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ControlUp 4

ControlUp from Smart-X yet another utility? Print E-mail
Written by Thomas Koetzing at Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Iím a fan of using what strategic products offer before considering a 3rd party solution. In some companies it seems to be common to solve problems or gaps with yet another tool or utility. Those companies have an arsenal of 3rd party vendors and they do not always revisit their decision afterward to determine if it's still necessary to have the 3rd party solution. When looking on an architectural level, then the IT environment should be as simple as possible and for that reason, additional components or software will make it more complex to manage. A wrong mix or configuration can make things harder than they have to be. For that reason, any addition to the environment should be carefully evaluated.

 

I recently had a customer who configured registry changes in Active Directory group policy preferences and another 3rd party solution. A little later there was an issue and I asked where is the registry key (or policy) coming from, and they were not sure themselves! When that's the case you should reconsider the 3rd party software. That brings me to this article and the question: is ControlUp from Smart-X just another utility or will it help manage your Environment on an enterprise level?

 

What is ControlUp?
I think this is an interesting question and if you do an internet search you will find words like management, real-time monitoring, VDI- Terminal Services management, and more. Considering a 3rd party software means first to understand what it's used for and not just because it might solve a problem we have right now.
When reading about how Smart-X originated (it was founded by a group of IT experts who worked in the field of Server-based computing and IT administration), you get a better understanding of what ControlUp is. You, as the reader, are most likely also in that area. Don't you sometimes think: "I wish I had something to make this (or that) easier for me to manage or control"?
ControlUp is the perfect name, in my opinion, and describes what the product is. In short: a "level up" for the control of your environment! With ControlUp, you can quickly and easily have a higher level of control through a single console. What kind of control you get, you will find out throughout the remainder of the article.

 

ControlUp administrative tasks
ControlUp has different topics (or panes, if you like) for different administrative tasks in the environment. My Organization is to manage and monitor your client and server and is the heart of ControlUp Ė the real-time monitoring. Remote Desktop, a simple but good RDP connection management. Controllers, to compare registry, files, programs, etc., on different systems. Incidents, things that happened over time. Events, a combined collection of events from all systems in the environment.


ControlUp panes

 


Each of these administrative tasks comes with a ton of features and functions, too many to list all of them here. Rather, I would like to give some real world cases where I, personally, used ControlUp.

 

Deploy ControlUp agent
ControlUp is ONE executable that includes the push agent! Therefore, no installation of ControlUp is required, only the agent needs to be deployed. The push agent installs by default in temporary mode and has a zero footprint. Always important with monitoring software is the resource usage on the target system and is at an absolute minimum with ControlUp.
The agent TCP port needs to be opened and it would be great if Smart-X could find a way to automate that, as well. The simplest way to open the required port, with the local windows firewall enabled, is by using Microsoft group policies. Use the GPO to "define inbound port exceptions" and add: 40705:tcp:localsubnet;enabled:ControlUp-Agent


Port GPO

 


This is a computer policy and, therefore, will be applied automatically every 90 + 30min. Once the port is opened, the agent deployment is very simple and quick. Add a specific Active Directory account to ControlUp to manage the systems, in case you want to use ControlUp with a non-administrative user account.

 

ControlUp onsite at a customer
Usually when I'm called, the customer has a problem that could not be solved, which means troubleshooting is my daily business. Now for me, it would be great if I could quickly get an overview of client and server in the customer environment, including the hypervisor. Also one of my first questions would be "is something related in the Eventlog?" Next, what happens is the customer opens a bunch of consoles (AppCenter, XenCenter, VMWare vSphere, Studio, EdgeSight, etc.), and then uses the native RDP client to check out the server eventlog. Of course, this varies from customer to customer.


Not including government, bank or security-concerned customers, I ask the customer to use ControlUp at least temporarily to get the needed information. With the required port opened, it's a matter of just a few minutes and the entire environment shows up in ControlUp with real-time data! I wish other vendors could push out their agent like that, too. In addition, ControlUp 4 has a hypervisor integration for VMWare and XenServer to show performance data which is done through the default hypervisor interface Ė with no agent required. (If Smart-X integrates with Microsoft Hyper-V, I hope they do it with their own agent and not necessarily through SCVMM.)
Now, I have one console with all the required systems and data I need, including the access rights without knowing the actual passwords to the accounts. Back to the "eventlog" question. Going into the ControlUp eventlog pane, I have the combined eventlogs from all added systems. I can quickly see that, in this case, there are a lot of Citrix Broker Service events and they are all the same!


event plane

 


With ControlUp up and running, it is a great starting point to further investigate any customer issue and, furthermore, I have (or rather, the customer has) the central control of the systems.

 

ControlUp and customer system performance
Users sometimes report "performance issues" on the servers. A typical user statement that needs clarification, and an administrative task, is to talk to the user in such a way that we get a more specific answer: Apps and system perform "sluggish" throughout the day. Does that sound familiar?
When you first look at the real-time data, all the information you get in ControlUp can be overwhelming, which is why you should customize the columns and save it as your personal view. ControlUp is awesome when it comes to performance issues, especially in the new version 4. With the host integration, you can review the host performance while looking at a specific VM that runs on that host. Even better, it shows a bunch of performance counters, per server, per session, and down to per process and includes things like CPU, Memory, and with the latest release of ControlUp also detailed I/O metrics.


real-time monitoring

 


It would be awesome if there was a "Show me the root cause" when a host or server hits a stress level and brings me all the way down to the issue. At the moment, however, you have to drill down yourself.
Reviewing the stats in ControlUp indicated that the hypervisor local storage subsystem is the bottleneck. To verify the first quick look, I setup a ControlUp Trigger to report host stress level above medium after some tweaking of the stress level setting. At the same time I enabled the historical reporting feature using a ControlUp monitor on a different system than the ControlUp console was used. Throughout the reporting, we could see the amount of users at a given time that we could then combine with the stress Trigger and user reporting performance issues again.


report

 


The data revealed that performance issues were directly related to the storage performance. Even when looking at the I/O metrics at the process level it showed high stress. Next, was checking out the storage and it showed, as I remember, a somewhat USB drive performance. Needless to say, those drives were replaced. This case was an easy one to find with ControlUp using Trigger, real-time monitoring, and historical reporting.

 

ControlUp and permission problems
The next customer had a lot of GPOs, scripts, etc., in place and the administrator who did that had left the company. A user had reported that when opening a UNC path in a published explorer an "Access to this resource is disallowed" pop-up showed, a permission problem. The "disallow" gives it away that it might be a GPO that prohibits the access. To verify that, simply select the user in ControlUp and use "Kill Policy". Afterward, the user confirmed that it was then working. The user policy can be activated again by using the "Reapply the Policy" option. This is done in real-time without the user needing to logoff/logon. Afterwards the right GPO was found and the case closed? Even though the GPO was changed, the user reported again that it was not working. Trying the same with a test user does work with the same UNC path, concluding that there must be a difference between the two user accounts. So, letís see. Select the two users and through the context menu pick "Manage Registry". That pulls up the registry controller to compare the two users' registries.


compare user reg

 


Going through the policy hive shows differences. To be exact, the one value that was changed in the GPO is not the same between the two users! That should give it away, since both users have the same policies applied. Back to the ContolUp user session to review the "User Logon Server" and it shows different logon servers. That means there is an issue with the Active Directory replication and finally, the case is solved.


The compare feature of the ControlUp's controller is very useful in a multiuser, VDI environment. In troubleshooting terms itís the "Good-Bad" condition that you most likely had at some point. For example, I had a case when an app worked on one server (good) but not on the other (bad). The app showed different printouts and on a closer look, it seems to be a different font. (The article number is important and missing the last "7")


god-bad

 


The app was using the system font and a comparison of the two servers in ControlUp showed different system fonts. With a right click you can copy or distribute the values to the "bad" server and bring them into sync.


copy reg

 


Through the ControlUp hypervisor integration the "bad" server was rebooted and afterwards the printout of the app was the same on both servers.


The features in ControlUp are very valuable and unique when it comes to troubleshooting those kinds of issues in any environment. It would be great, though, to also be able to compare the registry permissions on every hive but thats maybe something for the next release of ControlUp.

 

ControlUp additional features
The examples showed how powerful ControlUp is, but at the same time itís just a fraction of the possibilities that exist with ControlUp.


Nevertheless, I want to mention the following features because I use them quite often:

  • VM Power Management through hypervisor integration
  • Event Management (Events are often overlooked but easy to review in ControlUp)
  • Remote Assist Integration (forget the XenApp 6.x shadow issue!)
  • Remote Machine Group Policy or DNS update to one or a selected amount of systems
  • Session Screenshots with or without notification (the latter would be an issue in Europe)
  • Process Actions for priority, affinity, and throttling
  • Script-Based-Actions, run your own script as an action (for example, I created my own script to start and stop Citrix CDF Trace on server(s))
  • Incident Trigger that can additionally send emails to the future Smart-X mobile app for iOS/Android

 

Summary
ControlUp is a simple and quickly-deployed software that immediately enables an increased control over any environment. Especially in VDI, Remote Desktop Services environments ControlUp has some unique and valuable features. For me, it's great for troubleshooting; my customers, initially love the real-time performance overview and very quickly discover more use cases. This makes ControlUp a very useful addition to their environment and simplifies daily administrative- or helpdesk tasks.

Will ControlUp also be a valuable addition to your environment? As always, the answer is "it depends". Fortunately, Smart-X offers a free, unlimited, 30-day version of ControlUp. With the zero footprint agent and no installation of the Console, no harm can be done to any of the systems. This makes testing ControlUp stress-free and enables you to find out if ControlUp from Smart-X helps you to level up the control of your environment as well.


I would like to hear what you find most valuable with ControlUp or where you think it needs improvement. Here the link to download ControlUp 4.0

 

Comments


VDI_JAY
Written by VDI_JAY on 2014-11-18 04:03:55
Great product, currently going thru a trial myself but the company is planning on purchasing. Very robust and helpful tool when troubleshooting end user issues.


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