All posts by Zach Ruch

The SysTrack Software Analytics Kit: Software Dependencies

A key component of observing software assets is understanding software dependencies. To address this, we here at Lakeside have developed the SysTrack Software Asset Analytics kit. A portion of this kit is entirely centered around discovering and monitoring software dependencies within an environment to meet the needs of the IT professional. These dependencies provide insight into the requirements needed for the proper functionality of software and identifying answers to important questions that IT might have such as “are all my software packages being used?” or “what are the connections required for my applications?”. The driving force behind understanding dependencies is the promotion of innovation for software package delivery and thus a more positive end user experience.

Dependencies allow for the ability to observe what the applications that make up a software package require to function every day.  Requirements for software can vary, but the core attributes to monitor are application connections, required systems components, compatibility, and application usage. The ability to identify required connections and system components is vital due to potential system restrictions such as unusable ports or unsupportable system

Let’s say an IT administrator, Joe, is analyzing software packages that he provides and is wondering how to make it more optimal for him and end users by trimming deadweight from his packages to reduce install and delivery size, limit the chance of errant components interfering with one another, and streamlining application connections. The perfect place for him to start would be our Software Dependencies Summary dashboard. He notices in the Software Summary panel that there is a software package installed in most systems but only used by half of the systems it’s installed on. It is also clearly highlighted in a graph next to the given data and displayed below.

 

By diving into one of the detailed dashboards provided by our Software Asset Analytics Kit, he can easily search for the package and see additional details including the number of associated applications, how many of those applications require connections, and where those connections are going. He goes further down the dashboard and takes note of which systems are using the software and even the last time it was used. With this information, he can conclude that only certain groups within the company need to have that software. As he continues to follow the flow of the dashboard, he notices that only some of the applications within the package are being used and many of the system components required by the unused applications are unnecessary. He can use this information to optimize the software package and only include the necessary applications and components. The image below shows how easy it is for Joe to view this information and thus reach his conclusions.

Finally, he ensures that the applications that do require connections are using approved correct ports to guarantee the security of the environment and potentially simplify network traffic. Through proper use of this dashboard, Joe could easily navigate the pertinent data and know what to trim from the software package and how to limit its delivery to only the groups that required it. He even confirmed that the software package would only make connections through approved network ports.

Dependencies is just one of the three key categories when observing software assets. We will continue to expand on the other two categories, Usage and Performance, with examples taken directly from the SysTrack Software Asset Analytics Kit to show the importance and practicality of monitoring this data for maintaining a successful environment.

INTRODUCING ASK SYSTRACK FOR AIRWATCH

At Lakeside Software our goal has long been to make insightful, high impact analytics readily available to help answer questions and enable better decision making in IT.

In August we took a major step forward in data accessibility with the introduction of Ask SysTrack, in partnership with IBM Watson cognitive services. This Natural Language Processing (NLP) question tool made it possible to find highly specific SysTrack data using nothing but everyday questions, greatly reducing the barrier to entry for all SysTrack tools. A basic introduction to the Ask SysTrack was provided in a previous blog post by Ben Murphy. You can download a white paper for more in-depth information on how the tool works.

One of the interesting things we discovered in the intervening months has been that Ask SysTrack was getting asked questions it understood but didn’t know the answer to. We inadvertently trained Ask SysTrack’s AI dictionary to understand nearly every question someone in IT might ask it. The best metaphor for this would be like being asked for directions to somewhere you don’t know how to get to. Say someone stopped you on the street and asked:

“How do I get to Bob’s burgers?”

You understand they are looking for directions to an eatery named Bob’s burgers. But you don’t know the answer.

Something similar was happening to Ask SysTrack in production – it was getting asked lots of questions about mobile devices.

Since SysTrack is traditionally a desktop analytics tool, it offers only limited visibility into the mobile device space. It’s difficult for users who are unfamiliar with the vast quantities of data available to them through SysTrack and other tools to navigate to the mobility data they need in the moment. But that data was easily found in their EMM console.

Since the most popular EMM tool in SysTrack Community is Airwatch, we reached out to our friends at VMware with a proposition: Let us extend our natural language insight engine to your platform.

One thing led to another, and today we’re introducing Ask SysTrack for AirWatch. Through partnership with VMware AirWatch, the Enterprise Mobility Management leader in the Gartner VMM Magic Quadrant, the Ask SysTrack workspace analytics insight engine now includes Natural Language Processing capabilities for the entirety of the AirWatch platform. This means that the ease of use made possible by the industry first Ask SysTrack now expands into the mobility space.

Using nothing but simple questions you can track down otherwise hard to find data that typically requires a large amount of familiarity with AirWatch to locate. Say for instance that you want to know where to access your compliance polices.

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Or maybe you want to know how many of your employees use iPhones.

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Once again, what would normally be difficult to find only took a simple question.

The Ask SysTrack tool is available with SysTrack 8.2 while Ask SysTrack for AirWatch is made available through installation of an AirWatch SysTrack Kit.

SysTrack Use Case: Investigating Problem Applications with SysTrack

One of the goals at Lakeside is to make IT systems as transparent as possible so as to reveal the problem areas in the environment that most need to be addressed in order to improve the end-user experience. Some of the most frequent culprits impacting end-user experience are applications with excessive and unexpected resource consumption or continual faults, errors, and hangs. Fortunately, SysTrack provides several tools and various methods with which these problem applications can be addressed. I’ll be giving a quick walkthrough of these, covering the cases in which the problem application is unknown and needs to be identified and then moving into how to go about monitoring a known problem application more closely. In no way will the list of methods I provide be exhaustive but they can serve as a strong starting point.

Let’s begin with the first case, the unknown application that is potentially tanking performance and productivity and just being a general pain for end-users. Assume for a moment that there have been reports of impacted performance on several systems in the environment and a handful of rather unhelpful support tickets have been generated. “My Outlook is slow, my internet is taking forever, my BLANK keeps crashing.” You have a – hopefully short – list of users, systems, and the times at which they were experiencing difficulty; but where do you start the search? The first tool to utilize when given such a specific location and timeframe is SysTrack Resolve. Launch Resolve and change focus to select a system to observe, then navigate to the Overview section to see a list of all recent impacts on end-user experience discovered by SysTrack.

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This will provide some context as to with which areas a system may be struggling. If there are a large number of reported application errors or consumption related events visible here, then it should prove much simpler to identify the source of these in the next step due to their frequency. Once we’ve had that cursory look next we’ll dive into the black box and select a timeframe during which users have reported problems with the system. Highlight an area of the chart with high or unexpected resource consumption by clicking there and the applications panel will display the resource consumption of each application that was running at that point in time.

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By observing the applications at that given point in time it’s possible to find applications that are impacting the end-user by correlating the system performance with the application’s consumption and begin to address the possible causes. Once some of these problem applications have been found and triaged it may become apparent that several of them should be monitored more closely to limit or prevent future impact. That’s where the next set of tools come in, the ability to create and report on custom alarms. Within SysTrack Deploy, the SysTrack deployment tool, under Alarms and Configuration > Scripting and Response Time it’s possible to create custom SQL scripts for a system configuration that run against the child database at set intervals of time, compare their results to a threshold, and generate custom alarms that make their way up to the master.

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Say for example that one of the problem applications in your environment has excessive application load times that are indicative of a poor end-user experience and you need to know when they happen. A series of custom alarms could be implemented that that run every 10 minutes and report the maximum application load time for the past 10 minutes, filtered to only include the problem application. If the returned value is greater than 10 seconds or 20 seconds then a Yellow or Red alarm is generated respectively. Alternatively, the script itself could contain the thresholds and return a count of the number of applications that exceed said threshold in an alarm. Combining these custom alarms in an environment would provide much needed data that allows IT personnel to quickly locate periods of time when the target application was “acting up” and also gauge how common and frequent this behavior is.

Once this monitoring data has been generated you then need a way to readily access it. Since the alarms themselves are already custom, I find that it works best to rely on another custom tool, the SysTrack Dashboard Builder, to filter out unwanted alarms and focus on just the ones we want. Use a simple drag-and-drop interface and a little SQL knowhow to filter the results and you can get an excellent look at the data you want.

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There’s no way of knowing exactly which pieces of information will be important for every given application, but with the robustness and flexibility provided by SysTrack it’s possible to identify what you need to know and put systems in place to monitor it.  By familiarizing yourself with your environments problem applications at present you can keep them from being the problem applications of the future.

 

SysTrack Skype for Business Assessment

The modern enterprise has many pillars upon which it is established and which are necessary for it to function. None of them however, are quite as crucial as the enterprises need for collaboration and communication. Every organization from the one-man freelance team to the multinational corporation has people who need to communicate with other people to complete the daily tasks required of them. As technology continues to develop and diffuse throughout every facet of business, the ways in which these organizations are required to communicate change as well. Small teams who routinely work with one another are no longer housed within the same physical workspace while the meetings and presentations that occur between companies require far fewer in person encounters. Currently leading the way for and promoting this digital-centric communication is Skype for Business, a unified platform for real-time chat, voice, video, and screen sharing. Unfortunately, every technology is bound to experience some growing pains. We here at Lakeside Software are offering a SysTrack Citrix Skype for Business Assessment that will help alleviate some these pains and is described below.

The traditional method of deploying the Skype for Business client is to locally deploy it to each of the hundreds if not thousands of endpoints that require it and ensure that it is correctly configured for each user. Not only is this approach exceedingly difficult to manage but it also lacks the control, security, and visibility required by the same enterprises that need the features provided by Skype for Business the most. Citrix has stepped up and chosen to address these concerns with their HDX RealTime Optimization Pack (RTOP). Developed with and endorsed by Microsoft, the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack allows Skype for Business to be published as a virtualized application or within a virtual desktop with the same performance as a local installation.

This optimization technology is the only Microsoft-endorsed solution for delivering Skype for Business in a virtual environment as the architecture of the HDX RTOP ensures integration with other Microsoft office products is maintained. The audio-video quality continues to be “local-like” while the accessories and interfaces to which user have grown accustomed to are as they would be on a locally installed client. Any solution, no matter how powerful or simple still needs ample consideration before it can be to be implemented and utilized.

The SysTrack Citrix Skype for Business Usage Assessment can be used to explore the current environment and summarize the data that is most relevant for determining the benefits of adopting the HDX RTOP. Such areas include the number of different versions present in the environment as well as the how many of them are actually being used. Supporting multiple versions, many of which are no longer current, puts undue strain on a company’s helpdesk and other support resources. It’s also worth observing the usage patterns of the users. Heavy and moderate users of Skype for Business will drive most of the resource demands associated with supporting it while the light users must still be provisioned properly to fill their roles. Finally, one of the most significant motivating factors for centrally delivering and managing Skype for Business for users is the ability to more closely control potentially problematic end user behaviors, like caching conversations locally in an insecure way. Each of these areas of importance can be examined with the SysTrack Skype for Business Usage Assessment.

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These new products from Citrix are excellent and continue to provide remote application and desktop experiences to end users, but it’s essential to maintain visibility into consumption and user service quality to understand how best to develop a robust IT environment while also satisfying the needs of the users. Some of the tools granted by the SysTrack Cloud Edition have been used to create a snapshot of that performance but no environment is static. Be prepared to tackle this inevitable change with SysTrack and leverage the data in your favor.