RG03B – All about the Baseline Desktop Analyzer

By Max Ranzau

 

This article covers the new offering from RES Software: the Baseline Desktop Analyzer. It’s essentially a free service to give customers and integrators the ultimate overview of the current state of affairs in their IT environments before embarking onto new projects. It doesn’t matter if it’s WinXP->Win7 migration, Physical to VDI, XenDesktop, XenApp, VMware View etc. Update per july 1st 2011: The RES BDA service is now live and open for business!

To better prepare yourself for the journey and using this tool, you’ll do well by studying this article. When you first visit the BDA site below, you will be treated to two videos that will explain the overall vision with BDA and using SQL Azure. You may have seen this last video before, if you’ve read my article RG021 – How to create a Windows SQL Azure database for Workspace Manager. Take note that you DO NOT have to create your own azure database to use this service. The Baseline Desktop Analyzer is a native SQL Azure cloud app. There’s 4 easy steps to use the service

  1. Register on the BDA site
  2. Download the Sampler executable
  3. When you have sample files, upload them to the BDA Cloudapp
  4. Download the reports.

Let’s go into the nitty gritty of these steps. Underway I’ll share some screenshots of the current site. Please bear in mind these screenshots and sample reports were taken during the closed beta test period, so don’t freak out if things don’t look exactly like I’m showing you here. A lot of hard work is currently going into making the site even nicer and easier to use. Important note: The site mentioned below is powered by Microsoft SilverLight.

 

Registration

July 1st 2011, RES Software opened up BDA for public access. At this point, I suggest you bookmark the URL: RESsoftware.com/BDA or www.analyzeyourdesktops.com. At the time of writing this article, one did need an invite code. This is not the case anymore. Just go to the site, and enter your details. An activation email will be sent to the email address you specify

 

Download the Sampler

This part is easy. The installable part of the baseline desktop analyzer is the same as the Desktop Sampler executable, which is part of Workspace Manager 2011. This means that if you have already deployed the Desktop Sampler and you have collected .DTS files already, you can skip directly to step 3. Otherwise, let’s spend a little time here to get to know the sampler executable. Here are the facts in rapid-fire succession:

  • When the Desktop Sampler runs, it takes a snapshot of everything configuration-wise that can be seen by the user in the shape of available apps, drives, printers, ip subnet, ODBC connections and much more.
  • No personal data will be picked up; such as favorites, cookies or documents.
  • Installed, the desktop sampler is just a single 500k executable together with a couple of .dll files.
  • These come in a .MSI package which can be deployed unattended
  • The files can also be dunked directly into your NETLOGON folder on your Domain Controllers and run from an existing login script. The dll files do not have to be registered.
  • There are 3 parameters which control the behavior of the sampler. These can be specified during install of the MSI package as public MSI attributes. Alternatively the values are found under HKLM\Software\RES\Desktop Sampler. These are as follows.
  • SAMPLEPATH– specifies where the snapshots are stored. Typically this would be a central UNC path to a share on a fileserver somewhere. If not specified, the snapshot .dts files will be attempted saved in the same location as dtsampler.exe
  • DELAY – How long will the sampler wait before taking a snapshot of the interior of the session. This is important to ensure that long loginscripts and possible GPO’s have been applied. If not specified, default is 30 secs.
  • ExpireDays – How long the desktop sampler should run before it cleanly uninstalls itself. If not specified, the Desktop sampler will keep running.
  • The Desktop Sampler is invoked during logon from the HKLM\…\Windows\Run key.
  • The SAMPLEPATH parameter can also be specified at runtime, like: dtsampler.exe /samplepath=\\server\share. This is usefull when running from a loginscript, i.e. you are not installing the MSI to the target computers where the sampler will execute.
  • When the Desktop Sampler executes at a user’s logon, it will produce a file named %username%@%computername%.dts

I wish to emphasize a couple of things about the Desktop Sampler. First off, the simple logic that the more data-points you have, the better your reports and statistics are. In other words, the longer you let the Desktop Sampler run, a far more granular view of the existing IT environment will become available. There are limits however. If the same user logs in twice or more on the same computer, the previous snapshot(s) are overwritten. Thus they are not cumulative. This is however per design so we always have the most recent view of what goes on in the existing user environments.

The built in Workspace Designer wizard in Workspace Manager, is able to parse the DTS files. There is however a intended design limitation you need to be aware of. You can only analyze the ammout of .DTS as you have licenses for. For example if you install an evaluation version of WM, you get 25 licenses out of the box. You can then only process 25 .dts files at a time. If you have more licenses installed this limit goes up. Important note: The web based Baseline Desktop Analyzer service does NOT have this limitation.

 

Uploading the sample files / Privacy / Security

Already here there’s probably a bunch of questions which you may have, probably first and foremost about privacy. RES has answered some of these concerns on this page. In addition to this it may be useful for you to know the .DTS files are encrypted. This is primarily out of concern for your privacy, but also because there’s no need to serve up a free lunch for competing vendors :) In short, the .DTS files which you capture using the Desktop Sampler can only be decoded by either the Workspace Designer, which is part of Workspace Manager 2011 or the Baseline Desktop Analyzer service available on the BDA website. Again I would like to reiterate that the desktop sampler DOES NOT collect personal information, so rest assured that all internet shortcuts, jpeg’s or whatever else you may have sitting around in your profile will NOT be looked at!

Also it’s important to know that as soon as the reports have been generated, the uploaded DTS files are deleted from our system. The resulting reports will be stored online for no more than 60 days. They can be deleted at any time by the customer/partner who registered on the BDA site. Here is an overview of what is being collected by the Baseline Desktop Analyzer.

  • Directory services: What domain(s) are visible.
  • Operating System
  • Computer OU membership
  • Desktop type (laptop or workstation)
  • IP address and subnet
  • Applications available in Start Menu (icons, paths+executables and descriptions are collected from the App shortcuts)
  • ODBC connections (DSN’s) available (I’m currently not sure if both user and system dsn’s are collected)
  • Network drives. This includes persistent mapped drives which are stored in a user’s local (non-roaming) profile
  • Drive substitutes. If any drives are made available using SUBST (like the dreaded built in Terminal Server application compatibility scripts used to do)
  • Network- AND local printers
  • Chassis type (laptop, notebook, workstation, server, pizzabox, etc.)
  • Video adapter information (resolution, etc)

In addition the current user ID is also recorded. This allows the reporting engine to cross-correlate usage patterns across the IT estate in the reporting further on. What this means in plain English, is that we’re able to see which users are using multiple devices, who’s mobile and a whole bunch of other neat stuff.

 

Reporting

Right, so let’s finally get to the juicy bits, shall we? Once you’ve uploaded your .DTS files as shown above, the Azure app will munch on them for a short while. In the current BDA beta there isn’t a feedback mechanism implemented yet to indicate when processing is done, but currently it doesn’t matter as it’s fairly quick anyway. When the reports are complete, you will be able to download them from the fourth and final page. At the time of the beta, there were 3  reports to look at but now, in the final build there are 6 in total Below are descriptions of each report type and a link to download a sample report so, you can get an idea what the Baseline Desktop Analyzer service can do for you:

As soon as I have some real-world reports to share, I’ll put them up for you to examine.  Here is a call-out to everybody. If you as an end-user customer would like to share your reports with the community, please get in touch with me via the details on the Writers page.

Analysis Summary Report – An executive overview of the environment, including hardware overview, average disk usage, Top-10 most/least used apps, User types, Location layout and Printer topology (these last two items are still being developed). The contens of the report is fairly self explanatory. There’s just one item I’d like to highlight as I got the same question a lot when we showed this at Synergy. Take a look at the graphs on the left (click ’em). Here’s the explanation of the items here

  • Roaming Users – people who use more than one device. For example users who one day use their laptop while other days log into a TS/Citrix server.
  • Mobile users – How many are using laptops
  • Remote users – How many are coming in from other subnets/sites.
  • Dedicated Devices – Not sure about this one. Will update when I know more.

Click here to download a sample Analysis Summary report:

 

Hardware Inventory Report – This report provides a clear overview of what machines are using which Operating Systems in terms of [bit]versions, servicepack level and hardware bit architecture (for example how many are still running 32 bit OS’s on 64bit hardware). Chassistypes (workstation, laptop, etc), Workstation vs. Remote desktop ratios, Screen resolutions, Installed internal memory, Disk usage – both totals and average consumption. Note that if you have RES Automation Manager installed, you can get even more detailed reports on hardware, software and much more!

Click here to download a sample Hardware Inventory Report:

 

Application Landscape Report – In my personal opinion, this is one of the most useful reports you can extract from the Baseline Desktop Analyzer. The AppLandscape report provides two Top-50 lists: Most and Least used applications. These are represented in a matrix where you can see on how many samples (measuring points) the statistic is based, Unique users and devices, where the apps are being used (workstation, mobile device or remote) and much more.

Click here to download a sample Application Landscape Report:

 

Closing comments.

Since the inception of this article, there has been numerous improvements and feature additions to the report samples shown above. All based on feedback from our customers. In order to see the new reports, I suggest you take the Desktop Baseline Analyzer for a spin. With this intro article I hope to have attracted your interest. Just as a final recap, remember: This is a free reporting service which RES Software is now offering, effective July 1st 2011. Since we demonstrated it at Citrix Synergy, this is a vanguard of good things to come, as the BDA is an obvious platform for bolting on additional query and reporting functionality onto in the future. If you based on the sample reports above decide to look into Workspace Manager, you can import your collected .DTS files and build out your managed environments based on real-world data instead of guestimates!

Happy Workspacing!

2 Comments

  • By Rene vd Linden, April 24, 2014 @ 03:46

    The url of the BDA site is: http://www.resbda.com

  • By Curran Mohan Padake, April 28, 2014 @ 03:17

    Excellent article which summarizes the key components of each solution thanks !

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