Getting the most out of Microsoft SCCM with SysTrack

Managing large computing environments can be a real challenge for any IT administrator. Simple tasks such as ensuring every user has the latest version of Microsoft Excel can cause a great deal of headaches. A small company IT staff, with maybe 10 or 20 users, can simply check each employee’s device to see which version of an application they’re running. But what do you do when there are 100 users? Or 1,000 users? Time simply won’t permit physically checking devices and talking with each user (unless you enjoy working around the clock).

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager is a popular choice for the large company IT administrator. SCCM is ideal for managing a large environment of end-points, keeping software up-to-date, setting security policies, deploying configurations and polices, and much more. Of course, just because your software is running the latest version doesn’t mean your environment is efficiently organized and getting the best value it could. Any IT worker worth their salt is looking for areas where cost savings can be realized. A great way to identify IT cost savings is to gain insight into how the environment you manage with SCCM is actually being utilized. Are all of those Microsoft Office instances you deployed actually being used? Does each user have all of the applications they need to be effective at their job? Are there unmanaged applications being used that need to be accounted for and supported? Having a detailed, reliable software inventory can go a long way in the IT world.

Software rationalization based on actual usage data can ensure you’re not wasting money on licenses that are going unused and that each user has exactly the right software. Lakeside Software’s core product, SysTrack, is designed to answer these types of questions for you. Using agent-based methodology SysTrack provides detailed information from the individual user level all the way up to enterprise level trends. The agent-based design allows for an extremely granular view of the data when you need it as well as a broad overview of the enterprise as a whole when you want to look at trends. Don’t bother with setting up perfmon counters or time consuming, complicated monitoring tools – SysTrack is simple to install and set up and will provide you with the IT intelligence you need right out of the box.

Understanding user needs based on how they are interacting with the current environment allows you to rationalize software deployments and create images that make sense and save on unnecessary costs. SysTrack provides a clear understanding of which applications are being used by each user, how much they are using those applications, and even how much productivity is being impacted by poor performance. All of the in-depth information available to you through SysTrack can greatly reduce costs from saving software licenses that may go unused, reduced planning time for image creation, and reduced support time.

There are a lot of options available to today’s IT administrator for monitoring and managing their environment. Lakeside has put a lot of time into making sure SysTrack covers all of your IT intelligence needs and helps reduce the costs associated with and the time required to keep your environment efficient and running smoothly. Find out how to take the guesswork out of IT decisions (and eliminate the headache of parsing log files to troubleshoot) by checking out the SysTrack Product Suite.

Business Intelligence for Cost Savings in IT

One of the most expensive mistakes anyone can make in life is ignoring the details. Whether it’s that stack of parking tickets piling up on the dining room table or your crippling addiction to Steam sales, the possibility of being overwhelmed by the small costs in life is very real. Even worse is the fact that those expenses are difficult to keep track of by the very nature of how little attention they bring to themselves. When you get hit with massive, expected costs it’s easy to keep up because they hurt and there’s no ignoring it, but the slow bleed of a minor hit is easy to miss. Unfortunately, in real life and the IT world, these can be the items that topple everything when they build up (and lead to some serious finger pointing).

Luckily for IT (but not for your personal life, sorry), Lakeside Software has put some serious thought into how these individually small impacts can be automatically analyzed and used to predict areas of savings to take the manual effort away from managing costs to the business. Now Lakeside’s SysTrack software provides a quick, automated analysis of the current state of any environment to provide a summary of where savings can be realized. Through the use of the new SysTrack Business Intelligence Impact Report (part of the MarketPlace program), a detailed breakdown of utilization and potential savings target can be created with any assessment across numerous cost categories.

One of the principle cost drivers in any environment is underutilization of assets, both for physical hardware and licensed software. Identifying where software assets can be rationalized out of the environment or licenses can be reclaimed can make a huge impact on the operational budget available to an enterprise, and it can be extremely difficult to arrive at an accurate picture of what users actually depend on. SysTrack automatically captures the granular information necessary to observe utilization for software down to the individual usage of executables per user and dynamically determine what’s being used where and who’s using it. Similarly, identifying when and where a targeted hardware refresh can be used (or avoided) can prevent unnecessary expenditure and avoid extra costs associated with additional support needs. SysTrack collects the performance metrics and hardware details necessary to make clear recommendations about which systems are ready to retire and which can remain in place.

Decreasing the TCO of end-user devices is something that we’ve built numerous solutions around, and some knowledge on the subject of how to maximize the returns on your IT investments with SysTrack is available to cover the finer points of cost savings. Much of this is based around aggregating the end-user experience and assigning some real, quantitative value to the time that users lose due to shortcomings in the tools that are available to them. Categorized, actionable data on what areas of the infrastructure and the computing platforms in use in the environment are causing problems can drastically cut down on support costs while increasing end-user productivity and satisfaction.

Of course there are numerous other avenues for cost prevention or reduction as well, and SysTrack has an incredible amount of analytical power dedicated to automating the triage and presentation of potential problems that can help any environment save money and perform better. To explore the value of SysTrack visit our solutions page for some interesting use cases.

Brian Madden on The State of Desktop Virtualization

TechTarget published the E-Guide “The State of Desktop Virtualization in 2013″ towards the end of last year. In it, industry analyst and renowned virtualization specialist Brian Madden analyses the results of a large scale survey that Tech Target conducted earlier.

Even though a majority of the survey respondents indicate that they are going to increase the adoption and investment in desktop virtualization, a few key concerns remain:

  • 43% of respondents are nervous about VDI performance over the WAN
  • 46% indicate that they’d had issues with end-user experience not being good. Some of the highlights in this category are challenges related to slow networks (read slow overall performance), unsupported peripherals, and video performance.

User satisfaction with any new solution is key to its adoption. Most users are willing to accept virtual desktop performance that is slightly lower than that of a traditional PC – mostly because the virtual desktop allows them to work in ways that they could not previously (more flexibly, from home, while on the road, etc.). However, it is very difficult for IT to accurately figure out ahead of time how the solution will perform and how the end-user experience will look like.

Here at Lakeside Software, we have been building solutions for end-user analytics and performance management for almost two decades with an early focus on virtualized applications and desktops. User experience is not impossible to manage or predict, and it’s actually easy to do when the right tools are used. Check us out at http://lakesidesoftware.com.

XenDesktop 7.5 – It’s all about the user

At Lakeside Software, we are very excited that XenDesktop 7.5 is being released – the third 7.x iteration in a few months puts customers on a great footing with the first unified architecture for both application and desktop virtualization.

Citrix has been doing a great job integrating design principles into the products for a couple of years now. Back in 2009 and 2010, we worked closely with the Citrix Consulting Services organization and took a “design thinking” approach to the implementation of XenDesktop and help determine organizations what their users need and expect from the solution. Those thoughts eventually led to the Desktop Transformation Methodology and the Desktop Transformation Assessment service offering from Citrix Consulting Services, which uses Lakeside SysTrack to gather the requisite data. I wrote about the methodology about two years ago on citrix.com.

A few years ago,  I wrote another brief blog post about observing end-user behavior. I felt that IT owed it to the end-user community to try and understand their business, their work, their desires, their frustrations etc. in order to provide the best possible  experience.  This is obviously difficult to do in person and on a large scale and IT leaders who are willing to apply this type of approach either have to select a small sample size or try to automate the task. That’s where Lakeside Software’s SysTrack comes into play. It has been around for 17 years and is a Citrix Ready certified product. It is primarily used for on-going and in-depth, non-intrusive end-user experience monitoring in cloud-hosted or traditional Desktop environments, but also plays a vital role in any transformational project such as the virtualization of desktops with XenDesktop 7.5 – whether in an on premise fashion, cloud hosted, or in a hybrid cloud architecture.

SysTrack can easily be deployed to existing XenApp servers and desktops (no matter if physical or virtual) and it seamlessly records and summarizes key usage patterns. What are the applications in use (and which ones are not used and thus consuming expensive licenses)? How often are they used? What resources do they consume (CPU, memory, network, graphics (including detailed NVIDIA GPU / GRID consumption))? How do end-users connect? What are the network and surrounding parameters?  All these are questions that must be answered before architects can meaningfully design and size the infrastructure, the application landscape, and the master golden images.

Within SysTrack, there are several modules that complement XenDesktop  7.5 wonderfully:

  • Virtual Machine Planner (VMP) for application rationalization, environment sizing, and master image design.
  • SysTrack Transform to manage the migration process from the old to the new. Citrix Platinum edition customers can share AppDNA compatibility data directly with SysTrack Transform and get more value out of their platinum investment.
  • SysTrack’s dashboard builder lets non-programmers quickly build dynamic dashboards and metric about the specific aspects of the environment that they care about. This is particularly valuable to hosting providers and IT shops that are building public or hybrid clouds to see the things that matter globally or to just one tenant.
  • Proactive alerting of any changes on the server or desktop side. This is often used to detect unauthorized changes or malicious software packages.
  • NVIDIA GPU and GIRD instrumentation allows customers to gather data for GRID vGPU Planning and for operational monitoring in order to allocate the right GRID profiles to users based on their actually observed needs.
  • SysTrack vScape to  instrument the Hypervisor layer and provide real time summary data across the environment – invaluable in private, public, or hybrid cloud environments.
  • Broad user experience scoring that can be observed over extended periods of time to identify high level trends.
  • SysTrack visualizers and the Resolve tool to direct IT efforts and pin point issues and resolve them quickly.

In summary, short of sitting an IT admin next to every user in the environment for a months and have them take copious notes, Lakeside SysTrack is the leading tool to apply design thinking to any deployment of  XenDesktop 7.5 and keep a high level of end-user satisfaction for many years to come.

XenApp 7.5 + End-User Analytics = great user experience

XenApp is back! And that’s great news for Citrix customer and resellers alike. At Lakeside Software, we’re excited about this latest release of the premier application virtualization solution.  Regardless of whether you are thinking about implementing XenApp 7.5 for the very first time or you are migrating from 6.5 or standing up a hybrid cloud environment, here are a few thoughts to make your implementation successful.

Citrix has been doing a great job implementing the concepts of “design thinking,” the discipline that is so successfully represented by IDEO and Stanford University. At its core is the idea of involving the end-users in the product design process and obtaining feedback of the proposed solution before too much out and rollout.

At some point during my eight years at Citrix Consulting Services I wrote a blog along the same lines – about IT going out and observing end- users in their daily habits in order to offer a solution or service user needs (in a  previous life as a developer of healthcare applications, we actually went out and observed doctors and nurses to see how they worked and interacted with our product on a regular basis).

At a large scale, this is easier said than done. Who has the time to position a body next to each users, observe what they are doing, take notes, and then translate this into a winning application and server design for the next XenApp rollout? Imagine somebody asking you every 15 seconds “What are you doing now?”  what if that task could be automated and executed at a large scale without annoying users?

That’s where Lakeside SysTrack comes into play. This award winning solution has been around for 17 years (and may be known to you as “Resource Manager” in earlier versions of XenApp or Presentation Server back going user experience analytics, monitoring, and management solution, but it lends itself very well to migration projects such as the adoption of XenApp 7.5.

A non-intrusive agent is installed on the existing workstations or XenApp servers and it gathers a ton of data at a very granular level. Which applications are running? How much, how often are they used? What resources do they consume in terms of CPU, memory, graphics (including deep details on NVidia GPU and GRID consumption for those who need HDX 3D Pro)? What apps are out there but not used? What web applications users connect and what is the experience on the network? Are end application resources do my users or XenApp servers connect to?

All these points are difficult to assess manually, but with SysTrack they become very easy:

  • Virtual Machine Planner (VMP) for application rationalization, environment sizing, and master image design.
  • SysTrack Transform to manage the migration process from the old to the new. Citrix Platinum edition customers can share AppDNA compatibility data directly with SysTrack Transform and get more value out of their platinum investment.
  • SysTrack’s dashboard builder lets non-programmers quickly build dynamic dashboards and metric about the specific aspects of the environment that they care about. This is particularly valuable to hosting providers and IT shops that are building public or hybrid clouds to see the things that matter globally or to just one tenant.
  • Proactive alerting of any changes on the server or desktop side. This is often used to detect unauthorized changes or malicious software packages.
  • NVIDIA GPU and GRID instrumentation allows customers to gather data for GRID vGPU Planning and for operational monitoring in order to allocate the right GRID profiles to users based on their actually observed needs.
  • SysTrack vScape to  instrument the Hypervisor layer and provide real time summary data across the environment – invaluable in private, public, or hybrid cloud environments.
  • Broad user experience scoring that can be observed over extended periods of time to identify high level trends.
  • SysTrack visualizers and the Resolve tool to direct IT efforts and pin point issues and resolve them quickly.

Post-deployment, SysTrack allows XenApp 7.5 admins to keep an eye on user behavior and the end-user  experience in order to adjust resources where needed in order to keep things running and to minimize  those dreaded helpdesk calls.