All posts by Ryan Wood

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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.

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.

The SysTrack Software Analytics Kit: Software Performance

Monitoring software performance plays a vital role in the observation of software assets. Software performance monitoring is driven by the need to understand how well applications are working in the environment, and where resources should be directed to improve the performance. We’ve created a Software Asset Analytics kit to make it easy for IT admins to understand and observe software performance in order to help maintain a successful environment. There is a section dedicated to monitoring software performance involving key metrics like resource consumption details (CPU, memory, IOPS, network bandwidth) as well as number and frequency of app faults and hangs. Having a full understanding can help answer daily questions like “why does my application keep crashing?” and “what application takes the longest to load?”. Gaining insight in software performance can lead to a successful environment.

The observation of software performance is a vital component to understanding the source of impact to the user experience, preventing that impact from getting worse, and understanding how well an environment is working together. It is a category often noticed first by an end user, which makes it very important since it has a direct impact on productivity and user experience. Our performance dashboards make observing aggregated data easy for IT by highlighting trends and details in resource consumption metrics as well as app performance metrics like load time and faults. To identify issues or track performance, IT can choose between the provided dashboards that provide both summary views and detailed, deep-dive looks at application data. To prevent app issues from spreading through the environment, IT can easily see where trends may start to go down, implying the end user environment may become poor. After big changes to an environment, such as a new version of Outlook, IT can easily monitor how well the environment is performing based on the observation of resource consumption, user experience, app faults, and similar metrics.

A simple use case can help illustrate the value in app performance data. Let’s say an IT administrator notices that an application consistently crashes, but isn’t sure of the root cause. The Application Faults and Apps Running at Time of Fault dashboards in the kit provide details on crashing applications. They start with the more general dashboard, Application Faults, and search for the application in question in the chart displayed below.

They now can take note of details such as how many systems this application crash is affecting and the number of faults, providing an idea of whether the issue is isolated or widespread. They venture further into the Apps Running at Time of Fault dashboard and again search for the crashing application. This dashboard highlights details like what kind of fault occurred, faulting module, time of fault, and more. They also have the ability to see their system at the time of fault to understand what other apps were running as well as system stats like resource consumption. This added context provides a much more complete picture of what was happening around the time of app crash.

As they proceed further down the dashboard, they can now observe trends on CPU, memory, IOPs, or disk space to help determine the reason for the application fault as displayed below.

This finalizes our categories covering our newly released Software Asset Analytics Kit. For more details on this topic, read our upcoming white paper, Software Asset Analytics!

The SysTrack Software Analytics Kit: Software Usage

Taking stock of an environment’s software portfolio – what’s installed, what’s being used, what isn’t being used – has consistently been one of the most common use cases of SysTrack. The basic philosophy of SysTrack is to improve the user experience through data-driven business intelligence, and maintaining an efficient, well understood software portfolio is a big part of that. Unused software means you could be paying for unnecessary licenses, and puts more of a burden on IT through additional management overhead caused by expanding the number of applications installed. And the software that is being used needs to be well understood, standardized to recent versions, and delivered through the appropriate mechanism.

At a glance, those examples may seem like something that isn’t all that important to IT, especially if they’re spending the majority of their time fixing issues and responding to help-desk tickets, but being proactive with asset management can dramatically reduce the amount of those issues and tickets that creep up in the future. A few of the main benefits of being proactive with tracking software usage are: reclaiming unused licenses to save costs, mitigating security risks by ensuring recent versions and patches are installed, deciding which applications should be published versus which should be installed locally, and identifying business critical applications for different job roles.

Out-of-the-box datasets displayed through visualizers and reports, available in the standard SysTrack product suite, contain a variety of valuable software data that can put you on the path to realizing those benefits. But given the importance of software asset management, we’ve introduced a Kit that provides focused, interactive dashboards to dig through your software data and provide the insight needed. The Kit contains dashboards related to software performance, usage, and dependencies. In this post, we’ll go over how the content pertaining to usage can be applied to a real-world scenario.

The IT administrator starts off with our Software Portfolio Usage Summary dashboard. It provides an overview of the software package usage within the environment. Right away, the IT administrator can see that among the systems the packages were installed on, very few are actually being used, as displayed below.

As they proceed down the dashboard, they have the ability to view applications within a certain usage percentage, and further down it highlights all the systems that have the previously selected application, as displayed below.

The IT administrator now has the information to start piecing together what each job role requires and how to adjust the licensing accordingly. The IT administrator continues on to the Software Usage for Target System dashboard where they obtain further details of application usage for each system like which applications are most used, as displayed below.

The IT administrator now concludes that the applications that make up the top level license are not being used by most workers and the ones that are being used have a very low usage frequency. This leads the IT administrator to replace the low usage application with a different online application and thus allowing a lower license level. They notice that while this new license applies to most job roles, there is a job role that only requires the lowest license level. Not only were they able to save the company money, but environment is now also less vulnerable to impact due to containing only the necessary applications.

The understanding of software usage is one of the vital components when observing software assets. We will continue to expand on our final category, Performance, with real-world examples of our Software Asset Analytics Kit to show how valuable observing this data is to maintain a successful environment.

Introducing the SysTrack Mac Agent

A lot has been written about the rise of bring-your-own-device initiatives and the freedom that provides to the users, as well as the advantages to the IT admins. And it’s no secret that a lot of users gravitate towards using Apple devices due to the comfort they have with those products from using them in their own lives. Apple has long been considered a very user friendly company, but the enterprise space has traditionally avoided non-Windows systems. The belief that Macs can’t be managed at scale and are too expensive compared to their PC counterparts is proving to be based on very few facts. More companies are beginning to add Macs to the mix of systems they manage for various reasons: they’re more secure out-of-the box, they’re very mobile, they tend to require less maintenance over time, and a laundry list of other reasons that make them suitable for a lot of workers at a lot of companies. Of course, once Macs are added to the mix they need to managed the same as the PCs. Recognizing that Macs are an increasing piece of the IT puzzle, we’ve built an agent specifically designed for them. And recognizing the need to cover all systems in an environment, not just Windows, we’ve expanded to monitor Linux along with the new Mac agent.

With the release of SysTrack 8.2, users will be able to add Macs and Linux systems to their tree the same as any Windows system. Not only will this allow admins to monitor the user experience and performance of the Mac and Linux systems, the same as with the PCs, but it also provides the added benefit of being able to compare performance of distinct system types, creating more insight into which systems are best suited for your environment. The same metrics and level of granularity that our users have come to expect from SysTrack will be intact so you can perform the same level of root cause investigation and management.

MacBlackBox

Adding Mac and Linux monitoring capabilities to SysTrack allows admins to do some important tasks:

  • Monitor and improve the user experience for users currently using Mac or Linux systems
  • Compare and contrast productivity and performance differences between Macs and PCs
  • Base business decisions about expanding the use of Macs and Linux on real user data

Whether you’re just considering adding Macs or Linux systems to your environment or already have them under management, you’ll want to make sure you have the data you need to keep the systems running smoothly. We wanted to ensure SysTrack was able to monitor more than just the Windows systems, so the picture we paint of the environment is more representative of how it actually looks. The addition of the Mac and Linux agents is a big part of that, and we’re excited to see it hit the market.

Three Basic Steps to get Started with Personas

If I’ve learned anything about the IT industry, it’s that it tends to move in waves. Several years ago, VDI was the hot topic as more and more people began adopting mobile work styles. Needing a solution that would allow workers to be unbound from a physical workstation, admins started adopting streaming applications and fully featured virtual desktops. Once those types of delivery options became commonplace, the next wave started to form: BYOD, or bring your own device. Businesses could reduce costs by allowing and encouraging employees to use their personal devices to connect to the corporate virtual infrastructure. The common theme across these waves of IT innovation is that there is an increasing number of work styles, delivery options, devices, security concerns, and the management and overhead tasks that go along with them. In response to this growing complexity, a new wave in IT is emerging: Personas.

Personas are models of end users that allow IT to segment the environment and efficiently meet the user’s needs based on their actual work styles. With all of the user centric data we collect, SysTrack is uniquely positioned to build personas and ensure they remain accurate over time. Our roadmap includes working with partners to build persona libraries, developing automated persona discovery reports, and even web-based persona tools. With the release of SysTrack 8.2, we introduced Persona Visualizer, an automated tool that aggregates user data and divides the user base into workstyles and roles based on actual work habits. 

personas

We’ll start our persona discussion here with some best practices. Ideally, you’d want to be as granular as possible with persona definitions. In other words, you need to develop an adequate number of personas to cover every type of worker in your environment. Here’s a few basic steps to take that allow you to start with simpler concepts and move towards the more detailed, granular concepts.

Step 1: Mobile vs. Non-Mobile

This is a great place to start. Having the basic knowledge of which users tend to spend most of their time working from a single location and which are on-the-go is a critical component in determining the appropriate delivery option. SysTrack collects data around subnet changes, device changes, and similar metrics that allow us to determine what portion of a user’s time is spent away from the corporate network. Automatically discovering this data saves a great deal of time and resources during the initial phases of segmenting the user base. Persona Visualizer takes this information into account when assigning a user to a specific workstyle. 

Step 2: Compute Resource Needs

Another critical component is understanding the hardware requirements for different users. You may have heard of this defined as something like knowledge worker, task worker, power worker, etc. What it really means is that using a one-size-fits-all model for the hardware that’s provided to the users is a recipe for wasted resources and cost overruns. This can be especially wasteful when it comes to virtual desktops; some users might only require one vCPU and 4GM of RAM, while others may need multiple vCPUs and 16GB of RAM. We’re constantly collecting resource consumption information so you can make data driven decisions on what type of hardware needs to be allocated to each user. Not only does Persona Visualizer consider resource consumption, but it will also calculate what percentile a given user’s consumption is, allowing you to understand how the raw data compares relative to the other users.

Step 3: Application Usage

The final step we’ll discuss is application usage. Similar to step 2, this can be a major source of waste if you aren’t being careful about which applications are delivered to which users. Provisioning a software license for a user that doesn’t require it produces unnecessary cost and management overhead. Most users will have a core set of applications they require based on their job responsibilities, having data that tells you which apps are installed where, which are being used, and which are being underused or unused ensures you’re only delivering the appropriate applications. Persona Visualizer introduces the concept of user critical applications, which utilizes an algorithm to determine which apps are important for different users and their assigned roles based on things like focus time.

Having these three basic areas covered puts you well on your way to developing the right personas for your environment. And while you can manually discover this information, it’s both painstaking and time consuming. Having this information automatically gathered saves time, money, and resources, and has the key advantage of staying current as the environment evolves. Users will join and leave the company, change roles, and change work habits. Not only that, but the hardware will age and the software portfolio will evolve with new versions and user installed apps. This means that you need to be constantly watching for these things and responding accordingly in order to keep your personas relevant. We’ve got the data you need to simplify that process, and Persona Visualizer will do the number crunching for you. We’re continuing to focus on personas by improving the visualizer, collaborating with partners, and developing reports so you can focus on other tasks.

Introducing the Citrix Health Assessment

We’re seeing a never ending IT scenario – the landscape of how applications and workstations are delivered – continue to play itself out right before our eyes. BYOD and mobile workstyles are becoming more and more common as we march towards web based applications, published apps, and fully featured virtual desktops rapidly displacing more traditional IT infrastructure. Administrators are relying heavily on Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, among other Citrix products, to meet their user’s needs and deliver the performance they expect. Of course, actually delivering the performance they expect can be easier said than done, in most cases. Tracking down problems with published apps, without the right data, is like trying to put together a puzzle in the dark. That’s why so many of our customers who manage Citrix environments rely on SysTrack – it provides the insight they need to make smart, data-driven decisions and keep their users happy and productive.

Our traditional SysTrack setup requires an on-premises server to act as the master system. And while this works perfectly well for long term deployments, it can be a bit burdensome for short term assessments. Some of the admins we speak to want a quick look at the state of their Citrix environment, or to get an idea of how they might benefit from investing in XenApp and XenDesktop. In order to make sure those needs were met we streamlined the process of setting up SysTrack and moved the main infrastructure to the cloud, enabling customers to simply register, download and the deploy the data collection agent, and then login to our assessment website to get immediate access to dashboards, data visualizers, and SSRS style reports telling them exactly what’s going on in their environment.

The Citrix Health Assessment is a free, cloud based service that delivers SysTrack’s unparalleled data to help admins manage and plan for Citrix environments. Utilizing SysTrack’s patented distributed database architecture and SSL connections for data transfer, users get the data they’ve come to expect from SysTrack with the security to make sure it’s kept safe. The assessment was designed, in part, to answer specific questions like what quality of service the users have, what level of demand exists, and what are the best delivery options, while also providing the platforms for doing ad-hoc investigations and deep dives into the data to discover a variety of other insights.

Outside of XenApp and XenDesktop, which are standard virtualization solutions, Citrix has introduced Secure Browser and the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack, which allows for Skype for Business to be delivered as a virtualized application or within a virtual desktop. These new products fit well with the philosophy of XenApp and XenDesktop – centralize the management of the application or desktop to reduce costs and overhead. Before investing in new products it’s always a good idea to look at some data in order to get an idea of what type of benefit you’ll see from that investment. We’ve developed reports as a part of the Citrix Health Assessment that analyze the data collected by SysTrack and present detailed analysis of the browser and Skype usage in the environment so you’ll know exactly how Secure Browser or the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack would fit into your enterprise.

Don’t make guess work a part of your IT planning or management strategy. If you’re already utilizing Citrix solutions, or if you’re planning on them, check out our Citrix Health Assessment. This free, cloud based service lets you know things like the health of the environment, detailed session information, XenDesktop readiness, latency summaries, software usage, and a variety of other useful data. It’s simple to setup and use, and you’ll never have to make an IT decision that isn’t data driven and fit for your environment.

SysTrack Use Case: Supporting Office 365

The proliferation of SaaS apps is changing the landscape of both how users do business and how IT supports them. You can find a great discussion about this topic in a post by Tal Klein. The basic gist of the post is that in the dark ages of computing, let’s say pre-2010, IT delivered the app to the user and hosted it within their own infrastructure, controlling all aspects of management and support. But as BYOD and mobile work styles picked up steam so too did the popularity of SaaS apps like Office 365. This movement was great for users, but at the same time has changed the way IT needs to think about its support model. All of a sudden they went from controlling the backend and delivery of the app, which gave them visibility into causes of performance issues, to ceding that portion of management to the app vendor. This benefits IT by simplifying their app portfolio, reducing the number of apps they need to manage from front to back, freeing up infrastructure for other purposes, and shrinking the aspects of support for those apps to only how they impact users. Of course, IT will still be called upon by the user when there’s an issue with a SaaS app, but since the internal infrastructure is no longer hosting the app then what’s left? The user is now the only real place to get valuable information as it relates to supporting SaaS apps.

SysTrack has always put a strong emphasis on end-user computing with features like system health scoring and point-in-time looks at historical data. IT will have the visibility it needs to understand what’s going on with the user’s systems and what the causes are for performance issues. SysTrack’s unique “inside-out” view provides insight into what the end user is experiencing and provides tools to assist with diagnosing issues that may be impacting their performance. With that in mind here’s a few questions SysTrack can help you answer as you’re supporting Office 365 users.

How many Office 365 Users are there?

Even seemingly simple questions like this aren’t as straightforward to answer as you might think. With Office 365 being accessed through a web browser you’ll need data on what users are visiting what URL’s. In the Observations area of Site Visualizer you can open the Popular Web Sites dataset and filter the results to show only Office 365 data. Here you’ll get some great basic data including number of users, number of systems, number of times accessed, first and last access dates, page load time, time page was open, and page focus time. This high-level data illustrates the scope of users and systems you need to support. If you’re interested in which users or systems in particular are included in this data simply right-click on the column you’re interested in, number of users, for example, and select show details. A detailed information box will pop up showing you user accounts, number of times accessed, and first and last use dates.

Office365Users

In addition to web applications you might also use the same method to find information on the Office 2016 Windows client software that gets downloaded to the user’s system. Check out the Applications or Software Packages datasets to find out usage information and aggregate resource consumption.

Is User Experience Impacted by Office 365?

While there are a lot of factors that go into the user’s Health score, 13 categories in fact, it is a very powerful way to gauge the general experience of the user. I find it especially helpful to judge the impact of a big change in the environment. Maybe the user just migrated to Windows 10, or maybe a VDI user was just migrated to a different storage system – take a look at how that system’s Health has trended from before the change to after. In this case, maybe your entire user base just adopted Office 365 for Outlook and Office online. That’s quite a big change since these are such widely used tools in everyday business. Enterprise Visualizer allows you trend the aggregate Health score across the entire environment to give you a quick idea of whether that change has had positive impact or sent your user’s experience in a downward trend.

If you’re interested in only a certain group of users or even an individual user you have the ability to trend Health for those scenarios as well. Site Visualizer is great for filtering data to a specific set of users while Resolve allows you to target an individual user. You also have the ability to view the trend over a custom time frame. One last important thing to note about viewing Health score trends is that you can look at the impact from a specific factor – maybe you’re only interested in seeing what the trend has been for Network Impact or Latency Impact as it relates to a surge in browser usage with more users accessing online apps. An increase in network activity would be expected since the backend is no longer on premises.

What’s going on with the User’s System?

Answering questions about what caused slow performance or a system crash can be very tricky, especially when the event happened sometime in the past. SysTrack Resolve is perfect for this as it connects directly to a system of interest and allows you to view any point in time and see which apps were running, what the resource consumption looked like, and much more for that exact time. If a user is telling you that this morning around 9:30 their system was crawling and they weren’t able to access their Office 365 Outlook account you could check out Resolve Black Box to investigate what the culprit was. The screenshot below is a simple illustration of what you might find.

Office365Resolve

There was a local app consuming about half of the available CPU. It is very likely this was the cause of the slow performance that was preventing the user from being able to access their email, the entire system was being slowed due to this app. This kind of insight directly into the user’s system is critical in being able to find out what’s causing performance issues, what events occurred that could be of interest, what the latency has looked like in the past, and all other kinds of extremely relevant data.

The market is rapidly moving more and more towards SaaS and cloud computing in general. This means it’s more important than ever to retain some level of visibility into the environment, but with more and more of the apps a user interacts with coming from outside of IT’s borders, you need the visibility to come directly from the user, an “inside-out” view. SysTrack is evolving right along with this market shift to make sure you can always have the data you need to keep your environment running smooth.

Health Monitoring of PCoIP® Protocol with SDA

Providing the tools necessary to complete an assessment – whether it be for migrating the workforce to a new operating system, adopting a new storage solution, or incorporating virtual infrastructure into the environment – has always been one of SysTrack’s strong suites. As the landscape of IT evolved to the cloud to accommodate for global business and mobile workforces we needed to evolve our assessment capabilities just the same. Streamlining and simplifying the process for getting all the moving parts in place to perform an assessment by moving the SysTrack master system to the cloud was the first step to aligning SysTrack-based assessments with the modern IT narrative: make it simple, make it easy to use, and make managing it available from anywhere.

SysTrack Desktop Assessment is our cloud-based service for performing VMware Horizon assessments. As the service has grown in use we’ve worked to continue enhancing it through the addition of new tools and content. It’s now easier than ever to monitor PCoIP and health data with SysTrack Desktop Assessment. An interactive dashboard was added for each, and as a part of the overall service they add great value and enhance your ability to continuously monitor the state of your environment.

The PCoIP Summary dashboard allows you to trend average latency, average receive packet loss, and average transmit packet pass. The day over day trend line quickly illustrates typical values for the selected item, making it simple to spot an outlier that might warrant further investigation. Selecting a day of interest will display session summary details for that day to give you insight as to what may have caused the spike. Additionally you can see the top 15 users by average bandwidth use as well as session summaries and top ten focus applications for a selected user.

PCoIP1

The PCoIP Summary dashboard is a good way for monitoring specific metrics, but if you’re more interested in the general health of your systems then the Environmental Daily Health Trend dashboard can offer some great insight. Similar to the PCoIP dashboard it provides a trend line that then allows you to select a date to drill down to more detailed data. The logical flow of dashboard is to select a date of interest, select a system of interest based on that system’s health score for that day, and then view the health trend of the selected system. This an easy way to uncover a particular system that may be experiencing issues leading to a poor user experience.

Health1

Once your assessment is underway it’s a good idea to be continuously monitoring and managing the health of the environment. SysTrack is, at the end of the day, all about the user experience. While providing the tools and data for doing a VMWare Horizon assessment we wanted to make sure to also provide the tools and data for looking after the users. A core component of any assessment should be examining user and environmental health to make sure there are no major issues that need to be addressed prior to completing the assessment. The PCoIP and Environmental Health dashboards allow you to do just that.

SysTrack Use Case: SDA and Image Planner

At Lakeside our mission is to provide the insight you need to make smart business decisions concerning your IT systems. We work to make sure SysTrack can deliver the data required to understand, plan for, and manage the newest technology and products in the industry. In recent years the pace of innovation has really started to gather steam with things like data center modernizations, cloud-hosted services, and new enterprise software products. Right now there’s a growing demand in the industry to offer cloud-hosted services and products, and we’ve been working with VMware to deliver an online assessment that meets that demand. SysTrack Desktop Assessment is an online tool that provides detailed data and reports to help plan for a migration to a VMware Horizon solution. The initial rollout of this service provided access to static reports, some interactive dashboards, and a data visualizer tool.

To enhance the service we’ve added access to additional tools, and in this blog we’ll explore how to use the Image Planner.

One of the biggest challenges when planning to move towards VDI is developing an adequate image plan. A typical environment could have thousands of applications, and figuring out which ones are required by which users is an extremely complex task. Image Planner automates much of the work by tracking application usage, so the suggested image plans are based on user behavior and not anecdotal evidence. Starting a new Image Planner model is simple; you just choose a name and add any system selection rules you choose, such as excluding servers.

IPP1

After your model is created you have several interactive screens that enable you to tweak the model before it becomes finalized. Your options include Provision, Retarget, Automation, Delivery, and Layering. Each of these options addresses a component of the image development process and are designed to make sifting through large amounts of data seem easy. We’ll look at each of these options a little closer to see exactly what’s offered.

Provision

The Provision section displays a list of all installed software packages along with some basic information like version, number of users, and number of systems. The purpose of this section is to allow you to reduce the total image count and simplify the software portfolio. Within this section you have visibility into basic usage data, helping to reduce the complexity of the image models. This valuable insight drives important decisions about which packages should be included or excluded from all images. A simple example would be searching for Microsoft Office, an extremely common software package. The filtered results show me all installed Microsoft Office packages, versions, number of users, and number of systems installed. At this point I might make the decision to install the latest version of Office everywhere. 

IPP2

Looking at the overall software portfolio for the first time, especially when performing tasks like choosing a version of Office to install everywhere, can highlight a very common issue: The number of different versions present in the environment for the same piece of software. You might uncover ten different versions of Adobe Reader, for example. This leads us to the next Image Planner section.

Retarget

The idea of Retarget is to select a single target version for a particular software package. Sticking with our example of Adobe Reader, I can filter the results to display all the versions of Reader that were discovered. At that point I can select any of them and retarget to another version. Logically I might want to choose all of the outdated versions and retarget them to the newest version. The result is a simplified model with reduced clutter. 

IPP2

Automation

Unlike the previous two, this section allows you to make more general decisions that aren’t related to specific packages. You’re presented with sliders that let you set thresholds for whether or not a package is to be user installed, installed everywhere, virtualized, or published. You set your preferred threshold based on usage, except for the case of virtualization which is based on package complexity. This allows you to quickly update and iterate your model as you go through the process. 

IPP3

Layering

The layering section is a very powerful method for reducing the overall image count and simplifying your model. It allows you to automatically group users with similar usage characteristics into a layer that gets delivered as a set of software packages based on those characteristics. Before the automation is done you set the maximum layer count, minimum coverage, minimum packages per layer, and minimum machines per layer. This is a great way to automate the task of deciding which users fit best with which image. In a perfect world each user would have their own image tailored to fit their exact needs, but the complexity of actually accomplishing that is not realistic. Layering can quickly and automatically accomplish this based on which users have similar software needs. 

IPP4

Delivery

The Delivery section allows you to choose if a package should be delivered through a method other than installing it to the image. Your options include user installed, virtualized, or published. If a particular software package is commonly used in your environment and has a high complexity score it would be best to leave the delivery method as installed on the image. Or maybe there’s a set of packages that have a very low usage rate, you could choose to have those be user installed. This is another good way to reduce the overall complexity of the portfolio you have to manage. 

IPP5

After working your way through these sections and iterating a few times the detailed results for each image can be viewed through an SSRS-style report. Image Planner works to simplify what is an inherently complex task, and in doing so it can save you a lot of time and cost. Now included as part of the SysTrack Desktop Assessment service, planning for a migration to a VMware Horizon solution is much easier.