Somewhere between the physical and the virtual
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It’s that time of year again – MMS! I always get so energized hanging out with customers for a week to hear what we’re doing well, and what we’re NOT doing so well! Either way – the learning and the camaraderie is what keeps us all doing what we do – which is striving to build KILLER enterprise management software.
However, this year is a bit different – as this is the first detailed, public unveiling of ConfigMgr V.Next to the world. One of the key things you’ve heard about the past couple years is this initiative around “User Centric”. At its heart, “user centric” is really about retooling all of our management disciplines that apply to devices servicing users, to adjust for the major changes we’ll see in our enterprise end-users in the next 5+ years. There is a ton of research on the demographic shifts in the workplace, so I won’t bore you with that here. The easiest way to think about it is this: “what are you going to do when today’s high school and college students become the mainstream end-users in the company you work for?”. For those of you my age, this hits home even more when you ask, “what will it be like when my kids are my customers?”. It’s kinda daunting, isn’t it! They’re ultra-mobile, they work from anywhere on any kind of device, and they have a certain expectation of what technology should do for them. They’re not IT Pros (no Regedit or PowerShell!) – but they’re technologically “comfortable” and have a set of expectations of technology from their “at home” world that they want to see in their “at work” world. Or, better yet – little or no separation between the 2! “Work/Life Balance” has now become “Work/Life Integration”. J
There are a lot of characteristics of a “user centric” system – I’ll blog more about those in the upcoming weeks. You’ll hear lots about relationships, impact, rules, and intent! But, here, I want to focus on the elements of Configuration Manager V.Next that really enable the user centric delivery of resources. In V.Next – it’s primarily focused on user centric application delivery. What we wanted to do was make a set of promises to end-users and administrators alike about how they can deliver applications in a user centric way. To be TRULY user centric, let’s start with our end-user! Our main promise to them in this release is a user-centric experience that matches their skills and expectations. A good deal of this is around a brand new software catalog. The concept of a software catalog is not new – but what we’ve done is changed the back-end for ConfigMgr to allow it to interact with ConfigMgr for install on demand software. This can be either pre-approved or include approval so users get apps when it makes business sense. A lot of the rest of our user centric work for the end-user is around allowing the end-user more visibility and control in how they receive applications. They will have the ability to set some of their own preferences for how/when software should be installed for them. “These are my normal business hours – don’t install software during that time”. This will extend to notification behaviors as well – so the user can receive applications with less impact.
Our other promises apply to our 15 year customer – the administrator. For the admin, our first promise is allowing them to “think user first” in all that they do. This is MUCH more than just user targeting – it’s being able to reflect the relationship of apps to users throughout the entire process of delivering applications, and even managing their settings. A key feature for this is called User Device Affinity. Kind of a tech name that says we keep track of machines and their users in a way that we can determine if a device is a “primary device” for a user, or a user is a “primary user” of that device, and we can use that in better delivering software. We can use it as a rule so that we, “only install this software for a user that is a primary user on this device”. This way, we prevent users from roaming around and accidentally installing software on every device they use. We can also use it to deploy software at midnight, using Wake on LAN. Hard to target users when no user is logged on! But we can now use this relationship to force deploy software to users, even when that user is not logged on – and not require the administrator to change and target the machines. That’s thinking user first!
The other promise to our administrator is a brand new way to define an “application” that is really optimized for users that need to work from anywhere, and embraces all of the new ways an app can be created today. The first piece of this application model is that the applications are “state based”. Simply put – each application has a signature on it (we call it a detection method) that we use to see if the app is present on a system for a user. If we go to install the software, but the app is already there – we don’t install. If we say an app is required for a user, but they remove it (accidentally, of course!) then we re-install it. Another characteristic of the app model is that app delivery is rule based. In most application delivery products today, we rely heavily on our inventory to determine what systems an app can or cannot be installed on. This is way too latent for a user that may be in lots of different network and system conditions, on different devices. So, we have Conditional Delivery Rules that control whether an application can or cannot install on a system based on hardware requirements, dependent applications, etc. If the system can’t install the app, we don’t deliver it. If it “SHOULDN’T” try to install the app, we don’t deliver it. And this is all evaluated at delivery time. And, finally – there are SO many ways to create an application. Is it a scripted install? MSI? Microsoft AppV? CAB file for a mobile device? XenApp from Citrix? Remote Application with MS Remote Desktop Services? Now, you can make an “app” that is comprised of multiple of these deployment “types”, and use the rules to make sure the user gets the best result given their current condition. The right app, for the right user, at the right time.
Anyway, this is a big bet for us – and we’re really excited about it. The cooler thing? The 100+ customers we’ve worked with thus far in some of the features and design are equally excited. Now, we just have to drive to our beta, continue to stay LASER focused on the enterprise quality our customers have come to expect, and get it in their hands!
Lead Program Manager
Microsoft System Center