Tag Archives: Dashboard

How Can I Use Microsoft Data to Optimize My Office 365 Environment?

For IT administrators, gathering data about user experience and application utilization can be a daunting task. There are many sources of user related data available; however, I will focus down on the data concerning a hypothetical organization’s Office 365 subscription and how SysTrack can help both show and give context to this data. The IT administrator of this organization (let’s call her Samantha) is looking to analyze data concerning the usage of each of the Office 365 products that they have licenses for. In doing some searching online, Sam finds that Microsoft has some data available through their Admin center on the Office 365 portal. This data, however, is limited in scope—it doesn’t tell much about the actual licenses that the organization has, and it doesn’t cover user experience with specific products. She also finds in her search that there are Powershell modules that allow access to organization data, but that would require significant setup and some knowledge on how that scripting works, which would require a significant investment of Samantha’s time in order to get data to a format that would be useful to her.

So, how can SysTrack help Sam with this problem? SysTrack’s normal data collection covers some of the things that Samantha wants, namely the general user experience with specific applications through Health and Black Box data, as well as app focus time. However, to gather the data on specific utilization of the Office 365 products, we need to augment the normal collection with collection from some of Microsoft’s cloud based APIs. This gives us the ability to collect daily activity reports for users of the organization, broken down for each Office 365 product, and from this we can generate data trends over time of how the products are used. For example, with the reports Samantha could monitor how many emails a certain user sends and receives each day. Combining this with the data already available about app focus time for Outlook as well as Health data on latency and network connection, gives a big picture look at how a that user generally uses their email.

Example Office 365 monitoring dashboard utilizing data from SysTrack and Microsoft

In addition to collection based on user activity, SysTrack also collects data on active product licenses for each user. This feature gives Samantha the ability to compare a user’s usage of each of Office 365’s products with what they are licensed for to see if the organization is getting the most out of their subscriptions. There is also collection of Service Statuses for each product, directly from Microsoft, so if there are service interruptions that are affecting users, then Samantha can track that as well. Overall, SysTrack gives a very comprehensive coverage of all the available Office 365 data without having to go hunting for it on multiple pages, easing the job of IT administrators looking for this data.

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.

SysTrack Basics: Build a First Dashboard

With the recent launch of SysTrack 7.0 it’s a perfect time to introduce one of the newest (and best, in my opinion) features: SysTrack Dashboard Builder. Even though it’s currently still just a tech preview it’s fairly feature complete, and there are some cool ways to present and customize data from SysTrack or other sources. The basic idea is to build a dashboard from some component pieces. You start with a set of data you’d like to work with (e.g. software utilization, health, vCenter system stats, etc. . .), and use this to create a query with the report builder. This then gets connected to a series of presentation tools. You can pick from standard (boring) tabular views, charts of a number of types, heat charts, bubble diagrams, and basically any way you’d care to think of to show some data points. To illustrate the process we’ll go step by step through the creation of a basic software inventory dashboard.

The first step is to create a new dashboard.

NewDashboard

Give it a name (I’ll pick Software Inventory because I’m not a very creative person), and then we’re ready to start dragging objects in. I’ll start with the Query object:

QueryDataBlock

There are some key areas here:

  1. Name and Description – Yep
  2. Query – This is the critical part of the dashboard, and the heart of the entire process. There are a few options (we’ll explore more in later posts), but because I’m pretty familiar with the data we’re working with here I’ll just put together a quick query (we’ll cover the report builder later, but it’s pretty easy to work with):

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT SystemId) AS [System Count], PackageName AS [Package], Version

FROM RPT_Software

WHERE (Flags & 16) = 0 AND Version <> ”

GROUP BY PackageName, Version

ORDER BY COUNT(DISTINCT SystemId) DESC

  1. Connection String – Here an alternative data source can be specified.
  2. Hierarchy Setup – Basically a method for developing groupings within the datasets. This will also be covered later.

With this, we’re ready to add in some objects to view the data. I’ll pick a table and a bar chart:

GraphandTableParts

By dragging in the presentation objects and connecting them to the data source I’ve finished up a basic dashboard. From here I can specify some settings for my chart (column type, what appears on the X-axis, what the title is) and save. This is now a complete dashboard ready for use:

SoftwareInventoryDash

With that we’ve completed a very rudimentary dashboard. We’ll have some more blogs covering much more detailed nuances of how to work with the Dashboard Builder in the near future, but that’s all it takes to get started. Give it a shot.