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Administering large groups of Debian machines

I seem to have started a Debian thing in the company that I work for. It
seems to be spreading. As the number of machines that we configure with
Debian grows, system administration issues start to raise their ugly
heads. We've recently gotten a dedicated sysadmin guy to take over the
admin tasks. He is very knowledgeable on Solaris, HPUX, and probably some
others, but is new to Linux. He and I are having a bit of a debate right
now as to the most effective way to manage these machines. 

We've got NIS running and all user accounts are automounted from a Sun
Sparc running Solaris. We have a mixed Solaris, Linux installation. So far
so good. What our sysadmin would like to do (this is typically what he
does for other Unixes) is to install client machines with a very basic set
of functionality. Then he would compile each application that would be
provided and install it into a directory in /home (e.g. /home/cvs/bin),
which would also be automounted when necessary from one of the client
machines. I see this as a little silly when, for Debian at least, nearly
all of the applications we use are easily installed on all the machines in
the normal Debian way. Our sysadmin sees the Debian way as interesting,
but a requirement for him to visit 25 machines instead of 1.

My question is, is there anyone out there, preferably a sysadmin type, who
has experience with this type of thing and could give us some advice.


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