in a Box
High-tech companies have bundled lots of things into their products, such as software packages and browsers on PCs, and security features built into software programs. But an entire online software management community?
That's right. The world of technology bundling got a new wrinkle on June 25 when systems management appliance vendor KACE began offering AppDeploy Live, effectively packaging the software installation know-how of thousands of systems administrators into its systems management appliances. A new feature of KACE's KBOX family of systems management hardware, AppDeploy Live enables seamless access to AppDeploy.com, one of the most popular sites for systems administrators who are searching for answers to problems they've run up against while installing or upgrading applications.
When KBOX users begin to perform an application deployment task for, say, Adobe Acrobat, they will automatically see tips, tricks and best practices from AppDeploy.com right in the KBOX interface.
By acquiring AppDeploy.com on June 25, KACE, a computer server vendor in Mountain View, Calif., began providing the several hundred customers of its KBOX systems with a knowledge base of install tips and guidance for 60,000 applications. More than 16,000 systems professionals have shared applications know-how with AppDeploy.com, contributing via message boards, reviews and articles, as well as to sections on the site for tips and tricks, frequently asked questions, and errors.
The KBOX appliances automatically connect with AppDeploy.com and stream all the information that other systems administrators have shared. "We use AppDeploy.com as a free resource for information on deployment of applications," says David Hauser, CTO at GotVMail, a Weston, Mass.-based provider of virtual telecommunications systems for small businesses and entrepreneurs. GotVMail, with about 40,000 customers, has been using two KBOX models, the 1100 and 2100, for a year and a half for both applications management and workstation provisioning. KBOX units already in use have a call-home capability that enables them to receive the AppDeploy.com updates as they become available.
"We need to know the deployment commands that other users have contributed, and having this automatically available in the hardware will speed our process of getting new applications deployed, because now we no longer will have to go away to the AppDeploy Web site to get the information," Hauser says. That can be a big time-saver, eliminating the need for systems staff to seek answers from Google searches, vendor sites and discussion boards.
An example of the type of information Hauser finds useful on AppDeploy.com is what other systems administrators have learned about deployment specifics for software titles such as Firefox or Microsoft Office. "We use it to find the deployment mechanics and the command lines you need to install and upgrade software packages," he says. "It's very helpful to be able to see that information and know that someone else has tested it."
The KBOX already has a Web-based console, so the contextual information on application deployment is streamed directly from AppDeploy.com as a proprietary Web service, according to KACE CEO Rob Meinhardt. "Because the information is streamed directly from the AppDeploy Web site, it's available to KBOX users in real time," he says.
Almost real time, that is. Users of the KACE systems management appliances, which cost from $10,000 for a 100-user network to $50,000 for a machine serving 1,000 users, will incur the same delay of a few hours—due to the content approval process—that other non-KACE customers using AppDeploy.com experience. That's because most content in the form of tips, install guidance and other ideas submitted by systems administrators using the site must first be edited and approved by site editor Bob Kelly, founder of AppDeploy.com and now senior product manager at KACE.
A systems maintenance appliance, the KBOX is a server designed for medium-size companies with anywhere from 100 to 10,000 employees that may not have a large I.T. staff. When plugged into the company network, the KBOX configures itself and is used to perform various systems management chores, including automating software upgrades for hundreds of PCs.
No doubt the biggest benefactors of the acquisition of AppDeploy.com by KACE will be the KBOX user community, says Andi Mann, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, a research and analysis firm in Boulder, Colo. But its importance could be far broader as a harbinger of future linkages within the systems management community. "I'm hopeful that this change will spur more community development for systems management professionals," Mann says. "Hopefully, what KACE is doing with AppDeploy.com will serve to get this community management aspect to systems management rolling."
Appdeploy.com will continue as an independent Web site for the more than 100,000 users of the site per month, Meinhardt says. And Kelly assures systems administrators that the site will remain objective, even though AppDeploy.com is now owned by KACE, a computer hardware vendor: "AppDeploy will continue on as an independent site."