Blog Posts by bkelly

Ask a question

IT Product Recommendation Services




You've got a K1000. You've got a K2000. You've got a ton of capabilities at your disposal! 

However, no product (or even suite of products) can do everything. If you find yourself in need of additional IT Management capabilities, former KACE product manager Bob Kelly is offering personalized assistance free of charge via AppDetails Recommendation Services. Be it KACE add-on capabilities such as remote control or repackaging products, or if you are looking to seek help managing your systems, repackaging or virtualizing applications, undergoing a Windows 10 migration, etc. AppDetails offers expertise to help you identify and select the products or services that best meet your specific needs and budget. 
Be the first to comment

How To Choose A Packaging Solution

iWqBbQ.jpegApplication packaging is defined here as the creation of a deployment package. This could mean repackaging a vendor provided setup in order to create a customized silent deployment. However, it could also mean wrapping a package in a virtual layer for distribution purposes. One thing all application packaging products (and application packaging features) provide, is a means to create a deployment package intended for internal corporate distribution. Most packaging projects are centered around the deployment of new systems or operating systems. However, depending on the organization, packaging could be something that takes several months to complete, or it can be an ongoing task as new and updated applications may be regularly required.

Some vendors will try to differentiate and put their own spin on certain features to stand out. Other vendors may offer the bare minimum to address the need. Therefore, it is clearly not enough to “check the box” when it comes to making your product selection. However, it is a great exercise to consider the features and functions you really care about so you can focus on those and avoid being distracted by capabilities you don’t care about. Once the tools you should consider have been paired down to just a couple products based on features, ease of use, support, cost, etc. then will be the time to compare who does a better job when it comes to the aspects of the solution that really matter to you.

AppDetails offers free help worth exploiting. Make your list of features you care about, then prioritize them. Along with your budget, this prioritized list of features will allow AppDetails to use it’s deep knowledge of the market to help you identify a couple of products for consideration. It’s always nice to have two, or maybe three, choices for consideration so you can focus on them, watch videos, play with demos, and confirm your choice as the solution that best meets the needs of your organization.

Here you will find links to a list of features that may exist for any given Repackaging solution. Start digging through and building the list of features you care about most. Perhaps they all sound great? That’s where prioritizing the list gets valuable. Once you have a list of features you are after, send it to AppDetails to match your interests with the best candidates. 

View comments (1)

Introducing AppDetails.com

Hello all!

I left KACE/Dell/Quest a few months ago and am no longer involved with ITNinja. However, I have recently created a new community at AppDetails.com

ITNinja is and will remain the place for discussing KACE products! This is a great community that I'm happy to have played a large part in. Long term plans I cannot speak for, but to my knowledge there is no plan to make any changes to the ITNinja community which has been operating pretty much on its own now thanks to its valuable moderators. I have addressed the "what does this mean for ITNinja" question here if you would like to read more on the topic: http://www.appdetails.com/2017/02/01/what-about-itninja/

So while the KACE conversation should remain right here, I wanted to share a little about what is going on over at AppDetails for your consideration...
  • Software Tips - AppDetails is home to a software tip library, which has been established for the sharing of any related tips of interest to the IT community. A familiar concept to those that knew AppDeploy (and now ITNinja), but it is something that I originally conceived and wanted to bring with me to AppDetails. 
  • Articles - You can browse overviews of every management product on the market, keep up with the latest industry news, new product releases, and enjoy technical reviews. I've written over 50 such articles already and have published my current backlogs for additional products and companies to be covered in the forums. 
  • Message Boards - Naturally, a place to discuss related topics is provided. This time back in the AppDeploy style of a traditional message board (versus a Q&A system). Here you can make friends, join groups and send private messages. 
  • Events - AppDetails offers a crowd sourced event calendar for all in person and online events relevant to the topic of application and systems management.
  • Software - The site also features a growing catalog of management solutions (including KACE) were you can register your interest for a free pre-sales discussion with yours truly. 
  • Services - Similar goes for anyone needing help creating packages, managing systems, responding to an audit, etc. I've established connections with some of the best providers in the industry and can make referrals based on your needs, locale and budget.
It has a point system for participation and those points can be earned to move up in rank and compete with your peers much as you can here at ITNinja. As an added value, the points at AppDetails can be used to purchase real rewards in the AppDetails shop (only a couple of items are in there now, but more are to come). This community just launched a week ago so now is the time to establish a relatively easy lead! Visit this page for more on the point system.  

Please know that I'm not looking to steal you from ITNinja, it is hands down the best place to discuss KACE topics. It is a great community and I hope it remains so. That said, I am hoping that you will also come and take part in this new endeavor as a place to discuss broader systems and application management topics.

Sincerely,
Bob Kelly
Be the first to comment

A closer look at AppTracker

Introduction

I’ve long been a fan of having the right tools to do the job properly. Maybe you are getting your hands dirty with application packaging, or perhaps you’re managing a team of application specialists and need to commit to delivering a certain number of packages to the business on a tight schedule. Either way, you need the right software to be able to do the best job possible. Many of us here at ITNinja have had experience with a few different packaging toolsets over the years ranging from the very simple (free) offerings such as Orca, up to the fully featured, all-encompassing solutions offered by vendors such as Flexera and RayNet.

If you are managing a team of application packagers then, the “right tools for the job” translates to tools to optimise the performance of this team as a whole. For smaller organisations you can certainly use a spreadsheet to plan and execute the work; however for most medium to large organisations there are significant advantages to using Application Lifecycle Management (“ALM”) toolsets. These are designed to optimise the team’s output by providing a centralised portal where all members of the team can be assigned tasks and track their work, raise defects, manage UAT etc. Weekly reports enable management to monitor performance, and it can make proper management of SLAs possible. This results in increased customer satisfaction (that might be the business the IT team are supporting, or an actual end “customer” if you’re a service provider) which can only be a good thing for everyone.

In this post I’m going to take a look at an ALM solution called AppTracker. I first met the AppTracker team at the AppManagEvent in Utrecht in 2013 where one of their founders (Justin Pickup) spoke to me enthusiastically about their offering. I’ve since followed their progress and in their latest release (version 5) I collaborated with the AppTracker team to help implement some ITNinja community integration.

Day-to-day Usage

The tool is designed to accelerate the task of delivering software to customers from both a management and packager’s perspective. Management gets a dashboard where they can get a snapshot of the organization’s application status and quickly see historical QA and UAT results, make sure SLAs are being met and so on.

Senior management may not want to open AppTracker on a regular basis (if ever) so instead we can subscribe them to daily Dashboard emails to keep them up to date with current status. And as you’d expect, the Dashboard is fully customisable (per-user if needed) meaning only relevant Dashboard widgets get sent to each manager.

GstOiE.png

Figure 1. The Dashboard provides a snapshot of the organization’s application status


AppTracker provides an end user portal where one can search the currently supported (i.e. packaged) software titles, and can also raise new requests. Management can then review these requests and either accept them (they are then moved to the main queue) or reject them (they are marked as rejected and go no further).

Once an application has been accepted into the main queue it’s likely it will go through some form of “requirements gathering” process where the installation requirements (OS, middleware, dependencies, etc.) will be recorded, along with any installation and configuration instructions. Licencing details may also be collected here using a customisable form known as a “questionnaire”.

Once an application is ready for packaging or virtualisation the ITNinja integrations comes into play. You can quickly search for tips on each application across the ITNinja software library and then “pin” the relevant ones in AppTracker. When you revisit that application you will get the latest set of tips displayed (they are not stored offline, so any changes or updates are not missed). When it comes to streamlining application packaging, I’ve long been an advocate of checking what community tips exist as part of the process and this integration goes a long way to helping capitalize on this critical step.

BuOuTj.png

Figure 2. ITNinja integration speeds up the packaging process


Once you’ve built a package, the next step for an application is typically Quality Assurance. This effort aims to ensure the application meets internal standards, and prevents those embarrassing moments where an app is presented to the business for the first time in UAT only to find that there is some issue with the way it has been packaged. AppTracker provides a “questionnaire” (custom form) for QA that allows you to setup the checks exactly as you need them. You can even add custom buttons to the form to run PowerShell scripts to make use of automation if you like.

cJTz7F.png

Figure 3. Applications with their QA results


User Acceptance Testing (UAT)

AppTracker is one of the few tools which facilitates UAT. It allows you to setup a “Test” for an application which takes you through a wizard where you can specify who in the business should be doing the UAT, when they will do it, which department/office they will be approving it for, and which machine will be used for the UAT. AppTracker then sends that person an email with a calendar file to add it to their Outlook, it includes and RDP file so they can connect to the test machine, and they get a link to the sign-off page on the AppTracker portal where they can post the results (including screenshots) of the test. Once submitted the full results are viewable by AppTracker administrators.

API

Although I didn’t have time to play with it, the team at AppTracker assured me that the AppTracker API is quite powerful. There are PowerShell cmdlets available to handle automating most tasks in AppTracker, and other systems can be easily integrated by using AppTracker’s event and schedule driven API to call PowerShell scripts. I’m told many customers use the API to do things such as populate Active Directory groups for app deployments.

Hosting

AppTracker is offered as a hosted solution in Microsoft Azure (“AppTracker Cloud”) or can be installed on-premise. Installing locally, it requires a SQL server and an IIS server, a file share (for storing attachments) and an optional SMTP relay for email notifications. If you decide to go for an on-premise installation this is typically handled by an AppTracker consultant but I’m told takes only an hour or so as it is a pretty simple process. I used AppTracker Cloud so don’t have any first-hand experience of the installation.

Customization

It is clear that AppTracker is a highly configurable product; this makes perfect sense as every organisation will have a different set of processes and controls around application management. AppTracker allows you to customise the standard processes each application will pass through (typically something along the lines of Identify, Discover, Packaging, QA, UAT, Deploy, Live) and it supports sub-processes with SLA controls so that a package can sit in “Packaging, On-hold” while we wait for the procurement team to tell us what the licence key is for a product without this impacting its SLA.

7LkgLX.png

Figure 4. Default Application process and sub-processes


Each application has an “App Details” screen where various data fields can be added or removed as required. Here you can also add custom fields in the form of text fields, date fields and drop-down boxes.

Across the product you have the option to show/hide/re-label many of the tabs and fields so that you can tailor the product meet your exact requirements.

Summary

My short time with AppTracker has shown me what a huge amount of functionality is available in a very well presented solution. It’s highly customizable and easily extensible thanks to the API. While not my focus here, it is worth noting that there is a lot of migration management and optimisation capabilities here too, though I didn’t have time to investigate this. It’s well worth taking a look.

More info: www.apptracker.co.uk

View comments (1)

Attention Moderators: Big ITNinja Update for You!

As of right now we have 152 ITNinja moderators. <deep voice>This message goes out to you</deep voice>

Short version: You can now edit tags, titles and approve/disapprove accounts of members posting for the first time! Check out the new tabs under the moderator menu.

Editing Tags

As a moderator, you’ve been able to edit the tags of content posted by others for some time. Tags are important to helping people monitor the topics with which they have interest or can be of the most help. Especially in posts by new users of the site, many don't take the time to think through their selections and either choose one that does not apply or selects all of the ones we highlight as popular topics. Please continue helping to correct poor tagging where you see it as this is of great help to the community—particularly those watching to provide answers!

Editing Titles

New users (more so than those that have been participating awhile) are also prone to entering bad titles, or very lengthy question titles with odd punctuation, misspellings etc. and I often edit these—now you can too. Just click “edit” and you’ll see the ability to change the post title. One think I like to do is make sure that any posts about a specific product mention that product. For example a post about the K1000 should mention that in the title so someone that doesn’t know anything about the K1000 can steer clear without having to depend solely on tagging.  Please take care when editing titles and don’t worry about breaking the link, the URL for the post will remain unchanged.

The need to review posts by fist time users

Speaking of first-time posters, you are probably aware that to minimize the spam on the site we have been very effectively requiring manual review of the first contribution by each user. The down-side is that it can sometimes take longer than I'd like to get a valid post approved and that user is left having asked a question that cannot be answered until I take action. I had a break for a year or so (thanks BobCrosley!) but for the most part I have been and continue to be the only person reviewing these first-time posts and we get a lot of spam. So, it is with great pleasure that I am able to announce the ability for our moderators to help contribute to this task (for points of course). Our hope is that spam will also decrease with this update as a result of our adding a Captcha prompt for those creating new accounts (much of the spam appears automated).

Reviewing User Moderation

On your moderator tab, you’ll notice two new tabs in addition to those for managing spam. They are “Moderate Users” and “User Moderation Activity”. For transparency, the latter lists who has been approving/banning users and the points they received. We also list top moderators here as a ranking focused specifically on the points earned for banning and approving users. Here you can see who’s banned or approved who along with a link to the content in question. See a mistake? Please bring it to my attention.

Moderating Users

Now let’s focus on the “Moderate Users” tab. This is where all the pending posts live. Each entry represents a piece of content submitted to the site that is currently hidden because the user has not been approved. 

For Blogs, Questions, links and Reviews you can click the title to visit the content page and you’ll see the “Ban” and “Approve” buttons at the top of the page.  For comments, the comment text is shown on the “Moderate Users” tab and you’ll click into the content page to see where it is currently listed as hidden. The user responsible for the content you clicked on will be identified by username and highlighted in yellow—here you can “Ban” or “Approve” the user based on the comment in question. 

Careful! Please take care not to ban an account that does not deserve it. When a user is banned, all of their content is hidden from the site (not just the content you are currently reviewing). Most often a questionable post is actually an article (normally of a topic not quite right for ITNinja) which appears legitimate but contains one or more hyperlinks to a product or service with the goal of increasing inbound links to their website. I ban posts like this most every day. If you should make a mistake, you’ll have to write me to have it undone using the site contact form

Not sure if content warrants banning a user? Just leave it. Better to be safe than sorry and I will still be performing the task, so leave the questionable stuff for me!

Hey, how do I become a moderator!?

Once you hit the level of blue belt, you’ll get an invitation to moderate via email. The role is not granted to you by default, those eligible must accept it. If you do not wish to help improve the community by helping to moderate, please do not accept the responsibility of becoming a moderator. Once you accept the role of moderator, it is necessary to log out of the site and back in again in order to see moderation menu at the top of the screen.

Invitations are sent once you reach blue belt, but if you didn't get it or have changed your mind, when eligible you’ll find a Yes, make me a moderator option on the Settings tab of your user profile page.


Thanks once again to everyone who makes this site what it is; especially those moderators going the extra mile to keep the site clean for the rest of us!

View comments (2)
Showing 1 - 5 of 273 results

Top Contributors

Talk About Supporting Mac