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Here we will take a look at the Enterprise Edition which you will find contains features you may not have been aware existed- and if you were aware of them, had never seen them. Let’s remedy that! You’ll find a recent review of AdminStudio 7 Professional, which contains many features to which you are probably already accustomed.

Naturally you get all the features of the Professional Edition, and there are far too may features to cover completely- but key to the Enterprise edition are the following features, which will be the focus for this review:

For a full list of what is available in the enterprise edition of FLEXnet AdminStudio, visit the Features by Edition page at Macrovision's website.
 

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Patch Impact Manager

The Patch Impact Manager (PIM) was previously offered as a separate product, and is now a native feature of FLEXnet AdminStudio Enterprise. It is designed to help speed up testing by identifying applications that will be affected by its rollout prior to deployment. This allows you to focus testing on those impacted programs in your environment so you can deploy patches with significantly less risk.

PIM analyzes the affect the patch will have on the runtime file dependencies of your catalog of packages (deployed applications) in relationship to those files that will be replaced by the patch. Patches normally include system files that would not actually be deployed by your packages- but it also detects any such conflicts that may exist between your packages and the patch to avoid any potential DLL conflicts.

Patch Impact Manager even presents you with a view of what patches are available from Microsoft along with all the file and registry entries they contain in a simple view shown here.

The Microsoft Patch Data File, mssecure.xml (a centralized repository which contains information about the currently published patches for all Microsoft products) is used by PIM to provide these details. The latest version of this data is shipped with AdminStudio, but Microsoft periodically updates this file. There is a configurable location for the file where you may specify a download location. InstallShield hosts its own copy (which is the default path) and there is an option to automatically download the patch data file at startup. There is a great deal of information provided: the title, link to the security bulletin and associated Knowledge Base article, a descriptive summary, what products are affected by the patch and what file and registry entries are contained in the patch.

For any patches you will be deploying, you simply press the "Import" button to download and import the patch into your catalog. Then, within Application Manager, you can easily see what packages (or OS snapshots) you have in your environment that would be affected by this patch so that you may focus your testing (or resolve any detected conflicts in with your packages).

 

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The Application Catalog

This is my favorite of what is new with FLEXnet AdminStudio. It provides a quick interface to view a package, and also offers a simple interface in which to perform tasks like validation and patch impact scans. It actually provides quite a bit so let's drill down through it...

  • Conflicts - This provides a list of conflicts associated with the selected packages. There is summary information providing the number of conflicts as well as how many are automatically and manually resolvable. Naturally, this data is generated by the Conflict Wizard which lets you choose what conflicts are checked against (what packages/baselines) and lets you optionally run resolutions for conflicts and generate reports.

  • Validation - Here you will see a list of all validation errors encountered by the package. Taking validation from just the basic dump of validation results a few steps further, it also provides the ability to annotate explanations for errors as well as an ability to suppress further checks for the error in the future.

  • Patch Impacts - As you might expect, this presents a view of any impacts detected between the package and imported patches. Don't panic when you first take a look at this view- the default display lists all patches you have imported, not those for which you have a conflict. A message at the top of the display states the number of patches you have data for and how many impacts were detected.

  • Extended Attributes - This was introduced by AdminStudio some time ago, and I think it is extremely valuable. Extended attributes allow you to associate pertinent information and links to documents with your package. You can create your own, but a good list of defaults are provided. View them all here, or click on any attribute title to edit its value.

  • Dependencies - Here, you can view a list of all of files discovered during a static scan of the application package. This information is generated by the Patch Impact Analysis Wizard, but may also be generated by selecting Scan for Dependencies from the context menu within Application Manager.

  • Files/Components - naturally provides a list of files from your package. Straight from the files table in the MSI database, it lists component name and each associated file name (complete with pipe-separated short and long file names when provided). If you know what you are looking for, this can be useful. However, a list of files without paths in a flat list is far less helpful than the traditional tree-view you get when editing your package in InstallShield - so you may not find any need to make use of this view.

  • INI File Changes - This provides the component name and the full detail on each INI file, section, key and value (including the property used to identify its installation directory).

  • Registry - Like the File/Components view, this would be much more helpful in a hierarchical tree-view format. The key, name and value are provided by component. The root for each registry value is identified numerically, which is just a little frustrating. Again, you are far more likely to view your package in InstallShield, but if you are looking for registry information here, you will need to know the root values for registry entries: 0=HKCR, 1=HKCU, 2=HKLM, 3=HKU.

  • Shortcuts - The shortcuts view lists the component, shortcut name, directory and target for each shortcut included in the package. Again straight from its associated table in the registry, the information is not as user friendly as it could be.

  • Merge Modules - Any merge modules included with the MSI are listed with version and language information.

  • History - This is a nice new feature which lists actions taken in Application Manager for the selected package. It lists the action, date, user who performed the action and a quick description of what took place. For example: "The validation process identified 2 errors and 303 warnings" (love those validation checks!)

  • Associated Patches - any imported patches that, if installed, would update the selected package are presented here. ConflictSolver examines the patches in the catalog and attempts to identify those patches which will impact this package.

  • Tables - This last item provides a simple view of the Windows Installer database tables. The interface offers a drop-down box on the top of the display where you may choose the table you wish to view. Then (based on your selection) a listview containing its fields and data are provided.

Most every action here (conflict detection, validation, patch impact analysis, impact scans, etc.) are all accessible from the Application Manager by right-clicking on the selected package. If I had one complaint about the interface it would be that you can only trigger actions by right-clicking on the selected package. I repeatedly find myself right-clicking on the lower level items like Validation, expecting to see "Run Validation". This is very minor however, and I must say it is great to have access to so many operations and so much information from such a simple view! It is also worth pointing out that you can search all packages, selected groups of packages or individual packages for any information you might want to locate. This is very helpful for quickly determining what packages contain a certain file or registry entry. In fact, I wrote a tool myself to locate files within multiple MSI packages before this feature was available. Could have saved me some time here!

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The Web-Based Report Center

A very significant feature of the Enterprise edition is its Report Center which offers a centralized view of all information regarding packages in your Application Catalog. Whereas the Application Manager provided more of a functional role, these web reports may be easily shared requiring no local installation.

To access the report center from within FLEXnet AdminStudio, you may use the "Enterprise Server" tab to access the login page. Initially, you won't have any account established so you connect with the default admin account (name/password: ASAdmin). Once logged in, click the "Administration" link to access information regarding users and roles. You can add users and roles from this interface. Some default roles are provided, but it is very easy to create your own and the ability to restrict the capabilities of certain users is extensive.

As for the reports available, there are a few dynamic reports that build based on your selections. The package content report lets you specify which items are to be included. In every case, these optional elements of the reports are derived from the same information as the Application Manager and any comment I had on the contents of each piece would be identical as well (so I will not repeat myself).

There is a Package Search report, which lets you choose what it is you wish to search (file, registry, etc.) and then you are presented with additional fields to complete the query. For example in a file search, you are provided a text field to enter the file name and a drop down box to select the target directory (neither field is mandatory). Naturally, the resulting report provides any matches based on your search criteria.

Finally, there is a "Consolidated Package Info" report which (again) is very similar to what you see within the Application Manager.  This report includes any conflicts, validation results and extended attributes.

In the image shown here, you see the validation results for a test package I created. Like most everything in this well designed web interface, it is configurable and I have chosen to limit the results shown to 10 items per page. All of the reports provide an "Export to Excel" button which generates a simple Excel spreadsheet with a bold top line header with all data presented below.

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The Job Manager

The Job Manager allows you to automate several tasks which can be time consuming such as importing, validating and performing conflict analysis and resolution operations. You can schedule such tasks at desired times and these actions can be automated without interaction. Like anything you take the time to automate, this will help ensure that the exact same series of steps is performed on any package.

  • Scan for Dependencies - analyzes a Windows Installer package for dependent files, just as is done in the Application Manager. This information is used primarily to enhance the quality of any future Patch Impact Analysis scans for this package.

  • Directory Monitoring - watches a directory and imports any packages found within. It generates a report that captures the state of the package at the time the report is generated. If you wish, these reports may be used in e-mail notifications which may be sent when a Job finishes execution.

  • Validation - verifies the internal data integrity of a Windows installer package by performing validation scans using a specified cub file.

  • Best Practice Detection - this uses ACE files that scan for best practices against a package to enforce Microsoft Windows Installer standards (limited to a single package).

  • Conflict Detection - performs conflict detection against selected packages.

  • Import - imports a specified package (supports all but MSM files) into the Application Catalog (limited to a single package).

  • Resolution - performs automatic conflict resolution on one or more MSI packages.

To schedule a reoccurring job, you need to choose the start time when creating the job and then use the "schedule" option from the "Manage Jobs" tab in order to see options to have a job reoccur.

You can schedule jobs for off hours, or to have them run right away. As your application catalog grows, the importing, scanning and resolving tasks can become more and more time consuming. Particularly in environments where you have a very large number of packages and OS snapshots to work with, the ability to schedule these tasks for after you go home could make you very happy.

Summary

FLEXnet AdminStudio 7 Enterprise is a significant step forward for those of us that spend time repackaging applications for deployment. Some of the many tools that can make us more successful, can also make the work more tedious. The tools offered by FLEXnet AdminStudio 7 Enterprise Edition can contribute greatly to alleviating this pain. If all this still isn't enough for you Workflow Manager expands on this further by adding package request, assignment, management and reporting capabilities to the web interface provided by AdminStudio. AdminStudio 7 offers an excellent set of integrated tools which provides unique and innovative features for package development, quality assurance and management. Download an evaluation copy from here (note you must check the provided box on the download form in order to evaluate the additional features of the enterprise edition.) 

Bob Kelly
12/15/2005