Saving time, money and staff investment with centralized control for packaging and deploying applications across diverse locations: an AdminStudio and Workflow Manager case study
“The applications packaged by AdminStudio result in the smoothest rollouts I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely saved us money.”
Matthew Silverman, Senior Manager, Electronic Classroom, Support Division of Instructional Technology, George Mason University
George Mason University is a large and growing university with an enrollment of nearly 30,000 students spread over four campuses. Based on the university’s main campus in Fairfax, Virginia, the Division of Instructional Technology (DoIT) oversees a network of 1,500 nodes, with technical staff distributed over all four campuses. DoIT is responsible for applications used in the classrooms and student computer labs.
Mason found itself in the middle of a major LAN architecture migration, from Novell 4 to a hybrid system combining Microsoft and open-source components. As part of that process, the staff resolved to tackle problems that were plaguing its installation and management of software applications:
- Overreliance on manual installations: Campus-level IT staff rarely did actual application packaging, relying instead on “sneakernet” installations, which meant actually running down to classrooms to manually install applications on-site. The result was an enormous drain on staff time.
- Inconsistent installations: This reliance on manual installations contributed to chaos, downtime and cost. “Just with the Microsoft Office applications, there are hundreds of features that can be turned on and off,” said Wayne Kirschner, Mason’s manager of classroom computing. “Every campus IT department would install them differently. We needed to figure out a way to get applications installed in a more consistent manner.”
- Faculty complaints about slow deployments: Deployment turnaround times across the four campuses often took a week or more, which was too slow. In the classroom, both instructional and productivity applications are mission-critical. “When applications don’t get installed, instructors can’t teach,” said Electronic Classroom Support Senior Manager Matthew Silverman. Installation delays were producing too many panicked complaints from Mason faculty.
The Mason IT staff decided it was time to find a way to centrally package and manage the deployment of its key classroom applications.
The Flexera Software Solution
After reviewing several potential solutions, the Mason DoIT team chose Flexera Software’s AdminStudio, coupled with AdminStudio Workflow Manager. The team at Mason found AdminStudio’s array of packaging and “pre-deployment tools particularly attractive.
- Reliable, consistent software packaging: AdminStudio looks inside InstallShield setups, automatically captures their information, and accurately converts them into Windows Installer packages. No matter if the original installation is 100% InstallScript™ or an InstallScript MSI mix, AdminStudio can repackage it into a pure, accurate MSI.
- Enterprise-wide management tools: AdminStudio gave the Mason team the enterprise-wide functionality that allowed them to centralize and control the packaging and distribution process across all four campuses. It includes an Application Catalog that holds the binary files and metadata for the university’s software. It also features a Report Center and Application Manager for accessing and sharing application data, and a Job Manager for scheduling tasks to run without human intervention. All of these features added automation and speed to the process.
- Tools to reduce time and error in patch deployment: AdminStudio speeds up patch testing by identifying the applications in the Mason environment that will be impacted by a patch’s deployment, so the tech team can focus testing solely on those impacted programs. This allows patches to be installed quickly, without breaking existing applications.
In addition to the fact that AdminStudio is the most widely used packaging and deployment solution, the Mason tech team also liked the close integration with Workflow Manager which greatly streamlined the entire process from start to finish:
- Centrally managed application requests and IT resources: Workflow Manager provided the Mason team with tools to efficiently monitor the entire software packaging process. It provides a global picture of the process, including any issues that arise, making it easy for the packaging team on the Fairfax Campus to see the real-time status of every application request. Workflow Manager also timestamps every step, building an audit trail that ensures IT accountability.
- Real-time management: Workflow Manager collects information on applications in real time, as the Mason team works on them, and automatically routes the applications to the correct step in the workflow process based on that data. “This cuts the time it takes to prepare an application and ultimately deploy it.
- Fully integrated with AdminStudio: When packagers are assigned tasks via Workflow Manager, they can use AdminStudio’s packaging tools to complete them quickly and correctly. Managers can see their progress in the intuitive interface.
Mason opted to work with an Flexera Software site consultant to get running right away. “Having the Flexera Software consultant on board allowed us to be productive almost immediately,” Silverman said.
Mason began its procurement process in April 2005, and by Fall of that year it had fully implemented AdminStudio. The team had identified 50 specific classroom applications that faculty relied on most, and added these to the library managed by AdminStudio.
Over the first year of use the Mason tech staff noted some remarkable benefits from the use of centralized application management:
- 50% reduction in turnaround time: Use of AdminStudio to package applications as part of an overall process improvement effort cut the time of the process in half, from seven days to three. “We’re also a lot more confident in the quality of the packages we distribute,” Silverman said. “And the product really works. The applications packaged by AdminStudio result in the smoothest rollouts I’ve ever seen.”
- Significant recovery of technician staff hours: Replacing the “sneakernet” with reliable, centralized packaging and distribution has freed up a significant amount of staff time. “We have about 120 hours a week of technician time under our management, and we’ve easily gotten back 10 of them,” Silverman said.
- Cost savings: Faster, more reliable distribution and reduced staff time have all contributed to a reduction in overall management costs. “It’s absolutely saved us money,” Silverman said.
- More consistent end-user experience: Because application configurations are the same from computer to computer and from campus to campus, training and support has been reduced and user convenience maximized.
- Reduced negative feedback from faculty: Faster, smoother, more consistent installations certainly improved the experience of the departments’ end users. “We’ve definitely noticed a reduction in the number of complaints we’ve gotten from instructors,” said Silverman.
You can download a no-cost evaluation of AdminStudio at www.flexerasoftware.com/adminstudio/eval