Locate UX with Liquidware Stratusphere – Part two Let’s see how this thing works

In the previous post, we discussed the why in getting User Experience insights, and where to use Stratusphere UX to fulfill this.

In this part, I am going more into the what and how part by taking Stratusphere UX for a spin. We will start with the what by doing a little architecture as a starting point.

What is needed?

The architecture of Stratusphere (FIT/UX included) has four components: Stratusphere Hub Appliance, Stratusphere Database Appliance, Stratusphere Collector Appliance, and Connector ID (CID) Key. In short, the components do the following:

    • Stratusphere Hub (required), a pre-configured virtual appliance that provides the central policy management, policy distribution, data collection, reporting and alerting system for Stratusphere, as well as the user, interface for the Stratusphere user.
    • Stratusphere database (required), co-installed on the Hub or separate preconfigured virtual appliance. This component provides the central data storage for the Stratusphere product line. The separated appliance is needed when having a large number of desktop deployments (500+ desktops, see the sizing guide for details).
    • Statusphere Collector appliance, again co-installed on the Hub for small environments or a separated preconfigured virtual appliance that provides the ability to collect CID Key data and network monitoring data (in small environments both forms of data) for Stratusphere.
  • Desktop agent, or the Connector ID Keys aka CID. Windows, MacOS and Linux Distribution in-guest agent for getting those in-guest insights about the system, applications, and user activities. The CID’s are managed by the Hub and can be installed manually, via software distribution mechanisms or integrated into the master image for virtual desktops.

Depending on the to-investigate environment the hub, database, and collector can be shared in one appliance or can be separated. Use the calculator to determine what sizing and infrastructure architecture is appropriate for your use case. The calculator can be found at http://www.liquidware.com/products/stratusphere-sizing-guide.

The following architecture diagram shows the components interacting (as taken from http://www.liquidware.com/content/pdf/documents/support/Liquidware-Stratusphere-Architecture-Overview.pdf)

Stratusphere Architecture

Set the VDI profile for your assessment aka environment

Stratusphere will self learn and adapt the values to the assessed environment over time. However, the VDI profile is highly customizable to your needs. You can set everything according to what you (or your customer) find important for a successful UX. Start thinking about these figures when starting to define the use cases to be investigating. Speak to key users and application owners to find what is important for the user community and what values/metrics the application are dependent on. Try to find some common ground. If you put the weight of CPU higher than the weight of memory, and the applications are memory resource intensive you will have false information in your report. At that time you can work on a, or some, profile that you would wish to report on.

If this information beforehand is not clear (and this happens a lot), start with the defaults and take some more time to analyze the data.

When all is running: go to Stratusphere UX part, Diagnostics, and VDI UX Profile. You will see a screen similar to this one.

VDI UX Profile

So, now we have some information about what. Let’s see about the how part and take it for a spin.

On to the Bat..erm..Demo Lab

We have a Horizon Enterprise 7.5 demo lab environment, with Instant Clone and full clone Windows 10 desktop pools. And UEM, NSX, among others. I will be deploying the Stratusphere virtual appliance here. Beforehand, use the Liquidware Statusphere sizing calculator (http://www.liquidware.com/products/stratusphere-sizing-guide) to size the appliances for the environment. This is a demo lab so I won’t require a lot.

Use the following table for the OVF deployment links:

Stratusphere Hub Appliance:

http://download.liquidwarelabs.com/6.0.1/stratusphere_hub.ovf

Stratusphere Database Appliance*:

http://download.liquidwarelabs.com/6.0.1/stratusphere_database.ovf

Stratusphere Collector Appliance*:

http://download.liquidwarelabs.com/6.0.1/stratusphere_collector.ovf

After the ovf deployment checks the configuration, and start the appliance to boot up and do all the initial configurations. When the console shows, do the ALT-F2 combination.

Login with ssconsole and sspassword. From the menu, set the network configuration accordantly, set the FQDN, callback (fqdn preferable) and so on. Write configuration to finish the configuration.

Stratusphere Console

And with this, the appliance is good to go. Point your browser to the address shown (or set, as I was a bit fast with the capture of above image) and login with the default ssadmin and sspassword combination and you are ready to rock. I have connected to vCenter and Active Directory for the virtual machine and user side setup.

Add clients to the environment

For Statusphere to collect some data we should add some clients and components to the environment. Next, to the valuable client information, we can also add a directory and virtual infrastructure data. Do this as well if you are investigating virtual desktop UX. Add clients by downloading and installing the CID. And let Stratusphere collect some data. For our Full Clone desktops, I have used the groups’ policy standard which I have saved to a location that can be accessed via the network (a share). Use the ADMX template that can be downloaded here also.

Create a computer policy with this template. Set the Hub Address to enabled and fill in the FQDN/IP (do this for 32 and 64-bit if you have both.  And set the software settings installation package part pointing to the share.

For our instant clone desktop pools, I just installed the Windows version manually in the master image. When sealing the template run install-location\Liquidware Labs\Connector ID\admin scripts\ VMwareView_MasterImagePrep.bat. This stops the services and sets to manual. After seal create snapshot and push this image to the pool. In the post, customization run the post worker script or something else that sets the Liquidware services to auto and starts them (in order connector, UI and update). This will create a unique computer ID so we will have.

As you see in the above list, our demo environment currently contains one full clone, the base image, and three instant clone desktops.

Collect information and assess those insights

Allow some time for these products to collect and interpret the data. For Stratusphere and all similar, I advise for a minimum of a business cycle. On average a business cycle is 4 weeks or a month. The bare minimum is a few hours to two weeks. However, these results are with a little ‘it depends’. After a few hours, the first data will be there for the operators to take a look at. For example, you can use this dataset to check if the expected desktops are checking in. For assessing and analysing the data, use more time. The more measurements the more reliable the data is. Preferably plan for the period where mission or business critical processes are happening.

If you have a clear understanding, you can use the data to report on. And in a later phase, you can also integrate with systems management products or IT help desk systems via SNMP and RSS feeds.

You can find your UX profile back at for example the UX score. The UX score is a composite metric of resource consumption, and the ability to identify resource constraint limits and sort them using a weighted rating system of – Good, Fair, Poor (or A+, A, A-, B+, B-, C as labeled) depending on the UX score/profile. When your UX profile has a good match, your VDI’s will have good labels. Easy to spot.

What’s Next?

Keep using Stratusphere UX to fully enable your organization in their digital workspace management with performance monitoring. Use Stratusphere when doing platform (re-)design, lifecycle management, and optimization. Check what impact security changes have on the UX of your users desktops, before you implement these changes. Integrate with your helpdesk system and other operational management solutions. And in many other areas.

Is there any UX insight out there? Gain Visibility with Liquidware Stratusphere UX – Part One

This is the first blog post of a series into the Liquidware products after joining the Liquidware Tech Insiders program and have Liquidware be a blog partner. A little disclaimer though, opinion(s) expressed on this blog are mine.

I want to take you on a walkthrough for one of the critical components of a digital workspace, User Experience. In this series I will discuss the why’s and whats (this part), and the how Liquidware Stratusphere UX can be of great help by showing you how the product works and how to look for influences on UX versus the configuration and security of the digital workspace, and to measure this (the following parts). Now let’s start with some basic define the definition.

Why and what is that User eXperience (UX)?

UX, or better User eXperience, is the most important part for the success factor of a digital workspace environment. And to make things more complicated, the biggest part is managing human perception and expectations. If there is a penalty that worsens UX experience when not expected, its pick-axes, torches and you got a revolt at your hands. Farewell productivity. End-users expect the same user experience than that of working directly on the high-end device (like the ones they buy for personal use), the one-to-one mapping or fast interaction and performance. Digital workspace UX from the user perspective is very simple, the end users need their digital workspace and applications look super duper awesome and respond in warp speed fashion while offering the highest hyper full-very high-K definition quality for graphics and audio…period. For businesses that brings some complications. Mostly the offset between needed investments for that superduper digital workspace and available budget. And something to make this measurable, so a) we know the KPI business can steer to/upon and B) know where possible bottlenecks occur or will occur in the near future. And maybe C) to prove that there is nothing wrong and running within parameters, but this is again a lot in managing human perception.

Continue reading Is there any UX insight out there? Gain Visibility with Liquidware Stratusphere UX – Part One

EUC Layers: Dude, where’s my settings?

With this blog post I am continuing my EUC Layers series. As I didn’t know that I started one there is no real order to follow. Other that it seems to be somewhat from the user perspective, as that seems a big part in End User Computing. But I cannot guarantee that will be the right order at the end of things.

If you would like to read back the other parts you can find them here:

For this part I would like to ramble on and sing my song about an important part for the user experience, User Environment Management.

User Environment

Organisations will grant its users access to certain workspaces, an application, a desktop and or parts of data required or supporting the users role within the business processes. With that these users are granted access to one or more operating systems below that workspace or application. This organization would also like to apply some kind of corporate policy to ensure the user works with the appropriate level(s) of access for doing their job and keeping organizations data secure. Or in some cases to comply with rules and regulations and thus making the users job a bit difficult at the same time.

On the other side of the force, each user will have a preferred way of using the workspace and will tend to make all sorts of changes that enable these users to work efficiently as human possible. An example of these changes are look and feel options and e-mail signatures.

The combination of the organization policy and the user preferences is the User Environment Layer, also called persona also called user personality.

Whether a user is accessing a virtual desktop or a published application, the requirement for a consistent experience for users across all resources is one of the essential objectives and requirements for End User Computing solutions. If you don’t have a way of managing the UE, you will have disgruntled users and not much of a productive solution.

Dude

Managing the User Environment

Managing the User Environment is complicated as there are a lot of factors and variables in the End User environment. Further complexity is added by what will be needed to be managed from the organization perspective and what does your users expect.

Next to this yet an other layer is added to this complexity, the workspaces are often not just one dominating technology, but a combination of several pooled technologies. Physical desktops pools, Virtual desktops pools, 3D engineering pools, application pools and so on.

That means that a user does not always log on to the same virtual desktop each time, or log on to a published application on another device still wanting to have the same settings to the application and the application on the virtual desktop. A common factor is that the operating system layer is a Windows-based OS. Downside is, several versions and a lot of application options. We should make sure that user profiles are portable in one way or another from one session to the next one.

It is absolutely necessary that using different versions pooled workspaces that the method of deploying applications and settings to users is fast, robust and automated. From the user context and operational management.

Sync Personality

User Environment Managers

And cue the software solutions that will abstract the user data and the corporate policies from the delivered operating system and applications. And manage centrally.

The are a lot of solutions that provide a part of the puzzle with profile management and such. And some will provide a more complete UEM solution like:

  • RES ONE Workspace (previously known as RES Workspace Manager),
  • Ivanti Environment Manager (previously known as AppSense Environment Manager),
  • LiquidLabs Profile Unity,
  • VMware User Environment Manager (previously known as Immidio).

And probably some more…

Which one works best is up to your requirements and the fit with the rest of the used solution components. Use the one the fits the bill for your organisation now and in a future interaction. And look for some guidance and experience from the field via the community or the Intarweb.

User Profile Strategy

All the UEM solutions offer an abstraction for the Windows User Profile. The data and settings normally in the Windows User Profile are captured and saved to a central location. When the user session is started on the desktop, context changes, application starts or stops, or sessions are stopped, interaction between (parts of) the central location and the Windows Profile is done to maintain a consistent user experience across any desktop. Just in the time when they are needed, and not bulk loaded on startup.

The Windows Profile itself comes in following flavours:

  • Roaming. Settings and data is saved to a network location. Default the complete profile is copied at log in and log out to any computer the user starts the session. The bits that will be copied or not can be tweaked with policies.
  • Local. Settings and data is saved locally to the desktop. This remains on the desktop. When roaming settings and data are not copied and a new profile is created with a new session.
  • Mandatory. All user sessions use a prepared user profile. All user changes done to the profile are delete when user session are logged off.
  • Temporary. Something fubarred. This profile only comes in to play when an error condition prevents the user’s profile from loading. Temporary profiles are deleted at the end of each session, and changes made by the user to desktop settings and files are lost when the user logs off. Not using this with UEM.

The choice of Windows profile used with(in) the UEM solution often depends on to be architecture and the phase you are doing, starting point and where to go. For example starting with the bloating and error prone roaming profiles, UEM side-by-side for capturing the current settings and moving to clean mandatory profiles. Folder Redirection in the mix for centralized user data and presto.

Use mandatory as de facto wherever possible, it is a great fit for virtual desktops, published applications and host/terminal servers in combination with a UEM solution.

The User Profile strategy should also include something to mitigate against the Windows Profile versions. OS versions are incorporated with different profile versions. Without some UEM solution you cannot roam settings between a V2 and V3 profile. So when migrating or moving between different versions is not possible without tooling. The following table is created with the information from TechNet about User Profiles.

Windows OS User Profile Version
Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 First version without .
Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 .V2
Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 .V2
Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 .V3 (after the software update and registry key are applied)
.V2 (before the software update and registry key are applied)
Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 .V4 (after the software update and registry key are applied)
.V2 (before the software update and registry key are applied)
Windows 10 .V5
Windows 10, 1703 and 1607 .V6

Next to that UEM offers to move settings for the user context from Group Policies and login/logoff scripts, again lowering the amount of policies and scripts at login and logoff. And improving the user experience by lowering those waiting times to actually having what you need just in the time you need it.

And what your organization user environment strategy is, what do you want to manage and control, what to capture for users and applications, and what not.

VMware User Environment Manager

With VMware Horizon often VMware UEM will be used. And what do we need for VMware UEM?

In short VMware UEM is a Windows-based application, which consists of the following main components:

  • Active Directory Group Policy for configuration of the VMware User Environment Manager.
  • UEM configuration share on a file repository.
  • UEM User Profile Archives share on a file repository.
  • The UEM agent or FlexEngine in the Windows Guest OS where the settings are to be applied or captured.
  • For using UEM in offline conditions and synchronizing when a the device connects to the network again.
  • UEM Management Console for centralized management of settings, policies, profiles and config files.
  • The Self-Support or Helpdesk Tool. For resetting to a previous settings state or troubleshooting for level 1 support.
  • The Application Profiler for creating application profile templates., Just run your application with Appliction profiler and Application Profiler automatically analyzes where it stores its file and registry configuration. The analysis results in an optimized Flex config file, which can then be edited in the Application Profiler or used as is in the UEM environment.

UEM will work with the UEM shares and engine components available to the environment. With the latest release Active Directory isn’t a required dependency with the alternative NoAD mode. The last three are for management purposes.

All coming together in the following architecture diagram:

UEM Architecture

That’s it, no need for further redundant application managers and database requirements. In fact UEM will utilize components that organization already have in place. Pretty awesomesauce.

I am not going to cover installation and configuration of UEM, there are already a lot of resources available on the big bad web. Two excellent resources are http://www.carlstalhood.com/vmware-user-environment-manager/ or https://chrisdhalstead.net/2015/04/23/vmware-user-environment-manager-uem-part-1-overview-installation/. And of course VMware blogs and documentation center.

Important for the correct usage of UEM is to keep in mind that the solution works in the user context. Pre-Windows Session settings or computer settings will not be in UEM. And it will not solve application architecture misbehaviour. It can help with some duct tape, but it wont solve an application architecture changes from version 1 to version 4.

VMware UEM continually evolves with even tighter integration with EUC using VMware Horizon Smart Policies, Application Provisioning integrations, Application authorizations, new templates and so on.

Happy Managing the User Environment!

Sources: vmware.com, microsoft.com, res.com, ivanti.com, liquidwarelabs.com