All posts by Richard Murphy

Explaining and Expanding the SLA Conversation

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) come in many forms and descriptions in life, promising a basic level of acceptable experience. Typically, SLAs have some measurable component, i.e. a metric or performance indicator.

Take, for example, the minimum speed limit for interstates. Usually, the sign would read “Minimum Speed 45 mph”. I always thought the signs existed to keep those who got confused by the top posting of 70 mph (considering that to be the minimum) from running over those who got confused thinking 45 mph to be the maximum.

It turns out the “minimum speed” concept is enforced in some states in the U.S. to prevent anyone from impeding traffic flow. For those who recall the very old “Beverly Hillbillies” TV show, I’ve often wondered if Granny sitting in a rocking chair atop a pile of junk in an open bed truck, driving across the country might be a good example of “impeding the flow of traffic” at any speed. Although, from the looks of the old truck, it probably couldn’t manage the 45 mph minimum either.

In the world of IT, there are all sorts of things that can “impede the flow” of data transfer, data processing, and/or data storage. While there’s nothing as obvious as Granny atop an old truck, there are frequently Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that could indicate when things aren’t going according to plan.

Historically, IT SLAs have focused on a Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS) model. While not directly related to specific events/obstacles to optimum IT performance, RAS has become the norm:

  • Reliability – This “thing of interest” shouldn’t break, but it will. Let’s put a number on it.
  • Availability – This “thing of interest” needs to be available for use all the time. That’s not really practical. Let’s put a number on it.
  • Serviceability – When this “thing of interest” breaks or is not available, it must be put back into service instantly. In the real world, that’s not going to happen. Let’s put a number on it.

In the IT industry, there exist many creative variations on the basic theme described above, but RAS is at the heart of this thing called SLA performance. The problem with this approach from an end-user standpoint is that it misses the intent of the SLA, which is to ensure the productivity/usefulness of “the thing of interest”.  In the case of a desktop, that means ensuring that the desktop is performing properly to support the needs of the end user. Thus, the end user’s productivity/usefulness is optimized if the desktop is reliable, available, and serviceable… but is it really?

Consider the following commonplace scenarios:

  • The desktop is available 100% of the time, but 50% of the time it doesn’t meet the needs of the end user, e.g. it has insufficient memory to run an Excel spreadsheet with its huge, memory-eating macros?
  • A critical application keeps crashing, but every call to the service desk results in, “Is it doing it now?” After the inevitable “No” is heard, the service desk responds, “Please call back when the application is failing.” This kind of behavior frequently results in end users becoming discouraged and simply continuing to use a faulty application by frequently restarting it. It also results in a false sense of “reliability” because the user simply quits calling the service desk, resulting in fewer incidents being recorded.
  • A system’s performance is slowed to a crawl for no apparent reason at various times of the day. When the caller gets through to the service desk, the system may/may not be behaving poorly. Regardless, the caller can only report, “My system has been running slowly.” The service desk may ask, “Is it doing it now?” If the answer is “Yes”, they may be able to log into the system and have a look around using basic tools, only to find none of the system KPIs are being challenged (i.e. CPU, memory, IOPs, storage, all are fine). In this scenario, the underlying problem may have nothing to do with the desktop or application. Let’s assume it to be the network latency to the user’s home drive and further complicate it by the high latency only being prevalent during peak network traffic periods. Clearly, this will be outside the scope of the traditional RAS approach to SLA management. Result: again a caller who probably learns to simply tolerate poor performance and do the best they can with a sub-optimized workplace experience.

So, how does one improve on the traditional RAS approach to SLA management? Why not monitor the metrics known to be strong indicators of a healthy/not so healthy workstation? In this SLA world, objective, observable system performance metrics are the basis for the measurement of a system’s health. For example, if the CPU is insufficient, track that metric and determine to what extent it is impacting the end user’s productivity. Then do the same for multiple KPIs. The result is very meaningful number that indicates how much of a user’s time is encumbered by poor system performance.

In the case of SLAs based on observable system KPIs, once a baseline is established, variations from the baseline are easily observable. Simply focusing on counting system outages and breakage doesn’t get to the heart of what an IT department wants to achieve.  Namely, we all want the end user to have an excellent workspace experience, unencumbered by “impeded flow” of any type.  The ultimate outcome of this proposed KPI vs RAS based SLA approach will be more productive end users. In future blogs, I will expand on how various industries are putting into practice a KPI based SLA governance model.

Learn More About Maximizing User Productivity

Focus on Personas

One area of particular strength in SysTrack’s suite of value added functions is its ability to provide automated EUC Persona insight, aka “End User Segmentation”.  In their research note, “Segment Users by Workspace to Allocate Physical Devices, Digital Tools, Support and Services,” Gartner analyst Federica Troni states:

IT leaders responsible for end-user computing are challenged with determining the right set of tools to maximize user productivity and engagement without duplicating costs and capabilities.

Such a framework helps IT leaders determine the right choices to accommodate diverse user requirements.

Lakeside’s approach to end user segmentation is consistent with and supportive of the process advocated by Gartner.  The granular End User Computing (EUC) data collected, aggregated, and visualized by SysTrack is exactly the kind of data needed to identify user groups within an enterprise who have common device, application, service, connectivity, and support needs.  No longer must IT rely on outdated questionnaires, anecdotal input, and/or educated guesses.  Using real EUC data, collected from actual systems, with real users; the results are accurate, fast, and non-controversial. Thus “data driven” vs “instinct and intuitive” based decisions can drive EUC provisioning, access, and support choices.

This data driven methodology for Persona discovery can pay big dividends.  Proper matches between end users, the devices, applications, and services they use, typically result in:

    • Productivity improvements – Having the “right tool for the job” is an age old adage and is as important in IT as in any other form of work.
      • An over/under provisioned workstation represents waste. Either too much was spent on an over provisioned system or an end user of an under provisioned system can’t effectively do their job.
      • Mismatched application suites to job requirements represent waste. Providing more applications than end users need results in unused licenses, increased support costs, increased workload demands, and an increased risk of application or system conflicts.  Failing to provide appropriate applications to do the job, results in lower end user output.
      • Mobile and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives require proper orchestration. Opening an enterprises’ infrastructure to any/all devices the EUC community chooses to use can be a security risk, support nightmare, and connectivity challenge.  A better approach is to understand the work behaviour of all end users and identify where mobile and BYOD adoption is appropriate.

 

  • Asset optimization – Rather than a “one size fits all’ approach, a proper understanding of the personas within an enterprise can lead to the distribution of end user devices which are appropriate for the job.

In a recent SysTrack assessment at a large auto manufacturer it was determined only 10% of the enterprises’ 25,000 laptops were observed to have been moved from their office location.   This while the average cost of a laptop was $150 more than a desktop and the average failure rate on the laptops were about 10% higher.

In another assessment it was observed that more than 80% of the enterprises’ users were not taking advantage of several of the applications within a suite of applications.  A lower license cost was negotiated with the application suite’s manufacturer based on the historical SysTrack data, this resulted in over $15M in savings for the company.

  • Service Desk Support Optimization – By reviewing “day in the life” data for various personas, an enterprises’ service desk resources can be staffed with appropriate skill sets for the times when needed. Frequently, a “one size fits all” service desk with 7 x 24 coverage is provided for the entire EUC community.  One recent study revealed a client had fewer than 5% of their EUC users accessing any resources after 8pm on Fridays and before 6am on Mondays.  The decision was made to curtail the service desk staffing on weekends and increasing the coverage during normal business hours, resulting in significant cost savings and improved EUC satisfaction, as the response time was improved during the time the service was actually needed.
  • EUC on-boarding optimization – Proper persona and job role identification, documentation, and definitions, provide a very efficient method for on-boarding new employees or changing employee job assignments. An enterprise with fully defined personas and job roles can quickly assign the proper resources (end user device, applications, services, connectivity, etc.) based on the job description of the end user at any point in time.

One customer reported the on-boarding time for new employees was reduced from 8 days to 1 day by properly identifying the various personas and job roles within the organization and automating the on-boarding process to take advantage of the persona insights.

  • Cloud Affinity – Significant savings are being realized by enterprises through adoption of “Cloud” services. SysTrack can identify which enterprise workloads are suited for “The Cloud” and who among the end users are ready to utilize cloud based services.

 

 

Windows 10 Migration, Motivation and Methodology

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” At the risk of being presumptuous I’d like to add OS upgrades to that list. In my more than 36 years of IT experience this is a truism. Love them, hate them, tolerate them, or accommodate them: it’s inevitable that “thou shalt upgrade”. I don’t know if this is an 11th commandment kind of issue or just a real world fact, but the bottom line is Windows 10 is in your future. Perhaps this upgrade isn’t imminent; in fact it may be 2 years down the road. But, planning for an enterprise wide migration should be on your radar, and if done properly the experience can be a smoother transition than the recent move to Windows 7/8.

Why Upgrade to Windows 10?

Upgrades to Windows 10 will usually fall into one of the following justification buckets:

To take advantage of some cool new features such as:

Common look and feel across PCs, tablets, mobile devices, and Xbox. Run your favorite apps wherever, whenever, and whatever, you choose. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) just got a lot simpler.

  1. Siri and Google Now like personal assistant, i.e. a voice search tool called Cortana.
  2. New Office package (including a new Word based Outlook engine).
  3. New browser experience; yep, goodbye IE, hello, Edge!
  4. UI with a number of cosmetic improvements.
  5. Improved set of built-in security features.
  6. Return of the Start Menu.
  7. Overall performance improvement… faster startup, quicker resume.
  8. Virtual desktop experience; an easy way to keep a busy desktop organized by having multiple desktops.
  9. Feature to allow switching between touch vs. keyboard and mouse interaction.
  10. Option to deliver updates via the P2P protocol, resulting in a more efficient distribution. This feature provides the potential for any PC to become, in effect, an SCCM delivery device. Imagine branch offices with unreliable WAN connections; pick a target, update it and distribute to other PCs at the branch from the original target… pretty cool!
  11. Application compatibility. Not a big deal now, but if history repeats itself, within the next 2 years most COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) applications will require Windows 10.
  12. End of Window 7 support. Not an immediate concern, according Microsoft’s Lifecycle page, “Mainstream Support” ended for Win7 on January 15, 2015 with “Extended Support” due to end January 14, 2020.
  13. All the cool kids are doing it. There is a certain allure to having the latest/greatest… you can’t deny it!

How to Prepare for the Inevitable?

Too often OS upgrades are thrust upon an unprepared enterprise. In this case “unprepared” usually means too little knowledge of what the end users need. Perhaps you are one of the many within IT with lingering and perhaps uncomfortable memories of the extreme efforts that your migration to Win7/8 may have required.  Remember the many spreadsheets, the end user surveys, the interviews, and, finally, the guessing?  And that was just the prep work for creating an actionable plan; the heavy lifting hadn’t even started yet. All in an effort to best determine who is using what applications and what the prerequisites/dependencies were for your business critical apps so the upgrade could be completed with as little end user down time an productivity losses as possible. That was the goal at least.

Typically there were three exposure areas (security, compliance, and performance) that presented issues that you had to deal with in the middle of an already full plate of migration activities. Perhaps you found out too late that several applications had some nasty application faults that didn’t improve when you moved to a new OS; in fact, some may have gotten worse. Some of you may even recall the surprising discovery of unsupported, unlicensed, and misbehaving applications within the enterprise.

Doesn’t it make sense to take the time now to do it right the next time? Wouldn’t it be great to have all the data you need at your fingertips, without a major project to collect the data? Also, while you are collecting the data in preparation for the big Win10 upgrade, why not improve your current end user experience? That’s right, you can “kill two birds with one stone” as it were. You can monitor your current environment, observe issues you need to resolve and simultaneously collect important data for your next OS upgrade.

How can SysTrack Help?

Tools within SysTrack can be exploited to make your upgrade progress smoothly. Let’s step through a few examples:

Example #1:

SysTrack is excellent at answering the “5 W’s of EUC”: the who, what, when, where, and why of EUC. In short, SysTrack answers the important question(s) – Who used what applications, when did they use them, from where were they used, and why was the end user’s experience less than perfect?

The “5 W’s of EUC” are answered by the ongoing collection of data from every end user who accesses a system on which SysTrack has been deployed. These “child” systems can be PCs, (virtual or physical), servers (virtual or physical), and/or mobile devices (with a supported OS). Data is collected, arranged, aggregated, and visualized automatically making the IT Professional’s job much easier and resulting in far more accurate results.

Below are a few default, “out of the box” data visualizations:

Win10 Migration 1Software Package Usage by system and by end user. This is an easy way to determine who’s launching what and for how long.

Win 10 Migration 2

Application communications to other systems and the latency of those connections can be easily displayed for all applications with dependent resources.

Win 10 Migration 3

Fast, accurate identification of an enterprise’s “power users” and the applications that drive high resource footprints is as simple as the click of a button.

Win 10 Migration 4

Benchmarking the current health of the End User experience via up to 21 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) provides an easy and accurate way to establish before and after migration user acceptance criteria. It also helps answer the question, “why is a user having less than a perfect experience?”

Example #2

Frequently, details about an application’s prerequisite modules and/or runtime dependencies can help avoid conflicts with other applications which require the same resources.

Win 10 Migration 5SysTrack discovers “out of the box”, module and runtime dependencies for all observed applications.

 Example #3

To more fully appreciate the usage of an application, simply knowing how many times it has been launched is not sufficient.   One extreme example of this is my personal use of Skype. I have four desktops which I use throughout the week. Two of those are virtual and two are physical. Skype is installed on all four, though I use it primarily on only one of the four systems.   Skype launches each time I restart one of the desktops, but frequently I end the process if I need the resources it is consuming. In my case, a simple count of launches of Skype would suggest I use the application constantly. In reality, I have it “in focus” very infrequently.

Many applications fall into this category of being launched at startup or being called by other applications. In other cases, end users launch applications, use them lightly and leave them running in the background, while their focus is on their business critical apps. If the question being asked is, “What are the most important applications in our environment based on real use?” simply counting the number of application launches can be very misleading.

What if you were able to normalize the overall active use of applications based on “in focus” (active user interaction) time? Now, if you could rank applications based on which ones were observed to have been actively used, i.e. “in focus” the most you would have a way to know which applications are used the most, not just launched the most.

While the process described above is not a default data view, SysTrack has the data, and, through the use of the Dashboard Builder tool, it’s possible to create a customized view of “in focus” time. One possible example of this output appears below:

Win 10 Migration 7Application focus, where 100% represents the total amount of “in focus” event time, across the enterprise. Applications are ranked by their individual contribution to the total enterprise “in focus” time.

By creating an interactive dashboard it is also possible to quickly determine what set of applications combine to consume a targeted amount of total use. For example, it is frequently possible to show that as few as five applications account for over 75% of the total “in focus” use in an enterprise. That’s a quick way to get to a very accurate base image… you’ll need to know that when you get around to migrating to Win10, right?

Plan for success

Regardless of when your Win10 project is scheduled to occur, now is the time to start planning for it. SysTrack is a great tool to help you understand and improve your current environment while simultaneously collecting the data you’ll need for a smooth Win10 migration.