Dell's Kace unit targets SMBs with new appliance

The Kace M300 appliance manages assets on up to 200 Windows PCs in an IT environment

Dell on Thursday shipped a new asset management appliance for small and medium-size business customers aimed at cutting costs of managing hardware and software.

The Kace M300 is the first appliance in a new line of M-series devices for 200 seats that track hardware configurations and changes and software compliance. The appliance will let companies reduce the number of IT people required to handle such tasks, said Marty Kacin, chief technology officer at the Kace unit.

The appliance can be deployed in just a few minutes and the Web interface makes PCs easy to manage, Kacin said. In a demonstration, Dell showed the appliance's ability to track hardware changes such as the addition of RAM or to see if a Windows license is out of date.

SMBs with small IT departments need simplified ways to track hardware, but techniques such as using a spreadsheet to list chances can be time-consuming, Kacin said.The M300 automates that asset management, with agents deployed on PCs over the Internet communicating configurations and changes to the appliance.

If some peripheral goes missing from a PC, the appliance will help notify already-overworked system administrators of the hardware change, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"Keeping track of user access and credentials can be an onerous and complicated task," King said.

While it keeps track of patches and warranties, the M300 does not patch software, King said. But automatic patching is often included as part of the OS service package for PCs provided by Microsoft.

"If a small company has a lot of software patching that is manually distributed, this [device] ... may have less value," King said.

But starting at US$2,498, the M300 is priced appropriately for SMBs, King said.

Considering the SMB market, the scope of the M300 is limited, but more capabilities could be added in the future depending on customer needs, Kacin said. Some of Kace's advanced appliances such as the K1000 and K2000 include features such as patching, remote OS installation and endpoint security. Software stacks would need to be added to the appliance for new features, and the company is stepping up internal development efforts that could lead to the "augmentation" of Dell as a software company, Kacin said.

The box will track assets across up to 200 Windows PCs in an infrastructure, Kacin said. However, support for other OSes may be added in the future.

Dell acquired Kace 18 months ago, and since then the unit has expanded its installed base. Before the acquisition, Kace had fewer than 1,000 clients, but now it has more than 3,500, with some big organizations such as NASA using Kace appliances.

Dell has also taken additional steps to improve support and services for SMBs. In 2008 the company dumped its older predefined support and implemented a customizable support model in which support and consulting services were provided on a pay-as-you-go basis. The company also acquired companies such as Everdream and SilverBack to beef up its remote management capabilities.

The appliance is available on Dell's website. The appliance has 16GB of solid-state drive storage, a gigabit Ethernet port, two USB ports and an ARM processor. The M300 will be available only in the U.S. for now, and no decisions have been made about selling the product in other regions.

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