While packing for travel I was having a conversation around the “state of IT” with a friend. So I figured (A) it might be worth jotting down some of the key points, and (B) do it before I fly out, in case some underpaid mechanic forgets to tighten that one bolt that holds the engine onto the wing. Actually, who am I kidding, that mechanic probably earns more than I do. Anyhow…
this is rambling, so drink plenty of medication and smoke your wine before continuing.
(travel-packing sidenote: Oreo is 15 years old, and like most humans, used to hate my guts. Eventually, as daughter number 3 moved out, and I became her sole source of attention and food, she has become my friend. She follows me around all day. Every time she sees my suitcase out the night before I travel, she does this. I’ll need to go over that ball cap with a ball of tape in the morning.)
The Future of SCCM and MDT and EMS
This is admittedly a Microsoft-centric topic. The discussion mentioned above was about “how long” will SCCM and MDT be “of interest” to consumers? Obviously, I do not own a real crystal ball. I only have a Dollar Tree knock-off, and I don’t have access to real business data, therefore I rely upon what scientists often refer to as ‘shit talking‘.
I’ll admit, after day 1 at MS Ignite this year, I was feeling the angst. For example, while riding the bus back from the conference center to the hotel, staring out the window, I kept thinking “why, why, why did I leave app-dev to move into this infrastructure rat race?! wtf was I thinking?!” and “I hope my dog isn’t chewing up my last pair of flip flops right now.” It really felt like the job market for anyone walking around a typical IT shop today, would be dried up to around 10% of that volume within 5 years. And who really knows? It could go in any direction. I think everyone is in agreement that there is already a major tectonic shift in play, with traditional operations moving into software-defined operations. The thought of learning things like JSON, Git, VSTS, on top of PowerShell and Azure, is adding wrinkles to quite a few faces I see.
The mere mention of “new certs” is probably having a measurable effect on the sales of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, which should keep these guys employed for a long time. For many I’ve known over the years, the feeling is like being shoved onto a rollercoaster by your drunk buddies, against your will, and now you’re approaching the top of the first peak in the run.
After 3 more days, and soaking up session content, food, beer, and more importantly: engaging vendors in deep discussions out on the expo floor, my initial expectations of SCCM/MDT doom were relaxed quite a bit. Mainly out of realizing the following points:
- The majority of imaging work I see being done at most mid-sized and large customers is refresh of existing hardware. The mix of new vs. reuse is cyclical at most larger shops, due to budget cycles and SLA’s about hardware refresh programs. So at various times in a given year, there’s more new imaging, but for the remainder of the year it seems to be more refresh/reuse.
- Most of the (above) people I’ve spoken with are very interested in AutoPilot, but quite a few hadn’t yet been allowed access to the preview at the time I spoke with them (I think most are now seeing it in their portals)
- In-place upgrades are still a minority (far too low in my opinion)
- The description of “automatic redeployment” got their attention, but most are still tied to the comfort of a “clean wipe and load” for various reasons.
- Ultimately: Regardless of what anyone says, things which “work” have a very VERY tough time dying in the IT world. Hence why so many machines still run XP. I’d also wager my tombstone that Windows 7 will easy to find running on machines in 2027. That’s because I’m planning to be cremated on a Walmart grill. But that’s beside the point.
The weeks after Ignite I’ve made it a point to casually interview my customers to get a feel for where they see the biggest and most immediate changes coming. It’s a delicate thing to ask, since it can easily smell like a sales pitch. Sales pitches have a distinct odor that is often confused with bus station toilets or dead cows laying in the sun. However, most of them are well aware of my dislike for sales people in general (some of my friends are in sales, so there are exceptions).
- The biggest hurdles they have today are keeping up with device models and drivers, patching, moving to some new system for IT operations (ticketing, change mgt, etc.), and endless training of each new-hire who is replacing three who just left. See what I did there?
- The single biggest complaint about imaging in general revolves around drivers.
- There’s still quite a bit of frustration and confusion I hear around Intune capabilities. Some is related to Intune agent vs. agentless, management; Some is around app deployment capabilities; Some is inventory reporting.
I still spend way too much time explaining Windows 10 servicing models and the naming convention. They were just starting to grasp CB, and CBB, but now “Semi-Annual” and “Semi-Annual Targeted” are leaving them in one of two modes: pissed off or chuckling. The most common response I hear from the former is around the constant renaming of things in general. “Active, Live, Visual, and now CBB, then Semi Annual Targeted, WUS, then WSUS”, and so on. Their words, not mine.
I’m always surprised to find so many shops still heavily invested in MDT and doing very well with it. The other interesting thing is that the majority of them assume they’re doing everything wrong and are panicked when I arrive that I’ll redline their papers. In fact, most of them are doing very well. They’ve read the blogs, the tweets, bought the books, watched the videos, done the TechNet labs, and so on. A few have been lucky enough to attend training and/or conferences as well, but that’s a very small percentage.
The pace at which organizations are getting their Windows 10 rollouts moving is gaining speed and volume. However, the Office aspect has thrown a wrench into quite a few (see below)
This reminded me of a discussion I had at Ignite with the Office team on the expo floor. It was around the issue of third-party extensions (add-ons) for Office, and how many are produced by small shops which do not stay current with Office versions. The result I’ve continued to see is a fair amount of shops who can’t upgrade Office until the third-party vendor puts out an update or a new version. Then there’s the cost factor (is it free or not?). In many of those cases, the hold-up triggered the IT department to wait on other projects such as Windows 10.
The number of Access applications interfering with Office upgrades has dropped significantly for me in the past 3 years. Not just the projects I’m working on, but also from reports I get from other engineers and customers. That’s a good thing.
Controls vs. Controls
I’m still seeing a continued reliance on inefficient control mechanisms with regards to device and user configuration management. Way too much effort put into the imaging side, and not enough on the environment side. Way too much on the “nice to have” side, vs. the “gotta have” side. Not enough attention is being paid to ‘baseline’ and ‘continuous’ control models, and when to use which one, and how best to apply tools for each. For example, hours and hours spent on wallpaper, shortcuts, and folders in the imaging process, being manually adjusted with each update cycle, rather than letting Group Policy Preferences step in and mop that shit up with one hand.
I’ve had fairly good results convincing customers to drop the continuous meddling with reference images, instead, (at least trying to)…
- Change the data storage process to keep users from storing anything valuable on their device
- Remove as many non-critical configuration controls as possible
- Move continuous controls to the environment (GPO)
- Move baseline controls to the environment wherever possible (GPP)
- Move remaining baseline controls to task sequence steps
There are obviously exceptions that require mucking with the install.wim to make a new .wim, but I’m finding that’s only REALLY necessary in a small percentage of the time. The vast majority of controls I see are voluntary and serve little functional or operational benefit. Things like hiding Edge, Forcing IE, hiding Cortana, forcing Start Menu and Taskbar items, etc. Just educate users to avoid them. Treat them like adults and who knows, maybe they’ll stop urinating on your office chair. Try it and see. The worst you’ll get is whining (you get that anyway), but the best (and most likely) outcome is less work for you and less risk of something breaking.
Role and Salary Compression
It not only continues to thrive, it seems to be accelerating its pace. Almost every customer I meet tells me how they’re expected to do more with fewer people, less training, less budget, and shorter time constraints. Most haven’t had a significant raise in a long time. This seems more prevalent at companies which are publicly-traded than those which are not, but it affects both. Personally, I see a correlation with public organizations and cost reduction priorities over innovation and revenue increase. Then again, I have no formal training in such matters, so again, I’m probably talking shit. Again.
Speaking of Intune. I’ve been spending more time with it this past week, along with Azure AD, and AzureADPreview powershell module. I’ve always like the concept of what Intune and EMS are aimed at. The mechanics are still frustrating to me however. There are plenty of design quirks that drive me batshit crazy. Like devices / all devices vs. Azure AD devices, and the differences in how provisioning an app for iOS or Android and Windows, from the Windows Store no less. As Ricky Bobby would say, “it’s mind-bottling”.
Then again, I’m not at all a fan of the “blade” UI paradigm. The Blade model is (in my humble, semi-professional, almost coherent opinion) marginally efficient for direct touchscreen use, but for mouse and keyboard it blows chunks of post-Chipotle residuals. I’m sure that will infuriate some of you. But that’s just how I feel. Drop-down menus, panels, heck, even ribbons, are more efficient in terms of hand and finger interaction (mouse, touchpad) for operations involving closely related tasks (settings, options, etc.) Ask yourself if moving ConfigMgr to a blade UI would make it better? Or Office? If you think so, try switching to another brand of model glue.
Back to Intune. I would really look forward to seeing it mature. Especially in areas like agent vs. agentless device management (it’s very confusing right now, and the differences are weird), AutoPilot, Redeployment/Reset, and expanding the features for deploying applications, remote management (TeamViewer, etc.), and GPO-to-MDM migration. I’m thinking Windows desktops and laptops of course (if you hadn’t already figured that out). Phones are great, but nobody, who isn’t masochistic, is going to write a major app using their phone most of the time. Auto-correct and latent-rich touch screen typing, would cause most PowerShell, C# or Ruby code writers to massage their head with a running chainsaw.
I think I digressed a bit. sorry about that.
I’ve spent some after-hours time keeping my brain occupied with scripting and app-dev projects. I’ve been doing Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, MDT and SCCM lab builds and demos for months, along with real implementation projects, and starting to burn out on it all. I needed a break, so I’ve managed to get a few things done and few in the pipeline:
I ran across a couple of (seem to be) abandoned Git projects focused on DSC for building ConfigMgr sites, but none of them appear to be factored into a template construct. Meaning? That they’re still built on specific parameters, or require extensive customization for various roles, configurations, environments. I’m still poking at them and forked one to see what I can make it do. In the meantime, I’m moving ahead with CM_BUILD and CM_SITECONFIG being merged into a new CMBuild PowerShell module. So far so good. And when that’s done, I’ll go back to see what I can in that regard with DSC and applying that towards Azure VM extensions.
I’ve come to realize that there’s 4 basic types of southern dialect in America: Fast, Slow, Twangy and Crooked Jaw. Think about it, and you’ll see that’s true.
The shortest distance between two points is often the most expensive.
If you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough.
If you fail most of the time, you’re probably in the wrong career path.
I’m on travel next week. Expect more of the same stupid tweets about mundane stuff. If you tire of me, unfollow me. I don’t mind. It’s just Twitter after all. I will do my best to keep my camera ready for anything interesting. I need to watch some air crash documentaries now, to get my mind relaxed for tomorrow.