"In a portable computer population combining Windows 95, 98, NT and 2000 machines, Afaria provides a great advantage in being able to send a service pack rapidly without having to return the machines."
Franck Levassort Technical Director TVF
TVF, a subsidiary of The Cegedim Group and the acknowledged leader in medical database management, needed a solution to better manage data retransmitted by business services. With Sybase® technology, TVF's IT staff can update software and remotely diagnose laptop computers out in the field, eliminating the time-consuming method of physically shipping computers back to headquarters to be updated and/or repaired.
By using Afaria, TVF can now offer new services to its clients, such as script generation, transmission of self-instruction scenarios, or monitoring of the register base and of the system environment with each log-on.
Allows IT staff to update software and remotely diagnose laptop computers out in the field
Decreases systems being physically returned for repairs by 90 percent
Reduces time spent on back office tasks and improves productivity
Administering Remote and Mobile Computers Beginning as a data supplier and a supplier of customer relations management (CRM) solutions, TVF has expanded its role to ensure the maintenance of its clients' portable computer population, which today comprises about 25,000 computers in Europe and 14,000 in France.
To take over and operate this computer population, TVF needed a solution that would administer remote and mobile computers in relation to a reference image. Indeed, 40 percent of its sales analysis system (SAS) was taken up by risky or invalid manipulations, which could not be ascribed to real operating problems.
The Best Alternative In the course of various presentations, TVF was able to ascertain that LAN (Local Area Network) tools all have the same shortcoming: high bandwidth consumption. Portable computer users, on the other hand, log on to the switched telephone network.
Of all of the competing solutions, Afaria was best able to take advantage of low bandwidth. Moreover, the integration of monitoring and script development capabilities and the provision of two software management stations (for monitoring and maintenance) were decisive factors in the choice.
A Strong Partnership with iAnywhere While TVF was convinced by the quality of Sybase subsidiary iAnywhere's offer and of the architecture of the Afaria solution, the proximity of the iAnywhere France team and its involvement with the project were also essential factors. In addition to the two areas for reflection defined by TVF—management of the computer population and remote distribution—iAnywhere proposed offering users a personal data backup service that would ensure the availability of that information.
TVF chose initially to implement three modules of the Afaria solution: remote distribution, data exchange and inventory tracking. These modules were integrated into Windows NT servers and divided into monitoring and maintenance stations.
Afaria was deployed remotely on all of the portable computers managed by TVF within a week. TVF has a communications system that connects the computer population to the central location. The company transformed the Afaria agent into encapsulated script and then used this network to transmit the teams data simultaneously. This operation increased the volume normally transmitted by only 10 percent.
Psychological Barriers Paradoxically, the greatest difficulty encountered during installation was not a technical one, but a human one. "One pitfall had to be avoided: Users must not feel deprived of their sense of ‘freedom,'" said Franck Levassort, the technical director of TVF. "[Under] no circumstances, should they perceive this change as an intrusion. Consequently, educating them is what took up most time."
Once this stage had been reached, users became aware of all of the advantages offered by the Afaria solution. Data synchronization, data exchange without user intervention and their system administration resulted in a considerable reduction in time spent on back office tasks and improved their productivity.
After a period of adjustment, they were able to evaluate the solution and what it can offer them, especially in terms of security.
"A Great Advantage" Since the solution's installation, TVF has observed a 90 percent decrease in systems being returned for repairs. There was no record of systems being returned on account of risky or invalid operations. The systems retain their original configurations and users appreciate the transparent operations.
Another plus is that, by using Afaria, the company was able to implement changes in the operating system. Levassort said that "[in] a portable computer population combining 95, 98, NT and 2000 versions, it is a great advantage to be able to send a service pack rapidly without having to return the machines."
What Does the Future Hold? TVF has upgraded Afaria to the 4.5 version to take advantage of the recent enhancements, in particular the function enabling automatic user identification as the user logs onto the server.
By using Afaria, TVF is going to offer new services to its clients, such as script generation, transmission of self-instruction scenarios, or monitoring of the register base and of the system environment with each log-on. As for this last point, monitoring will be limited to the operating system and line-of-business applications.
Other services are being considered, such as personal data backup, a solution proposed by Sybase's iAnywhere subsidiary in response to TVF's specifications and requested today by users.
Finally, as PDAs are becoming systems in their own right that must be administered in the same way as a PC or a notebook computer, TVF is going to integrate the module for administering personal data assistants in order to provide that service to its users.