Shoppers Drug Mart prescribes patch management overhaul

TORONTO — Canada’s largest drug store chain recently implemented systems management software that has reduced the average time it takes to push out a software patch from 11 or 12 days down to two to three.

Shoppers Drug Mart

has spent the last six months working with Dell Canada Inc., Microsoft Canada Co. and Microsoft gold certified partner LegendCorp to develop a solution to help it better manage nearly 2,000 desktops and servers across the enterprise. To date, Shoppers has deployed Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 and is currently migrating its servers from Microsoft Exchange 2000 to the 2003 version.

The project follows an agreement reached by Dell and Microsoft last November to integrate Dell OpenManage 4 systems management software with Microsoft SMS 2003 to unify disparate system software, operating systems and applications tools to a standard interface that users can manage from a single console. Dell last month announced a similar agreement with Altiris that allows users to use the single patch tool for automated delivery of BIOS, ROM and firmware updates. Dell’s OpenManage software is also integrated with other vendors’ applications including Computer Associates International Inc., BMC Software, IBM Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard OpenView.

David MacMillan, manager of office network services at Shoppers said one of the key reasons for rolling out SMS was to improve patch management and software distribution across its 1,400 desktops, 350 laptops and 65 Windows servers. Prior to SMS, MacMillan, who spoke at a roundtable hosted by Dell on Tuesday, said it was difficult to update these machines.

“Our main goal was patch management but the extra bonus was software asset control and software distribution,” said MacMillan, adding mobile workers had to come into the office twice a year for installation of software patches.

Automating updates to PCs were also made difficult by the fact Shoppers uses group policies within Microsoft Active Directory to lock down and control user machines. With SMS, Shoppers is now able to use the application to push out pieces of the patches at a time when users are connected to the network.

“(SMS) makes it a lot easier for us to manage the process from the standpoint of having more visibility into the success or failure of the patch process that we didn’t have a lot of visibility to before,” said MacMillan. “We’d push it out in the past and not really have a good idea of what the success rate was. It gives me a lot better reporting capability to see where I stand.”

Shoppers tested each application at its onsite lab with the help of LegendCorp.

“You can’t manage what you don’t know,” said LegendCorp president Andy Papadopoulos. “I can count the number of times Shoppers has called for support help on one hand.”

Papadopoulos added Shoppers is now able to do any additional tests for software updates in the lab before rolling them into production.

On server side, Shoppers deployed MOM to better manage proprietary and internal tools used for managing pieces of the infrastructure like performance monitoring from one console, said MacMillan. Shoppers used basic performance management from Microsoft as well as individual hardware products from Dell and HP to manage its server infrastructure. Shoppers is not alone — according to a recent IDC study, 77 per cent of the market uses five different toolsets to what MacMillan described.

“MOM allows us to bring wizards from Dell’s separate management products that we’ve used in the past,” said MacMillan. “We get the trend analysis that we didn’t have previously, allowing much better visibility into what’s going on in the server environments.”

Debora Jensen, vice-president of the advanced systems group at Dell Canada, said Dell is trying to avoid proprietary type of environments that lock clients in.

“As the world becomes very complex, we’re trying to drive standards into the data centre that make things very simple,” said Jensen. “The simpler things are, the easier they are to manage, the more cost effective they are and at the end of the day they do drive increasing value.”

By enabling users to cut down the time it takes to update software and hardware, Dell and Microsoft hope to reduce the percentage of IT budgets devoted to sustaining and maintaining current networks. According to a recent Accenture study, approximately 70 per cent of an organization’s IT budget is used to do just that or as Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager for security and management Derick Wong said, “keeping the lights on.” That leaves only 30 per cent of the budget for new IT projects, Wong added.

“At Microsoft we’re trying to reduce that 70 per cent down to 50 per cent for our customers,” said Wong. “A lot of that 70 per cent is because there are so many different tools that are used for network management such as patch management and update management”

Aside from central console administration, MOM also enables Shoppers to create a knowledge base about previous problems and how they were fixed so if the problem happens again, the analyst can identify the problem and apply the appropriate remedy. MacMillan added this feature is especially important given companies’ ability to hire and retain knowledgeable workers.

“It gives you the hardware view to say, ‘I have a problem with this hard drive or the memory,’” said MacMillan. “Now we’re able to bring that directly into MOM.”

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