Tech Support Staff Able To Cut Frequent Branch Visits

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Support techs at USA Federal Credit Union are cutting their house calls on problems at remote branches by up to 80%, according to Jim Swecker, system administrator at the $622-million CU.

"We can now take control of any one of our 350 computers remotely instead of actually visiting stateside branches or troubleshooting over the phone with overseas branches," Swecker said.

Half of the CU's 24 branches are outside the country. USA Federal has been using Salt Lake City-based LANDesk Software's Management Suite 8 for one year to remotely control computers on the network from a single console. Capabilities include asset management, software distribution, hardware discovery, and patch management.

"The stress level has come down a little bit," Swecker added.

Much of the stress at the 24-hour IT shop was triggered when the three support techs traveled to remote branches to handle upgrades and failures, as well as user errors, Swecker said.

"First, there was the cost of driving to all the branches," Swecker explained. "And I would lose a person for a whole day anywhere from two to five times a week."

And handling problems at overseas branches was tricky, said Swecker. "Troubleshooting with a teller or someone non-technical over the phone -that's more difficult than anything," he said.

LANDesk even made it possible for the 57,000-member CU to cross out the budget for an extra tech in 2003.

But the "biggest smile on my face," Swecker continued, is deploying core system updates from one machine at CU headquarters.

"Updates are our biggest pet peeve," he explained. "We used to have to buy tons of CDs and download the latest updates." USA Federal sent the update installation CDs to remote branches and hoped for the best.

LANDesk's remote distribution capabilities also came in handy when the Microsoft Blaster worm hit in August. "LANDesk pushed out the latest fix, and all our branches were only down for about one day," Swecker explained. "Without LANDesk, we would have been down for close to five days."

Ongoing patches are one type of update that USA Federal still manages manually. However, this month, USA FCU looks forward to exploiting LANDesk's Patch Manager 8 module across its multi-operating system Novell and Windows NT/2000 environments, said Swecker.

"Patch management will download the latest patches on all our PCs without human intervention," he added.

Of course, remote updates don't necessarily translate to instant updates. "Right now, our biggest battle is the bandwidth of our WAN, which we use to deploy LANDesk updates," said Swecker.

Fortunately, LANDesk eases the predicament by providing a bandwidth detection feature, which allows Swecker to specify maximum bandwidths for downloads. "We can trickle the files onto slower computers," he said.

Swecker said his favorite LANDesk feature is asset management. For example, "I can inventory how many servers I have, or how many of a certain Operating System I have. The reports can break it all down by CPU or even by the serial number of each machine."

The automated inventory helps Swecker take stock at budget time, and the CU can determine how many machines will be affected during a migration to Microsoft XP, for instance.

LANDesk, based in Salt Lake City, provides network management solutions to more than 50 credit unions in North America.

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