IT Operations

Configuration Manager (SCCM) Power BI Reporting

I would like to introduce you to the next generation of endpoint reporting we created at Ascent Solutions.  System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) vNext Reporting with Microsoft Power BI. Microsoft Power BI is the insight engine that your organization needs.  Not with just Configuration Manager reporting, but extending out into your cloud, data center, ITSM, ITAM, and even your security vulnerability scanning appliance. 

Does your organization have a grip on client reporting health, let alone if your getting the latest Windows updates deployed.  These are tough questions to ask new customer’s when we need to properly plan a new roll out.  

This video takes you through some developed possibilities.  These solutions are in constant development. I am adding new insights weekly to these reports. Microsoft’s Power BI give us no limits into your organizational IT makeup, including but, not even close, limited to, Microsoft Operations Management Suite, Azure SQL, Amazon RedShift, Oracle, and MySQL, and etc….


Continue reading…

SCCM / ConfigMgr Driver Package Best Practice


This post will outline driver package creation, management, and best practices for System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM / ConfigMgr). The steps outlined in this post will ensure minimal driver management in SCCM, while ensuring the end device receives the proper drivers during imaging.

Staging and Imaging the New Device

The first step in the process is to get the new device able to image with the environment’s gold image.   You will have to note that it may be necessary to inject the network drivers into your Windows Pre-Installation Environment (WinPE) boot image. If the device fails to load the WinPE environment it is either the network or storage drivers are not available.

Pick the below scenario that matches your environment:

  • The Task Sequence deployed to unknown computers and the local administrator password is set
    • Begin imaging the device
  • The Task Sequence deployed to unknown computer but the local administrator password is not enabled
    • Copy the task sequence to enable the local administrator account, deploy the task sequence and start imaging the device
  • No task sequence is deployed to unknown computers but the local administrator password is set
    • Import the device and add it to the proper collection and begin imaging
  • No task sequence is deployed to unknown computers but the local administrator password is not enabled
    • Copy the task sequence, enable the local administrator account, deploy the task sequence, import the device, and begin imaging the device

To import a device into SCCM follow the steps outlined in the below link:

If network drivers are in the Operating System media that task sequence will complete successfully.  If the device does not receive a network driver it will fail, and you must logon as the local administrator.

Continue reading…

Windows 10 1511 BUG – DISM File Associations

Just wanted to share some Windows 10 deployment notes from the field.  My colleague Ryan Fitzgerald and myself have been troubleshooting file associations not being set properly in Windows 10 build 1511.  This has been confirmed from Microsoft Premier Support, that there is a current bug in 1511 that causes DISM not to properly set file associations.

I have tested this on insider build 14271 and file associations are still broken.  Insider build 14279 is being downloaded now.  I will strip DISM from there, and run DISM 14279 on the 1511 / 10586 upgrade sequence to see if will set the file associations as desired.

Stay tuned….

Windows 10 Enterprise Thoughts

This past Wednesday, January 21st I was able to watch the Windows 10 Media Briefing.  This was a great presentation.  It gave a glimpse at what truly Microsoft is trying to create.  It seems like Microsoft followed its true self.  Failing and succeeding every other major release.  But true to their fashion they seemed to have out done themselves on this one.

Microsoft’s vision has always been unification.  As software always out performs hardware it truly wasn’t possible when they started this journey over a decade ago.  I have been using Windows 10 Enterprise build 9879 for my home lab admin workstation.  I technically haven’t truly used it to its full ability, but it has been good with the System Center consoles.

Enough of my jabbering, lets get to what I think are the key points on a enterprise management take.

Windows 10 Device Support

Windows as a Service and FREE Windows 10 Upgrade

This is a interesting aspect on they way Microsoft is approaching this.   Microsoft is implementing Software Assurance for everyone.  I believe they are saying Windows 10 is the foundation of whatever they build or release in the future.  It is a great way in getting people to upgrade.

This is more than a one-time upgrade: once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device – at no cost. With Windows 10, the experience will evolve and get even better over time. We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service – in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet.

Cortana Everywhere

Cortana is coming to all your Windows devices.  This is a great leap forward in creating a personal experience with your device.  In which we all know we can’t live with out.  I look forward in what Microsoft will do with Cortana.

Cortana learns your preferences to provide relevant recommendations, fast access to information, and important reminders. Interaction is natural and easy via talking or typing, with advanced features to control Cortana for more trustworthiness and transparency.

Cortana Everywhere

The Same OS for Your Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, and Phone

While phones will not run native Win32 applications it will still run your modern apps.

Windows 10 for phones and small tablets features a fast, fluid and familiar experience that seamlessly interacts with your PC.

Windows 10 For All Devices

Continuum Mode

I think this is what makes Windows 10’s possibilities so great.  The intuitive approach for balancing touch enabled and traditional point and click devices.  I am not going to say this will get rid of iPads in the enterprise, but when you are talking Surface Pro 3 as laptop and tablet killer.  Right now iPads are used for executives who want mobility.  Well if you give them a Surface Pro 3 instead of a laptop and iPad, this bring more simplicity and standardization to your environment.

On 2in1 devices, Windows 10 will move easily between keyboard/mouse and touch/tablet as it detects the transition and conveniently switches to the new mode.


Project “Spartan”

A intuitive browser for the web enabled world.  This offering of a beefed up “Reading Lists” application.  In what I do I don’t usually screen capture websites and draw on them.  But saying that I do understand there is a whole industry of web development and business that would love this.

Code-named “Project Spartan,” the next generation browser was built with greater interoperability, reliability and discoverability, with a new look and feel built just for Windows 10. Advanced features include the ability to annotate by keyboard or pen directly on the webpage and easily share with friends, a reading view that is distraction free, displaying the article in a simplified layout for a great reading experience for Web articles online and offline, and the integration of Cortana for finding and doing things online faster.


Office Universal Apps on Windows 10

Being in the IT Operations industry, Office is 90% of the time a core application for a company.  Microsoft finally did, with backlash from the Windows Phone and tablet community, released a touch centric version for the iPad and Android.  This brings a touch-centric and rich document designing experience.  I cannot wait to try this out.

Office universal apps on Windows 10 offer a consistent, touch-first experience across phone, tablet and PC with new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook. Designed from the ground up to run on Windows, you can easily create and edit Word documents, annotate slides in real-time with new inking features or easily present PowerPoint presentations, and with new touch-first controls in Excel you can create or update spreadsheets without a keyboard or mouse. The next version of the Office desktop suite is also currently in development, more on this in the coming months.

Office Universal

Bonus: Microsoft’s Surface Hub

I am not going to speculate on this right now as Microsoft didn’t release a price for this yet.  But its a 84″ computer focused on meetings and presentation.  As you will see if you watch the briefing.

From no screen to 84”, with Microsoft Surface Hub we introduced a new large screen device designed for the way teams in the workplace naturally interact and come together.  Custom versions of Skype for Business and OneNote are integrated into the Windows 10 shell to take full advantage of the built in cameras, sensors and mics, as well as the new screen that was built from the ground up for ink and touch. The Surface Hub features state of the art digital white boarding, instant remote conferencing, the ability for multiple people to share and edit content on the screen from any device, and a trusted platform for large-screen apps. Available in two sizes – 55” and 84” – the Surface Hub removes the current limitations of traditional conference room scenarios to empower teams to create their best work together.

Microsoft's Surface Hub

Closing Thoughts

I think this is the most excited I have been for a Microsoft release; including the Xbox 360.  I think the blend and unification will actually happen with this release.  Especially the way Microsoft has planned this release.

Read the Windows’s blog here:

IT Operations – Visualizing Success

When approaching any new project what you will need to do is visualize your IT Operations success.  It doesn’t matter if it is a internal project, external project, outsourcing project, multiple business unit change, you will need a road map for your success.

Communication should be a key part of that success.  Everyone knows change affects people / groups in different ways.  Your worst enemy is the water cooler talk in any project.  This is where rumors get started and can lead to a very negative feeling on what the organization is trying to accomplish.  As a consultant this is something we need to grasp with the organization.  You will approach it lightly and see the customer’s response.  If they have a good track record of organization wide communication then they will be driving force. If this is something new, you as the project / technical expert need to be that driving force.

In you project team / group’s meetings / sessions you will need to convey a communication road map that aligns with your success road map.  You will need a strong leader in the business to share the visualized success with their employees, as these can become you worse enemy when trying to visualize, implement, and train them on the new way of doing things.

What do I hear most when talking with employees who’s management is not leading the communication of road map, “Well, this how we have always done it”.  This is not a good attitude when changing for the good.  As you can see by just that one statement the success road map is not being communicated.

Have a motto, create posters, send out weekly / bi-weekly / semi-monthly updates, and just be pro-active.

When you start with the visualization get all the success criteria documented.  But with change there will be always a negative impact somewhere in the business.  Don’t shelter it, be forthcoming and communicate this also.

“Success Cannot Be a Success Without Change Being In the Equation”  

Your IT Operations Box

In IT Operations, the biggest challenge I see is the employees grasping to that box and they fear change.  People usually think the keeper of the box is IT Management.  This may be true is some cases but it is usually the employees who’s responsibility is to support this box.  Change is the way they have neglected doing continued education and finding better ways to do the job. As a consultant we get called in from management to help, as they know they need change and they are ready to embrace it.  When statements of work get ironed out with what deliverables they desire is to get their team on-board.  It is a harsh reality but the biggest challenge is the team.  If it is supporting Windows 7 now and not Windows XP, or having a new delivery method for their Operating System build / deployments, software delivery, in which now they have to learn new standards, or getting away from WSUS and start using System Center to manage their updates. As people get comfortable with the day to day and not realize how un-healthy and non-optimized  their structure is. As Bill Gate’s said it best:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

First mistake about System Center Configuration Manager (CM) it will not fix an un-healthy environment.  In fact it will not be successful if it is the other way around.  A challenge when going into any organization is letting them know in a convincing and well manner way their is a better way of doing this. When tackling an engagement for systems management the first thing to do is tackle Active Directory.  You identify clients that have not logged into the domain for a set amount of time, and create a process to move those clients into a Organizational Unit (OU) that is not monitored by CM.  After that identification is done then the process can go on managing the clients, via in-place refreshes, OS migration, software delivery, and software updates. Now with CM 2012 you have the ability to manage anti-virus with forefront integrated, and with the direct access coming around with PKI you will start seeing cloud distribution points.  But there is plenty of information for you to read on the internet about the features. You will need to think outside of your Organization’s box and strive for optimization.  You will not be successful and cause more work then it is necessary.  Only you can strive to bring you IT Operations group to the next level and be that trend setter you organization.

Why IT Operations Matter

As a Analyst in IT Operations working his way up starting at the bottom you see a trend in the IT department where Server System Managers are treated higher and more important as the Desktop Managers.  Well I am writing this to debunk this myth.

Your IT Operations SMS Admins are very important.  Like in my past position I oversaw 7000 workstations in 8 different division, at home employees, resources in India, and mobile workers who only log onto the domain a couple times a month.  Unfortunately we didn’t have the PKI infrastructure for Native support and we are running SCCM 2007 R3 SP2.  Needless to say the server managers have all there end points / resources typically in a data center and/or network closet and which are on 24×7.    So right there off the bat there systems stays contestant in location, and like in IT Operations there is a lot more turn over from a normal stand point.  Server hardware rarely gets migrated to a new OS before its end of life cycle has been reached.

Role based servers in which access is highly restricted do not get used to browse the web.  When servers are compromised it is mostly due brute attacks specifically targeted.  IT Operations deals with each system that it supports. General employees are the biggest risk with dealing with IT Operations Systems Management.

The environment is ever changing and business needs never stay the same.  If it is new software or the business thinking a specific group needs local administrative access to perform a job function.  Did I mention developers are part of IT Operations.  Supporting them is like teaching a infant how to talk.  It is very difficult and are always thinking there job is the most important.  Dealing with sensitive groups who expect yes on everything becomes difficult in trying to maintain a healthy IT Operations environment.

When IT Operations environment is fragmented and not centrally managed you cannot roam between boundaries, and dealing with the Active Directory group in a huge environment becomes ever more difficult.  Now when you do have a centralized system, you have to make sure firewall ports are open for roaming end points to communicate with the local Management Point.  Do you see where I am going with this.  Challenges are not rare in IT Operations, and getting all the Business Groups with so called VIPs in them on the same page just makes it more difficult.

One day organizations will realize how important and difficult it is to manage desktops, laptops, mobile devices in changing environment.

Remember change is the only constant in this algorithm.