Ask SysTrack: Be the Hero Your End Users Deserve

Citrix Synergy was once again a resounding success for us at Lakeside Software. We relished the opportunity to engage directly with industry insiders, to answer your insightful questions, and to witness the field of exceptional products showcased at Synergy this year.

We are excited to announce that the editors of TechTarget’s SearchVirtualDesktop.com™ have selected Ask SysTrack as a Best of Citrix Synergy 2017 Awards Finalist in the Desktop and Application Delivery category. This award is a continuation of the positive feedback we’ve received since launching Ask SysTrack last year, and we are proud that the hard work we’ve put into delivering this feature has paid off as real utility to users. After all, a mission of any workplace analytics software should be enabling detailed forensic capabilities for IT without sacrificing ease of use.

The concept behind Ask SysTrack is simple: modern users can answer virtually any question through an Internet browser search—why shouldn’t the answers behind how a computer is performing be just as easy to find? For too long, IT has had to fumble around any new monitoring software to access the views they need to manage their environment. What’s the point of delivering great metrics if they’re impossible to locate? Ask SysTrack comes to the rescue by offering an intuitive, natural language search capability powered by IBM Watson cognitive services.

With Ask SysTrack, you can easily find answers to important questions, such as

  • How are my servers performing?
  • What is the health of my users?
  • What are the critical errors of [insert system]?

The enthusiastic response we received after offering this user-friendly search capability inspired us to expand Ask SysTrack to integrate with our partners earlier this year. At Citrix Summit, we unveiled our plugin integration with Citrix Director, which allows users to answer Citrix-related questions through the Ask SysTrack interface. The plugin also displays SysTrack information within the Director Interface, including a user experience trend chart that shows what quality of experience users have been getting in relation to the data presented in Director.

The plugin effectively links SysTrack with Citrix Director to make it easy for IT to find the answers they need in order to efficiently oversee their environment. Ask SysTrack helps drastically cut down on the time between a performance query and meaningful action, facilitating proactive monitoring and ultimately improving end user experience.

We are encouraged by the positive response that Ask SysTrack for Citrix Director received at Citrix Synergy 2017 and we are continuing to explore further Ask SysTrack possibilities. IT is often the unsung hero behind any great enterprise; reveal your true powers and start using Ask SysTrack today.

Key Considerations for Office 365 Planning

This blog post is a continuation of our Office 365 series on license provisioning. In this post, we’ll cover the metrics relevant to this discussion. By focusing on specific characteristics of user behavior, you can make better informed decisions when assigning Office 365 licenses. Choosing the right metrics to examine is crucial, as we all know that user application activity is complex and that not all data tells the full story.

In the previous post, “Office 365 Planning Kit: The Method Overview,” we covered  how we organized each license based on application category. The table below displays a clear breakdown of categories for each license. In order to fit users with licenses, you have to find out how users are interacting with their applications.

To determine what each user requires to fulfill their job role, it is important to understand a user’s current application needs. The categories make it easier to visualize what kind of applications each user uses and which applications can potentially be replaced based on the frequency of usage. While Office 365 applications work best together, other applications in the category can be just as compatible and ultimately save the company money. We have sorted usage based on 3 tiers: None, Low, and High (displayed below) with each tier determined by the amount of focus time and active time a user has with an application.

 

SysTrack collects a unique metric, “focus time”, that offers the most insight into the quality of a user’s engagement with an application. Compared to active time, which is simply the amount of time that a user has an application open, SysTrack collects focus time only when a user is actually interacting with an application. For example, it’s common for users to open applications, such as Skype, and leave it open while they work on their report in Word resulting in Word have a greater focus time than Skype, but with Skype having a greater active time than Word.  This metric provides further optimization for suggesting a license to each user, because it not only takes into account which applications they use, but also considers how they may use the application.

Perhaps a user fits the criteria for an E3 license, but the frequency of usage for the Presentation, Document Sharing, and Meeting applications are categorized as low. While they will use all the applications provided with an E3 license, the best fit for them would be an E1 license with the other applications being replaced. For a more specific user, perhaps one suggested an E3 or E5 license, IT administrators have the ability to look into the specific users and observe the users active time, focus time, and the ratio of active to focus time (displayed below). This will allow the administrators to determine if they are viewing (shorter focus time) vs editing (longer focus time).

The table also provides more data such as the application names that users are already using. This can help determine if all users are using the same compatible applications or if they are all choosing their own versions. This knowledge allows IT administrators to continue to suggest the same compatible application to users to further promote a clean environment.

Having to keep all these considerations in mind may seem like a headache; luckily, our Office 365 Planning Kit simplifies the process. In a future post, we will further discuss the various ways companies can continue to benefit from optimal provisioned licensing in detail along with real world use cases.

Try Out the Citrix Digital Workspace Transformation Assessment

A constantly changing landscape in the modern workplace has led to a constantly changing landscape in the technology that serves that workplace. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a clear shift away from local storage of data and apps. This is due, in part, to workers becoming more mobile and requiring access to their data outside of the office. Keeping it all saved on a laptop can be a security risk, and leads to workers being tethered to their systems, which defeats the purpose of being a truly mobile worker. The real solution to providing secure, anytime, anywhere access to apps and data is for IT to retain control. This means IT needs technology to deliver and manage remote apps, virtual desktops, and storage, all while protecting corporate data. Citrix has recently introduced the Citrix Workspace – a complete digital workspace offering enterprise-grade delivery of apps, desktops, and data to solve this problem. Flagship products XenApp and XenDesktop are included along with XenMobile and ShareFile, creating a full solution for IT and users alike.

Understanding how all the technology included in the Citrix Workspace can benefit your organization can be a little unclear without supporting data. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Citrix to create the Digital Workspace Transformation Assessment – a free, cloud-based assessment that uses SysTrack to evaluate the scope of the environment and provide relevant datasets around user experience, mobility, cloud-storage use, application usage and complexity, and XenApp usage, among other things. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the items included in the free assessment.

SysTrack Visualizer

Desktop and Server Visualizer are included in the assessment. These web apps contain dashboards and tables that provide useful insight around user experience, software usage, and demand and performance in the environment. A few of the benefits of understanding these kinds of metrics are identifying issues causing poor user experience, quantifying the computing demand which is particularly useful for shared resource environments, and identifying which applications can be virtualized. The user experience score, in particular, is a great metric for quickly quantifying the quality of service the users are enjoying, and what might be causing problems. It’s a 0-100 score measuring the percent of a user’s active time that was impacted by any of 13 different KPIs including disk issues, latency, virtual machine problems, app faults, and more. So how does all this apply to Citrix Workspace? Well, Workspace offers multiple methods of delivering applications, and making data-driven decisions on which of those apps should be published, which should be installed on a fully-featured virtual desktop, and which should be removed from the portfolio due to being unused is critically important to maintaining a well-functioning and efficient environment. Aside from software, having data around concurrent usage and computing demand helps to properly size virtual environments. Knowing which users require more resources and which are lighter users is a big help when establishing XenApp server densities, for example.

Citrix Specific Reports

SysTrack Visualizer is more of an open platform that lets you browse through a large amount of data. While that’s incredibly helpful, it can also be helpful to have more focused datasets directly related to Citrix technologies. The assessment provides four in-depth reports regarding things like XenDesktop fit, published app health, user concurrency, browser usage, Microsoft collaboration tools usage, and an overall assessment report detailing how the organization could benefit from Citrix Workspace from the perspective of security, application management, and mobility.

XenApp Dashboard

A very detailed dashboard around usage and health of existing XenApp published apps. This is useful to understand which published apps are having health issues, what might be causing those health issues, time of peak concurrencies, average latency, and more. Having this kind of data is critical to maintaining a healthy environment. Investing more into Citrix technologies means you’ll need to have insight like this to ensure you’re getting the most out of those investments.

The assessment is a great way to scope out and plan for adopting Citrix Workspace. Of course, after the Workspace technologies have been integrated into your environment, you need to make sure they’re properly maintained and continue to deliver value to the users as well as IT. That continuous, proactive monitoring allows you to identify problems before they become too pervasive, maintain an efficient software portfolio, and keep your users happy and productive. Try out the assessment today and learn how you can benefit from Citrix Workspace.

We Know You Don’t WannaCry

By now you likely know that WannaCry is a malicious widely distributed ransomware variant that is wreaking havoc over enterprise IT. The most important thing to know is that Microsoft has issued patches for nearly every flavor of the Windows operating system (including Windows XP) to prevent any further attacks.

Since AV (even next-gen AV) and other security tools have not been very effective at mitigating the WannaCry threat, our advice to our customers is to ensure you have a complete inventory of every Windows instance and its respective patch level. This will enable you to identify which Windows instances in your environment are still vulnerable so you could focus your energies on finding and patching them.

To help you accomplish this, we’re offering Lakeside customers several complimentary dashboards that can help you identify Windows instances that are at risk of being infected by WannaCry or other security threats:

  • Security Patch Details: We’ve developed a new kit, Patch Summary Kit, that provides details on security patches based on operating system. It also provides details for a specific patch if you know the patch’s KB or definition. The details include if the security patch was installed in a system and which patch it was. This kit provides clear and precise data to help users remain safe.
  • Risk Score: SysTrack provides a risk score in Risk Visualizer. The risk score is an uncapped integer that takes into account all potential ways a system may be vulnerable. Risk Visualizer allows you to view the risk scores of all systems in your environment to easily identify systems of concern. A higher risk score implies that your system is at greater risk of attack.

You can use the table below in conjunction with the Patch Summary kit to check whether a security patch has been applied to systems with the corresponding OS. An example of this feature is shown in a screenshot taken of the kit.

Operating System (Version Number) Security Patch KB
Windows XP KB4012598
Windows Vista KB4012598
Windows Server 2008 KB4012598
Windows 7 KB4012212
Windows Server 2008 R2 KB4012212
Windows 8 KB4012598
Windows 8.1 KB4012213
Windows Server 2012 KB4012214
Windows Server 2012 R2 KB4012213
Windows 10 (1511) KB4013198
Windows 10 (1607) KB4012606
Windows Server 2016 KB4013429

Our goal at Lakeside is to help keep our customers’ end users productive. We hope that by providing these risk management and compliance dashboards, we can help IT departments continue to improve organizational digital experience.

Plan your virtualization project with the IGEL Thin Client Planning report

Plenty has been written about the benefits of virtualizing computing infrastructure. For users, it increases flexibility by giving them access to their data and apps from anywhere, and for IT, it simplifies management by streamlining the environment and centralizing critical assets. Planning to implement VDI can be a complicated task, and planning for which physical assets should be converted and which type of virtualization hardware to use is a big portion of that task. IGEL offers a variety of solutions to connect to virtual infrastructure, from zero clients to multi-protocol thin clients, and even software that repurposes existing hardware as a thin client. We’ve partnered with IGEL and introduced the IGEL Thin Client Planning report through our MarketPlace program.

Available now from the SysTrack Kits portal, importing the MarketPlace Kit will automatically configure the IGEL Thin Client Planning report to be made available as an SSRS report from the Visualizer Reporting area or Report Center. The theme of the report is highlighting the value of IGEL’s solutions through discussion and usage of SysTrack data collected in the environment. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the topics discussed in the report.

Workstation Types

It may seem like a basic idea, but the reality of keeping an accurate inventory of hardware assets can be very complicated. If you’re managing hundreds or thousands of physical devices it becomes a cumbersome task to maintain updated records about those devices. The IGEL Thin Client Planning report provides a simple chart that visually breaks down the mix of workstation types – desktops, laptops, or existing virtual machines. This takes the effort out of developing and maintaining that list yourself, and serves as a great baseline about which portion of devices may perform best as virtual machines with IGEL hardware to connect to them.

Enterprise Health and Age

The health score, a well-established concept in SysTrack, is a quantitative measure of the quality of service the end user is enjoying. It serves as a terrific indicator of where issues impacting the user exist, and can also be used to identify which devices may benefit the most from an IGEL solution. Combining that with the age of the physical devices, a great indicator of which systems are in line for a hardware refresh, provides a powerful look at the current state of the hardware and its associated performance.

Recommendations

Using datasets like workstation type, health, and device age are all great ways to begin planning which systems fit best with an IGEL solution. Beyond those types of datasets, the IGEL Thin Client Planning report also makes a basic recommendation of whether a system is recommended for an IGEL thin client versus continuation of a traditional thick client. The recommendation is made based on hardware specs and system health details.

Check out the full report by importing the MarketPlace Kit to your SysTrack environment. Whether you’re planning a full-scale virtualization project, thinking about a basic hardware refresh, or planning a migration project to move your devices to Windows 10, it needs to be done carefully and planned for using the right data. IGEL offers solutions for a variety of use cases and worker profiles, and the IGEL Thin Client Planning report will get you the insight required for making decisions on which solution is the best for you.

Office 365 Planning Kit: The Method Overview

All users have software applications that they use daily for their job role, less frequently for particular cases, or not at all. Knowing what applications are useful for which users is a critical part of strategically provisioning Office 365 licenses. Without proper provisioning, a user might lose valuable applications or have applications that they never use, leading to a poor user experience. In order to guarantee the optimal Office 365 experience for all users, it is important to understand: 1. what applications each license offers; and 2. what applications each user in your environment needs. Seems obvious enough, right? Unfortunately, the process of matching users to licenses can be unnecessarily tedious and time-consuming without an appropriate planning tool. That’s where SysTrack’s Office 365 Planning Kit can help.

To further explain the task at hand, let’s first take a look at what each license offers. As shown in the table below, the lowest available license, E1, offers web-based versions of common Office applications, whereas the E3 license includes the full installable versions. E5, the highest and most expensive licensing option, contains everything available in E3 licenses in addition to database and publishing applications. The chart below briefly displays our logic behind our suggested licensing and highlights the distinctions between the licenses.

As you can see, we have split the applications into our own 10 distinct categories. The categories allow us to accurately suggest licenses based on the user and their personal usage of their applications. The 10 categories that capture Office 365’s levels of licensing are Database, Document Sharing, Email, File Sharing, Group chat, Meeting, Presentation, Publishing, Spreadsheet, and Word Processor (displayed above). To be more specific, a user who uses File Share and Group Chat while also using Email, Word Process or Spreadsheet will be given an E1 license suggestion. If a user uses those application categories and Presentation, Document Sharing or Meeting applications, they will be given an E3 license suggestion. Finally, if the user uses all the E3 categories, but also uses applications in the Database or Publishing category, they will be given an E3 or E5 license based on their personal use of the applications.

Within these 10 categories, we go on to look at each individual user and their interactions with applications for each category. It is a simple and straightforward process where users get suggested licenses based on their usage in each category. As displayed in the graph below, we divided the usage into three tiers (None, Low, and High) to further create the best fit license.

The categories make it easier to visualize what kind of applications can potentially replace the unused/lightly used applications for each user. While there is one Office application per category, each category can have various applications that all have the same overall functionality. The Office 365 applications are the most compatible together in terms of the ability to sync together, but users may prefer other applications based on usability or popularity. This applies for users who may fit a license category, but their usage for the determining applications is light (e.g. they may only need to view a file, not edit one). A cost-effective solution for these users is to move them down a license level and replace the application with a compatible, non-Office 365 alternative. Two of the license types shown in the table (E3 to E1 and E3 or E5) are not actual license options, but rather options that we created for edge users (users who can fit both license types). Based on their categories and usage for the corresponding applications, the IT administrator will be able to determine the best fit for them.

The logic behind our suggested licensing breaks down the daunting task into simpler, categorized steps, while showing enough detail to deal with edge case users. Even while broken down, it can remain a time consuming task. Luckily, SysTrack’s Office 365 Planning Kit provides automated suggestions based on real user needs. In future posts, we will discuss further details on planning Office 365 with real world examples.