Let me start by saying I Love Configuration Manager!
Personally, my love affair with ConfigMgr started when it was still SMS. (No not a text message service, but Server Management System) Over the years as the product has grown and become more and more powerful my infatuation with the product continued to increase and now it is an awesome tool that I can not imagine doing without.
Before SMS or ConfigMgr, admins would have to visit each machine for updates or for software installs, we had no clue what was installed on what machine and don’t even get me started on patch management.
Throughout the years more and more functionality has been added to the product to make it more efficient and to solve admin issues time and again including software deployment, Patch management, Operating System Deployment, Baseline configuration, inventory reporting, software metering and even anti virus!
However, There is one big issue with all this new found power….. As someone famous once said:
With great power comes great responsibility!
With the power to deploy a single patch to many machines with just one click comes the potential for disaster of sending the wrong patch to the wrong machines. (or worse, the wrong Task Sequence).
Anyone that has been a ConfiMgr admin for any length of time has war stories of when the wrong advertisement was sent tot he wrong collection and business was impacted in some way. Many of these stories are small slow downs or minor interruptions in service but some are more like “Resume generating events”.
A very public example of this occurred in late July back in 2012. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (The second largest bank in Australia) was effectively taken “Offline” and unable to open the doors of the majority of their 1,000 branches for trading due to a “Systems Outage”.
The official line from the bank at the time was “a problem with an internal software upgrade”. However, it was reported that “… 9,000 desktop PCs, hundreds of mid-range Windows servers (sources said as high as 490) and even iPads had been rendered unusable….”
Unofficially, a simple mistake by a ConfigMgr admin advertising an OSD Task Sequence to the “All Systems” collection saw teller machines, AD servers and god knows what else, reboot and format the hard drive in preparation of installation of a new OS.
While there are no official numbers on the business cost to the bank or the cost of restoring the systems, I think we should all ask ourselves, “What would this type of impact cost your company?”
I don’t want to harp on this individual incident and break down the exact DNA of the outage, others have done this in the past. What I do want to do is talk about how we can make sure this does not happen to us, or at least minimise the potential risk.
How Can We Prevent ConfigMgr Disasters?
The biggest risk we have with ConfigMgr is the lack of control or granularity of security around deployments and limitations on what collections can be advertised to.
By default, all admins can send any package to any collection. Role Based Access Control (RBAC) within ConfigMgr does allow for some configuration of administration however it is not simple or straight forward to implement and has many limitations.
When an administrator deploys an OS Deployment task sequence to a collection with hundreds or thousands of clients, ConfigMgr warns the admin that the action is a “High Risk” deployment and asks them to confirm the action. However, if the same admin sends patches or software updates to the same collection, no warning is given.
- What if we could put warnings on ANY deployment type when sent to a collection containing large numbers of computers?
- What if RBAC was more powerful and easier to use?
- What if we could keep non-critical personnel out of the ConfigMgr console?
- What if you could even add a bunch of support tools directly in to a single pane of glass?
Well that’s exactly what the Cireson True Control Center (TCC) does! 🙂
True Control Center is Cireson’s latest version of the Configuration Manager platform and allows organisations to control who sees and does what within Config Mgr all while making is super easy for them to come up to speed and learn so they can be more productive faster.
So lets take a look at each of the key points that Config Manager admins and Support Desk managers would be interested in:
Simple and Powerful RBAC
Using super simple RBAC rules it is possible to lock down what computers or users are visible to groups of users. This gives Config Manager admins the ability to limit what users can see and therefore the damage that can be inflicted if someone makes a mistake.
It also allows them to limit the number of applications that can be advertised and the number of computers that can be advertised to at one time. This removes the potential for an analyst to accidentally rebuild all your domain controllers to Windows 7. 🙂
Remote Manage Support Tools for Computers
True Control Center now introduces Remote Manage support tools that provide analysts with a wide range of simple tools to provide targeted and simple support to customers and computers all from within the browser.
Right clicking a computer and selecting Remote Manage provides a vast list of support tools including:
- Basic Hardware information, including CPU, RAM, OS, Make and Manufacturer.
- Process list and control. You can see and kill processes on the remote machine.
- Services list and control. You can see and stop, start or restart services on the remote machine.
- Client Actions and Logs. Support actions that allow analysts to trigger common support tools for client computers. Such as:
- Remote Control
- Client re-install
- WMI repair
- Remote PowerShell
- and much more…..
Remote Manage Support Tools for Users
Quite often with Configuration Manager users in an environment are forgotten about. However, all the users in an AD domain are listed in Configuration Manger and are up to date. Wouldn’t it be great to introduce user tools to allow support actions such as Password Reset, Account unlock and Software Deployment?
Well now you can!
All from the one tool!
A common security issue that is faced by organisations is how to audit who, internally, invoked specific actions. The most common example is resetting a users password. To allow support staff to reset passwords usually an organisation will grant users access to reset passwords via AD security then give the support staff access to AD Users and Computers. That user then has access to reset anyone’s user account and gain access to their account and there is no audit to show who did what when.
By using True Control Center to reset or unlock user accounts, there is a single service account that can unlock passwords and every time an account is unlocked or has it’s password reset, it event is logged against a specific user account that triggered it.
Simple and Intuitive User Interface
Any of the System Center products, while powerful, are complicated and to administer through a complex console interface. Many of the work-spaces and navigation nodes are not required by most staff and just add complexity and time to the learning of the solution.
True Control Center reduces complexity and removes the excess navigation menus that an average support representative would not require. This makes the time to benefit for analysts that are new to the tool very quick allowing them to be effective faster and with less confusion with the required learning curve.
Support Tool Integration
The nirvana of support tools for analysts is a “Single Pane Of Glass” that they can use to log calls, track and update calls, investigate and resolve calls and also report from.
In all my 20+ years of experience with ITSM tools, I can honestly say, I’ve NEVER seen an ITSM solution that even comes close to this goal…… until now.
With the recent release of v4.8.x of Cireson’s Analyst portal for System Center Service Manager, analysts now have access to all the regular ITSM goodness that the Analyst Portal provides, but now also access to the Remote Manage tools of True Control Center directly from any associated Computer CI!
- No changing apps.
- No need for multiple screens.
- No need for copy and paste of machine names between apps.
- All while being secure and audited.
But I don’t use System Center Service Manager, I hear you cry. (Why not? I ask…)
Don’t despair, The Truce Control Center functionality has a flexible API that you can use to create a custom integrated solution in to your ITSM tool of choice!
No Console App Required
Traditional use of the Configuration Manager console requires an analyst to install the Configuration Manager console on to their computer to administer or use the tools functionality. This locks the analyst to a specific workstations that they must return to or remote access to achieve even the most basic tasks.
True Control Center is a web based application and can therefore be accessed from anywhere including mobile devices and even outside the organisation. Analysts can trigger the required events from any browser without having the delay and effort of returning or remote accessing to their primary workstation.
True Control Center is an amazing tool that any organisation that runs Configuration manager should review. It quickly and easily delivers real world benefits to any analyst responsible for the configuration and health of end users and computers.
Reducing time-to-resolution is a constant goal for support organisations and the Cireson True Control Center solution delivers the tools to drive down the time and effort required to achieve the most common tasks all while ensuring security and the ability to audit activity.
Microsoft’s Intune product is not something that I have blogged much about, in fact this is the first blog I’ve ever written on the product. But that’s all about to change….
Microsoft Intune was originally designed as an online “Lite” version of System Center Configuration Manager for those smaller organisations with a very mobile workforce. It was very slow to gain much momentum as many organizations already has System Center Configuration Manager and could not see the value for the product.
Over the years Microsoft have slowly but surely moved focus of the Intune product to a more Mobile Device Management focus and even started to integrate in a “Hybrid” method in to System Center Configuration Manager. (More on this in later blog posts)
This new troubleshooting portal provides analysts with a range of critical data exactly when and where they need it to resolve issues for end users who may be experiencing issues with their Intune connected mobile devices.
As the Microsoft Intune Team says in their announcement blog post:
Having the right data at your fingertips is a must when you’re troubleshooting issues with your end users. Intune’s new Troubleshooting Portal provides a “single pane of glass” for reviewing device status, assignments and policies affecting a user, eliminating the need to click into multiple workloads to diagnose issues.
…..this is a big win for IT Pros and Support or Helpdesk workers who want resolve end user issues faster with less effort.
The user details that an analyst can view for each user are:
- User status
- Group assignment
- Application and policy assignments
- App protection status
- Compliance issues
- Device status
- Device details (Such as OS type and version)
But I don’t want to give my Helpdesk staff access to my Intune environment!
No worries there.
Intune’s inbuilt Role Based Access Control (RBAC) solution allows for admins to grant access to support and helpdesk staff to just the items that they require and nothing else. The inbuilt Helpdesk Operator role grants members access to end users assignments, policies devices apps etc. and even see if their devices are registered in AD and in the future you will even be able to see applications installation status and enrollment status of devices.
Getting access to this level of information on the helpdesk at the time of a users call to the service desk is very powerful to assist staff in resolving any issues at first contact and getting your end users back to fully functional work as soon as possible.
If only Configuration Manager had a nice friendly website that we could give easy RBAC access to for Helpdesk and Support staff to get basic troubleshooting information without them needing the console or giving away the keys to the ConfigMgr kingdom…… Oh wait…. I’m sure I’ve blogged about that before….. 🙂
If you are like me and have spent many years (even decades) looking at the Configuration Manager console you probably can’t think that there could possibly be any other way to do you work on a day-to-day basis. Navigating the Configuration Manager console becomes second nature after a while and we don’t really think about it.
However, what if there was a new way to look at the Configuration Manager console that was easy to teach new staff members to learn and use, gives staff members access to just the features they need (and no more) and is available everywhere we need it without needing an app installed?
Well now there is!
Cireson, Your System Center Experts, have announced the Cireson Portal for Configuration Manager. It is a web-based experience to help manage and standardise daily tasks outside of the native Configuration Manager Console. This new approach to the ConfigMgr console empowers everyone on your IT team with anywhere, anytime access to inventory data, collection membership, software management and deployment, OSD management and deployment, and more.
Full Disclaimer: At this point I want to make the disclaimer that I work for Cireson. I also want to point out that I have worked with ConfigMgr since SMS v2.0 and that I will try my utmost to not let my involvement with Cireson colour my judgement of this tool and what it means for the SysAdmin’s daily workload.
With that out of the way….. This product is the best thing since ADR’s!
Any admin who uses ConfigMgr on a daily basis knows what a HUGE relief it was when we got ADR’s in the 2012 release of ConfigMgr. It saved us hours of packaging and testing and mucking about. In my opinion, the Cireson Portal for Configuration Manager is the most important innovation to the administration of ConfigMgr since ADR’s were introduced.
Why am I so confident about this portal and it’s claims? The answer is that it is build is being directed and overseen by Wally Mead himself. For anyone involved ins the Configuration Manager world for more than 5 minutes knows who Wally is, but in case you don’t Wally was involved with the ConfigMgr product within Microsoft for 22 years and literally wrote the book on all things ConfigMgr. So when I say this solution has pedigree, you know I mean it.
Enough talk, let’s take a look at some of the ways the Configuration Manager Portal changes the way people will use and interact with ConfigMgr on a daily basis.
If you are a ConfigMgr admin in Australia, no doubt you know, and often tell stories at dinner parties, about the incident where “SCCM Task Sequence blew up Australia’s CommBank” also reported as “Disastrous patch cripples CommBank“. Many ConfigMgr admins shudder at the thought of how easy this mistake was and often bring this up when explaining to their managers why they don’t want to give Service Desk or other IT teams access to the ConfigMgr console.
The Configuration Manager Portal is designed to give Configuration Manager Admins what they have always dreamed of… a way to easily give others access to the parts of Configuration Manager they require and nothing else! With the Configuration Manager Portal, Admins can easily configure targeted access for different Analyst Groups using Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) so that these Analysts can add Configuration Manager to their tool belt and maximise the value they bring to the business without the keys to the kingdom…. and potential disaster.
At the core of why the Configuration Manager Portal is it is a localized web-based portal and therefore there is no Configuration Manager Console deployment that needs to be created and maintained. Also it is a simplified interface that makes it easy to use and intuitive, thereby reducing the time that is required to spend on training Analysts.
Don’t get me wrong, the Configuration Manager Portal is not designed to replace the OOB Configuration Manager Console for actual Configuration Manager Administrators. The traditional console has everything and admin needs to not only operate day-to-day, but also upgrade, plan, expand, migrate etc. But for non-admins, or non-admin tasks, the Configuration Manager Portal is perfect to get in and get the job done.
What about a specific example?
For many organisations, the Service Desk (Level 1 Support) is a volume business. Time management and efficiency are the keys to success for incident and request triage, first-call resolution, and escalation. Correctly gathering and analysing required information about an incident or service request in an expedient manner allows for a faster resolutions or fulfillment of service.
Leveraging the Cireson Portal for Service Manager with the Configuration Manager Portal gives Service Desk Analysts the tools they need to gather and analyze the info they need to do their jobs more efficiently. Upon receiving an Incident Request, they can quickly use the Configuration Manager Portal to gain information on affected resources such as:
- User Device Affinity lookup and edit
- Current Inventory
- Software Deployment Status
The Service Desk Analyst can also use the Configuration Manager Portal to initiate a Software Deployment on demand if you as the admin allows it via RBAC right.
What about Desktop Support or the Server team?
Desktop Support staff spend much of their time away from their assigned workstations resolving issues and providing services at the end user’s location. Having to access a locally installed Configuration Manager Console can add unnecessary time when needing to get the end user back to being productive. Server Support teams put a premium on time, especially when dealing with server outages. Therefore, Server Analysts need quick access to information and remediation tools for servers either from their desk or in the Data Center, and sometimes from remote locations.
Having a web based ConfigMgr console allows Desktop and Server teams to:
- Get software update status and apply patches when necessary
- Deploy or upgrade software, if required
- Deploy a new OS Image to a computer or server
- Migrate a computer to an new OS (such as Windows 10 + Office 365) using MDT
- View reporting for all of the above
Finally, Managers can easily report and track the overall health of the organisation using simple to access dashboards to get a high level view of the entire IT operation.
Watch a sneak peek of the solution featuring Cireson Co-Founder, Shaun Ericson, and Microsoft MVP, Wally Mead. View now.