ManageFusion is an Altiris user conference held last week in Orlando, Florida (October 3-6). Last year saw about 350 attendees, this year attendance was up to approximately 500. Topics covered naturally revolve largely around products provided by Altiris and its partners, but most all of the sessions focus more on the solutions they address, which generally made for much better presentations.

I attended the Computing Edge SMS User’s conference a few years back (SMS User Conference 2000), and it had quite a nice turn out. Later, Altiris acquired Computing Edge and continued the conference (SMS/Win2k User Conference 2001). Now the Microsoft Management summit, attendees number in the thousands (Notes From the Microsoft Management Summit 2003). Altiris still takes part, but the conference has been taken over by Microsoft. ManageFusion is a conference that aims to provide its customers product information and best practices more akin to the early days of the Computing Edge conference.

Last year I took part in a panel discussion session at ManageFusion, and this year I was pleased to accept an invitation to attend simply to meet with some key people and get a better understanding of what Altiris (and Wise) have available today- and more interestingly, what they have planned for the near-future. I attended several sessions and had a chance to sit down and discuss some of the new technologies and product directions with product managers.

The Keynote address started with a long list of advancements Altiris had made since last year's ManageFusion event, Dwain Kinghorn (Altiris CTO) discussed their list of upcoming releases:

  • Handheld Management Suite
  • Macintosh SW Delivery
  • Patch for Windows 6.1
  • Multicasting for SW Delivery
  • SW Delivery Sequencing
  • Wise Package Studio
  • Application Management
  • Carbon Copy
  • Recovery Solution – Load balancer
  • Network device provisioning
  • Network device connectivity
  • Unix and Linux Monitor
  • Monitor for Altiris Servers
  • Monitor for SQL Server
  • Application Virtualization
  • SMS Connector
  • Asset Control and Contract

The Altiris Keynote was filled with humorous videos that made the presentation very entertaining. The delivery was a funny video making light of a scenario the audience could identify with (software compliance, migration, software delivery) and then illustrating how Altiris provides solutions to tackle the problem.

It was announced that a major goal of Altiris for 2005 is to provide workflow and service request to tie actions performed by their many tools. While Altiris has many solutions and integration is improving, there is still some disconnect between them. Addressing this, it the workflow interface will perform a logical hand-off between the different solutions as appropriate based upon the task at hand.

Even if you have not been paying attention, it is hard not to take some notice of the many acquisitions that Altiris has been engaged in over the last few years. One of the interesting new technologies discussed at ManageFusion involves a technology that came from an unpublicized acquisition- a company named FS Logic. The tool is "Altiris Protect". It is used to configure use of an entire system on a per user basis. It can configure if any changes are kept or not, so that anything the user does during a session may be easily discarded. Such information may also be archived (this allows you to save your changes/data to a designated area). Finally, you can also choose to have session information persist and not be removed at all.

Right now Protect is locally installed and managed, and does not integrate into other Altiris solutions. However, according to James Strayer (Altiris Product Management) version 2.0 will provide centralized support at the server.

Expanding upon the Altiris Protect model, a similar (and rather exciting) new technology was introduced in a session protected by a NDA. It is a new technology provides a virtualization of applications named Fortress. An early adopter program (pre-beta) is to start in January with a target release date of April (which will naturally depend upon the feedback from the EAP). This very cool new way of doing business could very well replace the repackaging process for some organizations. Those present at the session constantly asked questions which hindered the presentation, but showed the concern/interest in this new technology. I was asked not to discuss the specifics of Fortress, but will meet with Altiris again when it is ready for general availability.

Version 5.5 of Package Studio is due out around the November timeframe. Most of the changes introduced will be based on support for handling patches. Patch testing and patch assessment will be addressed by offering the ability to natively import patches (snapshots will not be necessary) into the Package Studio application database for conflict analysis. Other integration areas will include the ability to perform preflight deployment testing of patches and to test patches using its Test Expert tool.

I had a chance to sit down with Rich Bentley (Segment Manager - Packaging) to discuss this upcoming release and I also wanted to be sure to ask his opinion how things were going since the acquisition of Wise by Altiris. He said he felt it was going very well and that, if Wise were to be acquired, he could not think of a better company to have done so.

One concern I (and many other users I have spoken with) had was what might become of Wise Support. Wise support had always been excellent with very knowledgeable and helpful people available with quick answers to hard questions. Alternatively, for Altiris this was easily one of the company’s weakest areas. It was bad enough that Altiris admitted to the problem and attacked the it more than once, promising improvement each time. It’s been a difficult road, but it sounds like the problem has finally been sufficiently addressed.

Formerly responsible for the outstanding support at Wise, Mike Smed was handed the role of attacking “the support issue” for Altiris. Customer feedback ratings were at a low, at a one out of four average feedback rating. The problem was addressed by sifting through thousands of resumes to build a support team. This was narrowed down to 150 potential candidates and finally, 50 of the best were hired to make up a bulk of the new support team. Today Altiris enjoys excellent survey feedback results. And while the Wise team is still fully intact with its own support staff, its processes have been updated to fit into the overall Altiris support processes.

Altiris has had its own repackaging technology for some time now known as RapidInstall. While even before the acquisition by Altiris, Package Studio was pushed as the solution through a close partnership with Wise, RapidInstall still remains part of the Altiris offerings today. This will eventually be replaced by Wise Package Studio technology. Right now Client Management Suite (CMS) level 2 contains Package Studio Professional, and it is planned that around November 2004 CMS level 1 will include InstallTailor (now available free) and the WScript Editor (not as a repackaging tool, but as one for creating administrative scripts) in the near future.

I was told that we can expect Package Studio to incorporate its database information with those customers that run CMS to avoid a duplication of application information and databases. And (of benefit to all) Package Studio will migrate to a web-based interface, which is a feature Wise had long planned to implement.

ManageFusion was a very good time, with lots of interesting sessions on best practices, use of the Altiris products and success stories by customers who stood up to share how they addressed their problems with these tools. If you are an Altiris customer, I'd highly recommend attending this event. I was even told that ManageFusion may evolve into more than a user conference with more generalized discussions on desktop and server management.

- Bob Kelly 10.12.04