If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself” wrote Sun Tzu in his famous treatise, The Art of War.  In his unpublished, Art of Desktop Management and Migration, this statement was modified primarily as an organisation’s users are, despite suggestion to the contrary, not the enemy. Still, the basic principle of avoiding failure through thorough assessment holds true. Before embarking on a campaign to change your desktop environment in any way – be that a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7+,  a move to VDI, a move to a DaaS model from a third party…or even adding or changing an application – having accurate visibility of your existing desktop infrastructure is key to ensure you don’t endanger your project and your organisation’s money.

  • What devices do you have?
  • What applications have you (and possibly your users) installed?
  • Of those applications and devices which ones are actively used?

“Consumerisation in IT” is not new: it is not unusual to find new devices and/or software actively used in an environment. Conversely, IT may believe an application is not used … when it is; and valiantly maintain an application that they believe to be business critical, when it isn’t. The most costly desktop management services are those where the estate is unknown and unmanaged. You can drive operational costs down by knowing and managing your environment pro-actively.

There are of course, a number tools that can help you do this. A stumbling block here is that there is a cost associated in the licenses to use that software, in deploying the agents to clients, and in standing-up infrastructure to maintain the management consoles, databases and reporting tools.

RES Software have released the RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer a free, on-line, Microsoft Windows Azure-hosted service that allows you to gain visibility into your existing desktop infrastructure through a real-time analysis of your environment and user base.

Can RES Software’s cloud based service deliver? Many organisations are sticking “cloud” into their marketing – does RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer truly use cloud services, or is the term in a desktop analysis context more ethereal? Can a free service be a viable tool in, say, a corporate Windows 7 upgrade, or a migration from traditional desktops to a virtualised environment?

RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer – What is it?

What RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer Does

The RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer is indeed a free, on-line service that provides insight into the current state of the desktop environment. As we’ve discussed, having such insight is a critical first step when doing battle with any major desktop service challenge.

The RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer has been designed to give a clear insight into your Microsoft desktop environment by providing:

  1. Hardware Inventory
  2. Application Landscape
  3. User Population
  4. Location Layout
  5. Printing Topology

It is interesting to note that the RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer is not an entirely new technology. RES have taken the Desktop Sampler component of the RES Workspace Manager (which is essentially the part you install in your environment), and then created a cloud based service to provide the analysis and reporting component. Note, that the cloud service does not interact directly with your environment.

How RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer Does IT

In the first instance you sign-up to the service via their website – www.analyzeyourdesktops.com

Once signed up and authenticated the process is straightforward. Download the agent (the RES Desktop Sampler) and install as appropriate into your environment to gather the sample data, then upload the data to the RES service; wait for the analysis to complete and then download and review the reports.

Configuring the RES Desktop Sampler:

You’ve two options here.  You can incorporate the RES Desktop Sampler into an existing logon script. To do this you would:

  • Create a Microsoft Windows shared directory with write permissions for your users.
  • Download files from the RES site and copy these files into your shared folder
  • Add an executable from the shared directory to your logon script.
  • Wait to collect the data.

This will launch the RES Desktop Sampler automatically at each user logon, after which it will take a sample of the configured session. Once you have collected enough samples you can remove the inserted command line from the script to stop sampling.

Alternatively, you can incorporate the RES Desktop Sampler’s Microsoft Windows install file into your software distribution system.

  • Create a Microsoft Windows shared directory with write permissions for your users.
  • Configure your distribution system to deploy RES’ .msi file with an expiry time (for example, 30 days).

In both instances, the RES Desktop Sampler information is encrypted and compressed at the moment it is collected. The output file is encrypted text. A typical desktop sample file (dts-file) is approximately 10 to 15 Kbytes of data. This optimises the amount of data needed to be uploaded to the RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer website.

RES currently suggest “collecting enough samples”. This is vague. Bear in mind most assessments cover an extended period so as to cover all the tasks your users undertake. A 30+ day assessment period wouldn’t be unusual unless you’ve a very specific task orientated environment.

Upload Your Sampled Information

After your data collection period has finished,  you log back onto the RES site and upload the data files in one or more compressed zip archives. Or, if you’re a lonesome IT contractor and your family doesn’t want to be interrupted from their Facebook updates – you can upload your single dts-file. RES Software then use the power of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services to decrypt, collate, review and analyze your submission and then send you a link to download the individual reports, or a whole report package. After this action, the uploaded dts-files will be deleted from the RES service’s file system and data-store. How long would this take? RES report that in their testing enterprise site tests of @3,500 dts-files took less than half-an-hour to complete.

Review Reports

On analysis completion you have six different reports to review:

  1. Analysis Summary: summary of Microsoft OSes in use; device types (desktop/laptop); memory; screen resolutions; top ten most common applications used; top ten rare common applications used; remote vs local users; roaming vs non-roaming; network printers vs local; top ten printer types; breakdown of IP addresses to give a view of locations.
  2. Hardware Inventory: Installed internal memory per device; Screen resolution; Operating system version (including service pack level and bit version); Processor architecture, type and speed; chassis type (laptops vs desktops); Model types and display adapters.
  3. Application Landscape: top fifty .. common applications most used;  rarely used applications; never used applications; and then all used applications used in the past 90 days.
  4. User Population: provides information about the amount of domain groups per domain, user types and devices per domain and whether devices are shared or dedicated.
  5. Location Layout: presents a list of networks found in the sample files. The networks discovered are split into class-a and class-c networks.
  6. Printing Topology: Local printers versus network printers; top 10 configured individual printers (local and network); top 10 printer types based on printer driver used (local and network) and a list of all printers in use.

I found the reports to generally useful – if often a little vague in the nature of the figures (in terms of understanding what the context of counts were) and not always focused in the clarity of the boilerplate text.

How Free is Free?

There are a myriad of tools such as LANDesk Management Suite, Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager, Novell ZenWorks and Symantec Altiris Client Management Suite to name a few, that can provide you with information similar to that given in the reports. Likewise, there are a number of tools available that can help you assess your migration readiness – such as Liquidware Labs’ Stratusphere or CentrixSoftware’s Workspace Discovery.  Offering a software-as-a-service model for application licensing compliance isn’t unique – SoftwareOne have a Software Lifecycle Portal for example. Does the RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer do away with the need for such tools?

You may recall our article Why Your Vendors’ Sales Model Matters to You where we discussed the Freemium model for software tools. Given that this tool is free, how useful is the information that the RES Baseline Desktop Analzyer provides?

RES have undoubtedly created an innovate solution to provide analysis and utilise cloud based services. The RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer does indeed require less effort than other services in order to generate a baseline analysis of your Microsoft desktop estate.  Yet, the reports are too simple to offer information for detailed planning of any next-steps phase. Given the reports are generated as .pdf files it is also difficult to incorporate the information into other planning tools. Importantly – this service provides no analysis of next steps for migration to a new environment.

The RES Baseline Desktop Analysis gives you a high-level state-of-the-nation style view. If you wanted to interpret these results into a ‘readiness now’ format you’ve additional work to undertake, either by using additional tools or by engaging with a partner.

 

RES – Refining the Art of Understanding

Does the RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer deliver? It does indeed deliver a basic analysis of your environment. The reports can give an indication of the make-up of users and devices that attach to your Microsoft domain or workgroup. However, can this free service be a viable tool in, say, a corporate Windows 7 upgrade, or a migration from traditional desktops to a virtualised environment?

Not on its own.

The information presented could well help however with early analysis, especially for smaller environments where tools don’t exist yet. However, in general for such an undertaking the report information provided is too simple. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the data would be as an information gathering exercise to help you consider more comprehensive tools: and I’m sure RES and their partners would then be happy to highlight the advantages that having RES Workspace Manager can provide: other options are of course available.

If a driver for publishing this service was not only to assist in assessment but to show how effective RES are at design – if this free offering wasn’t good, or unreliable it would be a big loss. It is hard to make a good first impression the second time. From my initial tests I was impressed with the overall experience, but I’d suggest that the existing baseline information could be better presented and perhaps even extended.

RES have shown interesting innovation in the presentation of their Baseline Desktop Analyzer. The tool can work well as an initial guide on the state of your current desktop estate. But, it acts as a guide, it can present a scale of the task. As a tool alone it will only allow you to have an overview of yourself. To know your desktop environment fully and to know how you will need to take-on a campaign of migration you will need a wider set of information and likely additional tools and support.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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