KACE – K1000 & K2000

I started a proof of concept for the Dell KACE K1000 and K2000 virtual appliances.  My first reaction is – vertical learning curve and not so good documentation.  This page will attempt to address that.

Background for the proof of concept

Currently we use Symantec Ghost to push a Windows 7 x64 Professional image to our machines.  We have a non-syspreped image that we bring down to a build machine where we shim in drivers and software then run sysprep using an unattend.xml file that we created using the Windows Automated Installation Kit.

Ghost allows us to use wake on lan to boot machines that are turned off.  It also has a client that talks to the Ghost server so logged in machines are able to fetch the a boot loader and restart the machine and receive the image.  We can also F12 and boot from lan using the PXE boot with WinPE.

The WinPE environment in Ghost is ok but it could be better.  We have to create a new boot environment every time we get new machines as they always seem to have either a NIC driver or Disk driver that the current boot environment is missing.

We use Novell Zenworks Configuration Management to do post image tasks like pushing a new application or registry hack.  ZCM also allows us to collect inventory and software usage. I build reports that tell us not what app is installed, but rather what app the users are using.  This helps us balance our software licenses based on what is actually used instead of guessing.

What I replace these two software products with needs to perform at the same level and hopefully give us a better solution.

Dell KACE K2000

The Dell KACE K2000 is the imaging appliance.  It replaces Symantec Ghost.  Going in to the evaluation I already know one weakness with KACE, it doesn’t have multicast capabilities.  It images PC one at a time.  I think it will do groups of machines but I don’t know how many yet.

If we can accomplish this set of tasks the K2000 proof of concept will be a success:

  • Use my existing Ghost Images.
  • Auto Name the PC with the Davis asset number and join the domain.  I would like to use the Dell Asset tag as the key to find the name.
  • Find and Install the proper nVidia driver.  Currently we install the nVidia driver by hand post image.
  • Install the Total Defense R14 client – also something we do by hand post image today.
  • Install our printers.

Ultimately I want to be able to image PC’s without having to walk around and babysit the process.  Our current setup now is way better than it used to be, but a hands free image process would rock!

I also have a big PC lease due this year and I don’t want to have to do much to the machines to get them ready to image.  The Asset tag is on the box and the paperwork.  I would like to not have to collect the MAC address from 150 machines just to enable the auto-name feature.

Dell KACE K1000

The Dell KACE K1000 is the replacement for Novell’s Zenworks Configuration Management.  It has Inventory, Asset Management, Software Distribution, a scripting engine, Security features (like patch management), A Service Desk, and a Reporting engine.  I don’t have high expectations for this part of the solution.  It must allow me to push an application and do my software usage by user report.  Since my evaluation is meant to test if I can replace ZCM with the K1000 I only have a few requirements to look at.

  • Can I push an application, registry change, driver update?
  • Can I uninstall an application that I pushed?
  • Can I report on software usage by user?
  • Can I generate a hardware and software inventory?
  • Can I update BIOS settings and perhaps even update the BIOS in my machines?
  • Does KACE report my Dell Pro Support expiration dates?
  • Does KACE track my Dell Support and RMA Tickets?

Where to Start the Proof of Concept

I started the proof of concept with the POC document from the KACE sales rep.  Download and install both virtual appliances and fetch a 10 machine trial license.  I spent an afternoon with the documentation and got the two machines up and running without trouble.  I then started with the K2000.

The set of tasks I outlined above as requirements for the K2000 were all accomplished using these steps:

With the K2000 I was able to take my existing Ghost Image and redeploy it using KACE tools.  It auto names the PC, Joins the domain, installs all my required applications, and no one has to go to the PC to do anything.  Success!

There is, in my opinion, room for improvement.  You cannot push an image to a machine without also having the K1000 unless you want your PC’s to always PXE Boot first.  Since there is no agent for the K2000 there is no way to kick users off or restart logged out but turned on PC’s without using a script from the K1000.  So you really have to buy both products to accomplish the Imaging tasks.

I was never able to test what happens when an image is pushed to 50 or 100 machines at once.  Since multi-casting isn’t available my rather large PC images will be sent to all of the machines at once.  KACE assures me that it will throttle the distribution so the network doesn’t choke, but I didn’t get to see that behavior.  At most I sent an image to 6 machines at once, hardly a real test.

Overall I would consider buying the K2000.

Continuing the Evaluation with the Dell KACE K1000

Once you have your computers rolled out with a nice new image from the K2000 you need to manage them.  that is where the K1000 comes in.  I figured the hardest thing to do was to push an application so that is where I started.

Distributing Applications with the K1000

I have some issues to work out but the answer is yes, the K1000 does push applications, registry changes, or just about anything else that you can script or package up as an MSI.  The KACE is missing an MSI tool.  Zenworks came with tools to build Windows Installer (MSI) software packages.  This seems to be missing from KACE.

As for easy un-installation of an application, well, again if you can script it you can remove an application.  It doesn’t appear that I can just uncheck an option or change something in my Managed Installation to remove the application that I distribute.  So in this regards the K1000 is just like Zenworks.

Reporting on application usage using the K1000 Software Metering is a failure in my environment.

K1000 Software Metering

The biggest problem is that the meter tracks usage by machine and not user.  Since I have users that move from machine to machine I have no way of knowing how much use an application is getting.  Did the user open it once for a minute, not at all, or do they live in the application.  If your users only work from one machine then this can work.

the report engine does a great job of generating reports on software and hardware with the built in canned reports.  If you can craft SQL you can extend the canned reports to get just about anything our of the KACE system.

BIOS settings can be pushed and standardized using the Dell Client Configuration Toolkit as I showed in the post Distributing Images Remotely using the K2000.  If you have HP or IBM equipment you’ll have to find different tools to control them.  This really isn’t a KACE specific feature though.  Any platform that allows me to push an application will allow me to set the Dell BIOS.

Tracking the warranty information was fairly easy. In K1000 Reporting Dell Warranty I created a new report to extract the data.  Unfortunately the KACE isn’t tied to Dell for tracking service requests or RMA information.  You could use the service desk to track the information but it isn’t automated.

Conclusion

With the exception of the metering issues the K1000 does do a good job.  The only weird thing I found was that the KAgent seems to do things on its own schedule.  When you push an application, run a script, perform patch updates, or even monitor applications there doesn’t seem to be a way to get the agent to do it right now.  It waits and checks in to the K1000 appliance when it feels like and even when you force the agent to update from the inventory it still seems to take its sweet time.

My other observation is that a lot of the tasks that I accomplished seem to be done using 3rd party tools and scripts.  These things are outside of KACE and the only value from KACE was that they pointed me to the various tools or scripts.

I am going to recommend this as a solution.  It has a new version that should be shipping any day now and so all of this evaluation and proof of concept will probably be different in the new platform.

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