Hidden Treasures in Citrix MSP
In another blog “Citrix Offerings”, I discuss the extreme rate of growth and diversification in the Citrix product catalog.
Recently, I was assigned the task of looking into MSP (managed service provider) software. With all the changes I have been following in XenDesktop 7, XenApp 6.5, HDX, NetScaler and more, I let the growth of GoToAssist slip by me. Originally, GoToAssist was a remote support offering that provided a method of connecting to another person’s workstation, allowing all parties involved to see what is on the screen of one person’s workstation and utilize remote control of the workstation if needed. For support people, this is an incredible tool by itself. The original GoToAssist product of today can still be stand-alone as previously described with some great feature enhancements (i.e. in-session file transfer abilities between remote workstations).
However, GoToAssist has grown beyond that individual offering. GoToAssist is now the brand name of a relatively low cost suite of products that offer different managed service features.
GoToAssist is now a package where you can license features individually or as a suite. It still has the ability to connect to other workstations as previously described, but now you can also license the following offerings:
- Remote Support – Allows you to connect to servers and workstations while working with another person or while utilizing an unattended connection either through an email link created for the session or through an existing GoToAssist program.
- Service Desk – A help desk incident tracking service that includes a portal for users to report issues that can be self-branded.
- Monitoring – Remote monitoring and alerting for servers, workstations, network appliances, printers, and more.
As I said before, licensing for the suite can be done for one, two, or all products combined. Here is the Account Management screen from the product:
Notice that the three products have separate sections. This shows you how they can be licensed individually. For Remote Support, you license the number of technicians and unattended machines. For Service Desk, you license the number of technicians. For Monitoring, the number of devices is licensed. So licensing can have different combinations based on your needs. We licensed the product as a suite. Of course, in the IT industry, there is no one-size-fits-all. However, that ratio of servers to devices should work out in many companies where the server licenses are all used and many of the device licenses go unused.
I have been investigating (pronounced “playing around with”) the products for a little while now. Here is what I have observed for each product:
The screen shot above shows the Remote Support console. It lists the devices that have the remote support agent installed on them. During the install of the agent, it phones home to your server to register itself in this console. You can see that one device is off (my laptop). Notice that there is an option to power it on. PXE enabled devices can be turned on remotely to allow access to it. As for the agent, there is a Windows .MSI and .EXE installer and a MAC installer. The agent can be pushed out utilizing existing software push options within the company (at the least, using AD tools).
For iOS devices (iPhone and iPad), an access profile can be created and an app can be downloaded from the Apple store to allow remote support.
Also shown is the link to start a support session. This is for when you have a user on the other side (attended) and you need to see their workstation. Once the session is started, you can e-mail a supplied link to the user or you can direct them to a web site that will list your session so they can click on a link there. This web site is part of this product, so you do not have to do any web development. Notice there is an option to record sessions. This comes in real handy when you need to review what was done, keep records, record instructions/procedures that users can play back and more.
The Inventory and Reports sections allow you to view the remote supported devices in groups and to generate reports about previous remote support sessions and technician (named seats) activities.
I really like the remote support option. There are many other products on the market that allow you to connect remotely to another person’s workstation, but how many of them offer unattended connections with PXE boot if the device is off. I have tested the features and they work very well. There are other big name MSP products that have similar features, but for the price point, this product provides the basics very well.
There are two parts to the service desk. One part is the portal where your users can report an incident, check the status of incidents they previously reported, and review messages posted to users that may have the solution to the issue. This screenshot shows the incident reporting screen:
From here, the technician can open the incident to review, link similar incidents, add instructions or comments, add a resolution, and close the incident. Notice that in the customer section in the upper right-hand corner, there is a button to start a support session (GoToAssist). Below that is an area where this incident can be linked to other knowledge base articles, changes and modifications in progress, and other incidents. This all makes it easier to recommend a solution to an incident that has previously occurred to others. There is a lot more power to this product, and we would love to provide more customized details based on your organizations needs.
The third product is the Monitoring piece. This was a very easy product to roll out. I installed an data collection application on a server. That application then went and sniffed the network. It did a very thorough job and found almost everything. The manual labor comes in for those devices that were not discovered, those devices that were listed as unknown, and those devices that need more information than what was discovered. These devices need to be modified or added manually (which is still not difficult). Some devices you may not want to be monitored, so you just go into the console and tell it to not monitor that device. For SNMP enabled devices, you may want to configure customized alerts.
Looking at the picture above, you can see there are options for inventory, alerting, data collection, reports, server health and logging. All of these features do a nice job of keeping track of what you have out there. The reporting feature does a great job of creating simple reports to hold for inventory purposes or to hand off to other business units or executives. I will say that I find the Monitoring product’s feature set to be mostly reactive with some items allowing for proactive monitoring.
For all three products, you are going to get a solid feature set. Keep in mind that this is a relatively new offering from Citrix. And considering Citrix’s track record for improving products, you know they won’t stop here.
Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Consulting Engineer
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