Stuff Made by Smart People to Help Make Your Life Easier – Part Four

Have you had enough yet?  How about some Right Click Tools?  How about some more Right Click Tools?  These are cool additions for the Configuration Manager console but consider this before you install them in their default state.  Do you want to provide the full set of tools to anyone who has access to the Configuration Manager console?  Maybe, maybe not.  These are powerful tool sets but in most cases probably go beyond what you would ever need.  Fortunately, you can edit the underlying structure of the tool sets to remove the dangerous parts, no need to be running around with scissors, and still have some useful bits.  For example, as Jörgen Nilsson and Stefan Schörling brought up during their demo at TechEd do you really need to be providing a way to shutdown full collections in one fell swoop?  Probably not.

So what you might like to do is edit the underlying xml files to remove some of the potentially career impacting functionality of the right click tools so malicious or accidental actions like shutting down collections, rebooting collections, or uninstalling agents just aren’t there to happen.  In the sub-folders of the Configuration Manager console installation there are folders that correspond to the GUIDs which represent locations in the console.  Under these foldrs are xml files that can be changed to fit your requirements.

There’s a lot more out there to see, what I’ve posted is just a toe in the ocean of what people in the Configuration Manager community have created to make life easier for those of us lucky enough to be working in this field.  There’s also a nice wiki page available as well that lists all of the goodies.

Stuff Made by Smart People to Help Make Your Life Easier – Part Three

Let’s see, where did I leave off?  This is what happens when life rears its head and tells you things need to be done that don’t included blog entries.

Next up on the list of goodness is a package of tools created by our friends at Microsoft called the Configuration Manager 2012 R2 Toolkit.  This toolkit includes just over a dozen tools, client and server based, to help in the day-to-day operation of your Configuration Manager environment and help with troubleshooting should problems arise.  The DP Job Manager and Collection Evaluation Viewer are two highlights but really I think all of these tools are worth a second look if you’re not using them already.

The System Center Configuration Manager Support Center is a tool I have yet to use but look at the cool stuff this thing does.  You’re basically going to run this tool and connect to the problem client machine.  Once connected you can gather up all the logs and settings and look under the hood to see what’s happening and sort out where the problem might be.  It let’s you look at the policies applied to the client so you can see if the actions you’re trying to push to the client are actually happening.  When I first saw this demoed, at TechEd Europe, I immediately thought of some work done recently trying to troubleshoot a client machine where I know this would have helped.

Client Center for Configuration Manager is another one of those “how did I manage without this?” tools.  This is the work of a MVP named Roger Zander.  This is another one of those troubleshooting tools that helps you gather up all the details in one place to help you figure out what’s busted and point you in the direction to fixing it.

Here’s another tool, similar to the Client Center for Configuration Manager called the Remote Manage app presented by a company called Cireson and a man named Wally Mead.  Tonnes of useful stuff can be gleaned from the client using this tool and this is the guy who would know best about what to get to help with troubleshooting.

Here’s where I’ll stop for today.  Go check this stuff out, I’ll be doing the same.

Stuff Made by Smart People to Help Make Your Life Easier – Part Two

It’s time to deploy some applications.  How should we accomplish this?  Well, thanks to Seán Lillis and Dan Cunningham and their PowerShell App Deployment Toolkit you’ve now got a slick, efficient way to deploy your apps and hand some control back to the client.  Basically, what this does is provide an interface and PowerShell template to allow a PowerShell noob like me to whip up applications following standardized and consistent procedures that have a common look and feel.  The client can be presented with dialog boxes and popup balloons providing information or prompting for interaction to smooth the installation of the apps.  Clients are as different as we are, some like to point and click while others just want it installed and will be “confused” if presented with a dialog box asking them what to do.  You get to decide how much or how little the client will see with this toolkit.  And it works with both SCCM 2007 and Configuration Manager 2012.  How cool is that?!

The SCCM 2012 Application Importer is another tool I’ve never seen before.  This is cool beans as well.  This tool will help you import the .MSI file, create the deployment type, choose the distribution group to deploy to, create the deployment, create a new distribution group if you need/want one, and create a new AD group if you need/want one.  Quite nice.  The nice thing about these tools is they help you create consistency.  It keeps things tidy and understandable in your Configuration Manager environment and that makes things easier to manage.

Who here likes to create documentation?  I used to hate it.  I’ve grown to enjoy creating documents that are clear and understandable and help the intended audience complete the procedure or receive the message being sent.  This tool, created by David O’Brien, is like mana from the gawds.  This tool does an inventory of your Configuration Manager environment and presents you with a nicely packaged document ready for some light bedtime reading or for presentation to your manager to show him/her what you’ve been up to all day.  I don’t know if I have a favourite tool but this is pretty close.

I think that’s enough for today, soak it in and enjoy the goodness!

Stuff Made by Smart People to Help Make Your Life Easier – Part One

One of my favourite sessions at TechEd Europe 2014 was presented by Jörgen Nilsson and Stefan Schörling.  You can see the entire presentation here. Today I’m going to comment on a few of the tools they spoke of that I find particularly useful.  All of the tools they presented are worth closer examination because they’re all just, well, brilliant.

The first stand out is a tool of brilliance created by a guy named Johan Arwidmark called the Hydration Kit for Configuration Manager 2012 R2.  This is pure genius.  Using this tool you can whip up a test environment quickly and easily.  After you download the software you prep the environment by installing the ADK and MDT, set up the necessary directory structure, unpack the Hydration Kit, distribute the downloaded files to the appropriate folders, and create a couple of VMs.  Then you’re off to the races.  Microsoft has something similar called the PowerShell Deployment Toolkit for System Center but I lean towards the Hydration Kit.  I have my own test environment setup and can’t tell you the number of times it has saved my bacon in doing something in the sandbox before having to execute the task in “real life”.

The next item is a tool called the Configuration Manager 2012 R2 Prerequisites Installation Tool.  This bad boy does as advertised and checks to make sure everything is good to go and simplifies the installation of the many components to make your Configuration Manager 2012 R2 world go.  This is one of the creations of Nickolaj Andersen.

I’m a big fan of BranchCache.  Why not take advantage of the bevy of client machines to help do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to distribution of files?  BranchCache for OSD Toolkit made by a company called 2Pint Software, and FREE, helps to do just that by offloading the task of grabbing the necessary files for OSD (WinPE, Task Sequences, etc) from local client machines instead of from the Configuration Manager infrastructure directly.  I love this stuff!

That’s it for now.  I’ll have a part two for you in a couple of days.  In the mean time, go check out this good stuff, if you haven’t already.  I can tell you I’ve been working with Configuration Manager for a few years now and there were more than a few surprises in the presentation at TechEd Europe.  So much goodness!

Microsoft Solution Accelerators

Have you ever had the need for a tool that performs a particular task but you just can’t find what you need?  Then one day you come across the tool and you want to cry “Eureka!” and praise the gawds who have provided you with the gem you sought.  Microsoft Solution Accelerators are excellent examples of such tools.  There are a lot of these tools available, even more than what I was originally aware of, but I’ll give you some details on a couple of the top tools today.

One of the top tools and one of my favourites is the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit currently at version 9.1.  I first used this back when it was version 6.x when discussions were being had to migrate a client and their 300 odd XP Pro client computers to Windows 7.  “Oh, how will we know what we have in the environment without lengthy inventory activities and meetings galore!?” they cried.  This tool unleashes the magic.  It’s essentially an all-in-one tool that uses WMI and or PowerShell to query the environment and creates beautiful canned reports telling you, with a great degree of accuracy, what’s out there.  It’s a time saver.  It’s good for license compliance information gathering and to see if your machinery is ready for the latest operating systems and helps plan for migration to Azure.

Number two on the list is another genius tool called the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit.  This is “the” tool if you’re doing any form of operating system deployment.  Big or small you’re going to want to use this.  If you need to deploy to a smaller environment you can install and use this on its own.  If you need to deploy in enterprise scale you’re going to want to integrate this with System Center Configuration Manager.  MDT lets you create, in a logical and easy to follow format, the individual components to lay down a reference image, capture that image, and deploy the captured image.  It allows you to load drivers, applications, update packages, and operating system source in one location.  You have the ability to create some super detailed task sequences to customize your image in hundreds of different ways.  The toolkit includes some of the most detailed and helpful documentation I have ever seen.

I’ve used both of these tools with great success and can recommend them completely.  If you’re not using these to help plan and deploy operating systems in your environment you should be!

TechEd Europe 2014

IMG_6819I have to say I do work for a good company.  I work on a small team that deals primarily with Microsoft solutions.  We put in a lot of time learning how to make Microsoft stuff go and part of that effort involves taking in the occasional convention.  This year my boss let me pick a convention and the lucky winner was TechEd Europe 2014.    Off we went to Barcelona.

If you don’t know what TechEd is think of a gathering of some of the best and brightest presenters in the world speaking on topics specifically in their areas of expertise.  Add to that hands-on labs, instructor-led labs and vendors showing off their latest kit.  It can be a bit overwhelming at times but the volume and quality of what one learns is substantial.  It’s also quite re-energizing.

In the next few posts I’m going to recount some of the highlights of a couple of the sessions I attended.  Good stuff.  Useful stuff.