Genesis – I posted a tweet about someone I know getting stressed at learning Configuration Manager in order to manage 50 Windows devices. All desktops. The background is basically that his company had planned on 1000 devices running Windows. But the end-users, who wield more purchasing power, opted to buy mostly Macbooks. So the total Windows device count was capped at 50, BUT…. they already approved the purchase of ConfigMgr. It’s worth noting that the end-users also purchases JAMF (formerly Casper) and set it up in their own secret underground lab, complete with a diabolical German scientist in a white lab coat. Ok. That last part isn’t really true, but the JAMF part is true.
So, the “discussion” slid into “okay mr. smarty-pants skatter-turd-brainz, what would you want in a ‘perfect’ ConfigMgr world to address such a scenario?” (again, I’m paraphrasing a bit here)
MC DJam, aka DJammer, aka David the Master ConfigMaster Meister of ConfigMgr, popped some thermal verbals in front of the house and the room went Helen Keller (that means quiet and dark, but please don’t be offended, just stay with me I promise this will make sense soon…)
Yes, I’ve had a few beers. Full disclosure. I had to switch to water and allow time for the electric shock paddles to bring my puny brain back online. That was followed by a brief gasp,”oh shit?! what have I started now?” Then some breathing exercises and knuckle crackings and now, back to the program…
So, Ryan Ephgrave (aka @EphingPosh) stepped in and dropped some mic bombs of his own.
And just like having kids, the whole thing got out ahead of me way too quick.
So, I agree with Ryan, who also added a few other suggestions like IIS logs, Chocolatey package deployments (dammit – I was hoping to beat him to that one).
So the main thing about this was that this person (no names) is entirely new to ConfigMgr. Never seen it before, and only gets to spend a small portion of their daily/weekly time with it, due to concurrent job functions. This is becoming more and more common everywhere I go, and I’ve blogged ad nauseum about it many times (e.g. “role compression”)
What do most small shop admins complain about?
- Inventory reporting
- Remote management tools
- Deploy applications
- Deploy updates
- Customizable / Extendable
These are the top (6) regardless of being ConfigMgr, LANdesk, Kace, Altiris, Solarwinds, or any other product. All of them seem to handle most of the first 4 pretty well, with varying levels of learning and effort. But Imaging is entirely more flexible and capable with ConfigMgr (or MDT) than any of the others I’ve seen (Acronis, Ghost, etc. etc. etc.)
ConfigMgr does an outstanding job of all 6 (even though I might bitch about number 6 in private sometimes, it is improving). ConfigMgr is also old as dirt and battle-tested. It scales to very large demands, and has a strong community base to back it up in all kinds of ways. In some respects it reminds me of the years I spent with AutoCAD and Autodesk communities and the ecosystems that developed around that, but that’s another story for another time.
The challenge tends to come from just a few areas:
- Cost and Licensing – ConfigMgr is still aimed at medium-to-large scale customers. The EA folks with Software Assurance, are most often interested and courted into buying it. Some would disagree, but I set my beer mug down and calmly say “Walk into any major corporate IT office and ask who knows about ConfigMgr. Then walk into a dentist office, car dealership, or small school system and ask that same question.” I bet you get a different response.
- Complexity – ConfigMgr makes no bones about what it aims to do. The product sprung from years of “Microsoft never lets me do what I want to manage my devices” (say that with a nasally whiny tone for optimum effect). Microsoft responded “Here you go bitch. A million miles of rope to hang yourself. Enjoy!” It’s an adjustable wrench filled with adjustable wrenches, because it was designed to be the go-to toolset for almost any environment. And it’s still evolving today (faster than ever by the way)
- Administration – Anyone who’s worked with ConfigMgr knows it’s not really a “part-time” job. But that’s okay. It’s part of the “complexity” side-effect. And rarely are two environments identical enough to make it cookie cutter. That’s okay too. Microsoft didn’t try to shoehorn us into “one way”, but said “here’s fifty ways, you choose“. The more devices you manage with it, the more time and staff it often demands in order to do it justice. I know plenty of environments that have scaled to the point of having dedicated staff for parts of it like App deployments, Patch Management, Imaging and even Reporting.
None of these are noted with the intention of being negative. They are realities. It’s like saying an NHRA dragster is loud and fast. It’s supposed to be.
Now, add those three areas up and it makes that small office budget person lose control of their bowels and start munching bottles of Xanax. So they start searching Google for “deploy apps to small office computers” or “patching small office computers cheap as hell” and things like that.
So, ConfigMgr already does the top 6 functions pretty darn well. So what could be done to spin off a new sitcom version of this hit TV show for the younger generation?
- Simpler – It needs to be stupid-simple to install/deploy and manage. This reaches into the UI as well. Let’s face it, as much as I love the product, the console needs a makeover. Simplify age-old cumbersome tasks like making queries and Collections, ADRs and so on.
- Lightweight – Less on-prem infrastructure requirements: DPs, MPs, SUPs, RPs, etc. Move that into cloud roles if possible.
- Integrate/Refactor – Move anything which is mature (and I mean really mature) in Intune, out of ConfigMgr. Get rid of Packages AND Applications, make a hybrid out of both. Consider splitting some features off as premium add-ons or extensions, like Compliance Rules (or move that to Intune), OSD, Custom Reporting, Endpoint Protection, Metering, etc.
- Cheaper – Offer a per-node pricing model that scales down as well as up. Users should be able to get onboard within the cost range of Office 365 models, or lower.
Basically, this sounds like Intune 3.0, which I’ve also blabbered about like some Kevin Kelly wanna-be futurist guy, but without the real ability to predict anything.
Some of the other responses on Twitter focused on ways to streamline the current “enterprise” realm, with things like automating many of the (currently) manual tasks involved with installation and initial configuration (SQL, AD, service accounts, IIS, WSUS, dependencies, etc. etc.), all of which are extremely valid points. I’m still trying to focus on this “small shop” challenge though.
It’s really easy to stare at the ConfigMgr console and start extrapolating “what would the most basic features I could live with really come down to?” and end up picking the entire feature set in the end. But pragmatically, it’s built to go 500 mph and slow down to push a baby stroller. That’s a lot of range for a small shop to deal with, and they really shouldn’t. That would be like complaining that the Gravedigger 4×4 monster truck makes for a terrible family vehicle, but it’s not supposed to be that. And ConfigMgr really isn’t supposed to be the go-to solution for a group of 10-20 machines on a small budget. Intune COULD be, but it’s still not there yet. And even it is already wandering off the mud trail of simplicity. It needs to be designed with a different mindset, but borrowing from the engine parts under the ConfigMgr hood.
Maybe, like how App-V was boiled down and strained into a bowl of Windows 10 component insertions for Office 365 enablement, and dayam that was a weird string of nouns and verbs, they could do something similar with a baked-in “device management client” in a future build of Windows 10. Why not? Why have to deploy anything? They have the target product AND the management tool under the same umbrella (sort of, but I heard someone unnamed recently moved from the MDT world into the Windows 10 dev world, so I’m not that far off).
Does any of this make sense? Let me know.