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.

Software Asset Optimization with SysTrack

Workplace analytics encompasses a vast amount of end user computing related information collected from a variety of sources, and a vital component of the topic is the observation of software assets. Obviously, a broad topic, we’ve chosen to break that further into three key categories: performance, usage and dependencies. Software performance monitoring is driven by the need to understand how well applications are working in the environment. Software usage is predicated on the idea of optimizing licensing and delivery to provide necessary applications. The last category, Dependencies, is vital to understand what pieces are necessary for software to function.

Software performance is itself a complex topic, but broadly the idea is to identify the answer to key questions like “why does my application keep crashing?” and “what applications take the longest time to load?” This incorporates key metrics like resource consumption details (CPU, memory, IOPS, network bandwidth) as well as number and frequency of faults or hangs. In many ways, this is one of the first items thought of in the context of software asset analytics, and it’s often one of the first things an end user notices about the environment. Diagnosing performance issues and understanding the resource consumption for the average user can help steer hardware requisition and delivery methods. Clearly, though, a preliminary question in many cases is exactly what packages belong in the environment.

Accurately observing software usage can be invaluable to a company. The ability to know which applications are used versus installed directly relates to the distribution of licenses, and that’s a direct cost driver. Another consideration is support cost savings made possible by making images less complicated. Intrinsic to rationalization is a host of potential ways to make sure that the delivery of applications to end users is as closely tailored to their needs as possible. There are some technical considerations to this as well, not the least of which is exploring the components or backend connections required for software in the environment.

Gaining insight into the required components a given package needs to function can be very important to choosing appropriate delivery mechanisms and options. Application compatibility concerns driven by incompatible components, fundamentally unsupportable system components, and complex networking requirements are all key to understand. Identifying what applications call on to function on a day to day basis dictates many of the decisions IT need to make to modernize and continually innovate with their delivery options.

We’ll be going into more depth on each of these categories as we release our upcoming Software Asset Analytics Kit. With each area, we’ll expand on some real use cases and provide some real-world examples of how each provides essential information for an environment.

Digital Experience Management and Event Correlation with SysTrack

SysTrack provides the ability to score an environment’s end user experience using digital experience management metrics. The resulting end user experience score provides a clear view of the end user’s experience in that environment and is composed by a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are structured to provide direction to any problems in the environment that may affect the end user. The key to the philosophical approach with SysTrack, though, is the joining of this scoring to event correlation and analysis through the use of proactive alerts. These proactive alerts tie that overarching score to triggered, targeted events to provide a fuller and easier to understand portrait of the IT environment.

This starts with our end user experience score, and it’s best thought of as a simple grade. Basically, the score comes in a range of 0 to 100, with a score of a 100 implying the environment is providing the best end user experience. The score is composed of 13 different KPIs that represent aggregate data points on potential sources of impact. These  roughly fall into the categories of resource issues, networking problems,  system configuration issues, and infrastructure problems. This results in a great, normalized score to understand across a broad set of different systems what kind of performance issues are occurring. Even more importantly, it provides a platform for long-term analysis for trending to see the trajectory and evolution of that experience over time. The image below displays an overall view of the end user’s experience of the environment and the ability to monitor the evolution of those impacts over time. 

For more operational items that require an immediate response the alerting mechanism comes into play. Alerts are an active component that are triggered by events generally correlated with negative impact. Alert items roughly correlate with the end user experience score KPIs to help further IT administrators’ direction towards resolving problems. The image below demonstrates an environment with active alerts.
The key piece is correlating these items to that impact in a meaningful way. So, the big question is this: how do they work with one another?

One of the most common ways alerts and user experience scores are used in conjunction is through a feedback loop.  An administrator determines which KPI is causing the largest source of impact and continues to drill down providing a clear view of placed and potentially triggered correlating alerts. The alerts will direct the administrator towards the underlying causes of the problem and finally to the potential source of impact. After the resolution the administrator can track the increase in user experience as a result of their improvements to see how successful their changes have been.

End user experience scores provide an overall indicator of the quality end users are experiencing, while alerts provide immediate information on the source of impact. The integration of both tools provides an easy and clear way for IT administrators to discover the source of a system’s impact. To learn more on this topic check out our white paper, Utilizing KPIs and Alarm Methods!

Director Integration for Ask SysTrack

One of the unintuitive results of the progression of technology is the massive proliferation of different sources for different pieces of information that are critical to managing an environment. There are just so many tools that provide a depth of detailed data that the sheer number of them makes it difficult to figure out which one to use and how to find it within the interface. Information seeking behavior then takes users across multiple tools with multiple methods of interaction; the net result can be confusion and lost time. This is where cognitive analytics and the ability to ask simple questions can make the difference between solving a problem and bouncing between reporting tools.

The popularity of Ask SysTrack’s recent set of advanced integrations has been very eye opening to how pervasive the need to have a single, easy to use interface for getting contextually relevant answers to questions can be. Because of this we’ve worked with our partners to try and provide a single source to answer IT questions that then provide what’s needed when it’s needed.

At Citrix Summit we’re showcasing one of our most recent examples: plugin integration with Citrix Director. This plugin not only displays SysTrack information in the Director interface, but also provides Director and Citrix related answers to questions that are found in the interface through Ask SysTrack.

The key is providing the Ask SysTrack plugin interface directly in the Director interface home page. Now any IT administrator that makes use of Director has a Watson power cognitive helper to answer questions like “What is the user experience of my environment?”

Clicking the link takes them directly into the relevant data in SysTrack. Alternatively, they can also just ask questions about Director.

We’ve also added a User Experience Trend for delivery groups that are discovered in association with the instance that allows administrators to view what kind of user experience their end users have been getting alongside the other data presented in Director.

This makes it much easier for administrators to now get the key details they need when they need it without having to spend time working through multiple interfaces.

For more details check out a quick video run through.

Answering GPU Questions with SysTrack

Ask SysTrack has become one of the most popular topics we’ve ever discussed in the industry, and our top question is always what we’re adding next. The benefits of using our Natural Language Processing (NLP) tool for common IT questions has appealed to a massive number of our partners in the industry as well as customers. Basically, our goal is to provide an analytical system that takes any question you may have about IT and tries to hook you into the best source of information available to help.

Zach mentioned our first integration in a previous post, and in the new year we’ll be launching a series of new integrations that cover different areas. One I’m personally excited about is our added GPU-based monitoring and reporting from NVIDIA GRID.

GPU utilization in general has been a hot topic for a while, and with the great progress NVIDIA has made with the creation of the first vGPU profiles for VDI, the potential to bring a great graphical experience to anyone has exploded. We’ve provided support for NVIDIA GRID from the very beginning, offering a cloud based assessment tool that can help plan what profiles would work for a currently physical environment to make the move to vGPU and VDI. As a natural progression to that we’ve implemented new monitoring with NVIDIA to help understand workload and usage in VDI systems. 

This kind of insight is especially critical when first undertaking a project to start transforming an environment using new technologies. John Fanelli, vice president of NVIDIA GRID, agrees, “With Lakeside Software’s Ask SysTrack workspace analytics insight engine administrators can make natural language queries to gain contextually relevant NVIDIA vGPU insights and help continuously assess and align vGPU benefits to user personas.”

Of course, the key point is connecting users to all that great content. This is where the expansion to Ask SysTrack comes in. Specifically, we’ve now integrated our additional collection and planning for Ask SysTrack to be able to help answer basic questions like “What kind of NVIDIA vGPU profiles do my users need?”

We can also answer other questions post migration that are critical to maintaining user experience. Things like, “What’s the total GPU usage on Ben’s system?”

Basically, if you can think of a question relating to GPU utilization we have the answer available.

To get started, check out our assessment site at nvidia.lakesidesoftware.com to first size out a new environment or just get an introduction to SysTrack.

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.

Expanding SysTrack Desktop Assessment for VMware with AirWatch and Windows 10

VMware Windows 10 Migration and Management Assessment

As a Windows 10 launch partner, Lakeside has had resounding success with helping organizations move from legacy workspace components to more modern Microsoft solutions. Now we’re pleased to announce a next step in this with VMware, specifically targeting customers that are interested in improving their enterprise mobility management (EMM) and security with VMware’s cloud-first technologies. Available today at http://assessment.airwatch.com (http://assessment.vmware.com), the SysTrack Desktop Assessment service has been updated to integrate key metrics for implementation of AirWatch and migration to Windows 10. This means that with a free assessment, organizations can at once get a full analysis of application and user behaviors, mobility needs, and their overall readiness for Windows 10 adoption as well as a fit for VMware solutions.

So, what are the details? With the new update you’re going to get two critical new pieces of functionality:

  1. Windows 10 readiness and hardware analysis for an in place migration. This specifically focuses on how AirWatch can help with management of existing or net new physical assets. One of the key considerations here is whether some physical assets require a hardware refresh either for compatibility or for performance optimization. Below the systems that would require an update are market as “Refresh and AirWatch”.

VMware Solutions

  1. Risk exposure and potential security concerns through our new (and evolving) Risk Visualizer tool.

Risk Scores

Alongside this we’ve updated the core report to reflect the overall readiness of existing physical systems that may need to stay physical (for example, systems that are highly mobile or have offline usage) to migrate directly to Windows 10.

Windows 10 Readiness

This is all available today and absolutely free. To get started just go to http://assessment.airwatch.com (or http://assessment.vmware.com) and sign up now.

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.

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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.

Have a Question? Ask SysTrack

The overarching theme of all the content we’ve created here has been trying make it easier to find interesting data and allow organizations to engage in intuitive information seeking behavior. If there’s anything the outgrowth of chat based interfaces has taught us, though, it’s that often the most meaningful way to bring the answers that users need to them it’s to allow them to craft their own questions in their own terms. So, the logical evolution here is to introduce a method to make it easier to get answers out of SysTrack with simple, natural language.

This is why Lakeside Software has partnered with IBM to use their Watson cognitive API library to introduce Ask SysTrack. This Natural Language Processing (NLP) question tool allows anyone to ask questions they may have for the SysTrack Workspace Analytics platform in basic, conversational form.

For example, say I want to find what my most heavily faulting application is. I can ask a simple question: “What application faults the most?”

ApplicationFaultsQuestion

Just asking that question gives me the most heavily faulting applications in order and even some other related things for me to look into if I’m interested.

Let’s say I wanted to find out specifically what’s wrong with a system.

Specific System Problems

Again, with a simple question I have the ability to know what this user has been having problems with lately.

With GA of SysTrack 8.2 this feature is now available for anyone, and I’d encourage you to check it out. You can download a white paper that expands on how it all works.

Introducing the NVIDIA Graphics Assessment

When NVIDIA first announced their groundbreaking approach to introducing accelerated graphics to virtualization they began bridging one of the last gaps in making sure that users get the best possible experience with virtual desktops and applications. Building on their success NVIDIA has introduced newer, Maxwell™ based GRID cards NVIDIA that go even further to create a rich graphical experience for users and decrease complexity for IT administrators looking to optimize the visual experience of their users.

The evolution of the GRID solution set coupled with their new software means that more users than ever can take advantage of graphical acceleration. This couldn’t come at a better time given the rise of advanced media usage in enterprise. As an increasing number of organizations begin to explore making their virtualized environments even better many want to explore what their current graphical needs are and plan for the future with NVIDIA.

This is why Lakeside Software has partnered with NVIDIA to develop a totally free graphical assessment hosted on Azure to deliver a detailed series of reports leveraging the SysTrack workplace analytics platform. Available for a 30-day period for up to 500 systems at no cost, this allows any interested organization to deploy SysTrack and review their current environment. At the end of the data collection period a customized report can be generated to provide key insights on how users are using graphically accelerated applications and what GRID profiles may work best for them.

Segmentation

Additionally, NVIDIA has also introduced vGPU monitoring as a key component of their GRID technology. As an early access partner Lakeside has been able to leverage this to build out new management and monitoring components to help ensure that critical end user experience components deliver the immersive experience users expect. This is showcased in some of the updated NVIDIA Kit contents that IT administrators can now use to monitor their vGPU implementations.

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So, get started today. Check out https://nvidia.lakesidesoftware.com to learn more about how you can use vGPU and SysTrack to help give your users the best possible experience.