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Help desk tools for Windows shops

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Desktop Getting managed desktops under control is all about getting some distance; you need to get away from expensive, time-consuming deskside visits.

Self service for common issues like password replacement will save you a lot of calls and you can take advantage of the Windows 7 Troubleshooting Platform which gives you a user-friendly way of supplying PowerShell scripts to find and fix common problems (some are built into Windows but you can write and distribute your own to match your environment).

Another good place to start is by introducing remote monitoring and remote support tools. Remote Assistance has been built into Windows since XP and there are dozens of remote support tools from suppliers including Adobe, Webex, LogMeIn, TeamViewer and netViewer that let you view and control user desktops.

For the highest ROI, look for tools with a helpful user interface that makes it easy to connect to machines even when the user isn’t sitting in front of them, security to present unauthorised access to PCs you can control, good network performance and simple deployment options.

Sharing the desktop to see the problem and change settings to fix it, accessing the system log remotely or running the ever-useful Sysinternals PSTools against their system to check running processes all beat a phone call where you talk the user through finding the information and emailing it to you.

For more complex issues, the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder makes it easy for users to document what’s going wrong; the tool automatically adds system configuration. But these are all still very hands-on methods for dealing with problems.

Even with managed desktops there will be times when you need to do that, but standardising on a single image, deploying applications as required (virtually or as part of the desktop installation) and using roaming profiles, folder redirection and document management to keep documents centralised mean you have more scope for re-installing and re-imaging to deal with problems.

Remote diagnosis in System Center using Intel Active Management Technology lets you compare PC configurations to what you expect them to be, to analyse application and system failures from Windows Error Reporting and Office management packs (without needing an agent on the desktop) and to reboot the PC, change BIOS settings or re-image over the network.

Integrated management tools and automation are key to switching from being reactive to a more efficient, proactive style. If you have to flip back and forth between different security, server, desktop, mobile and network management interfaces it's harder to see the bigger picture.

Use tools like System Center with user state and application virtualisation and you control who gets what applications - and when they're automatically updated - from the same user interface where you see application problems (for both local applications and Terminal Services), system health, asset logging and security status for desktops, push patches and new configurations. It also lets you manage both physical and virtual servers and even some smartphones.

For example, if you push out an application update that starts generating helpdesk calls because the new version has confusing settings that make it too easy for users to delete a data connection, it’s easier to troubleshoot if you can see on the same screen who’s using the new version and whether the network is overloaded or the database they should be accessing isn’t showing connections from their systems. And you can avoid calls from other users by pushing out a configuration update that restores the connection if they’ve deleted it and changes permissions so they can’t delete it again.

For smaller businesses, the new cloud-based Intune service combines remote monitoring, update deployment, centrally configured security policies, local security and basic asset management - whenever PCs are online, not just when they’re connected to the business network.

Remember, if you want to be able to show the savings from changes to the way you manage desktop and the support tools you use, you’ll need issue tracking tools for the help desk with progress recording and reporting. System Center Desktop Error Monitoring tools - part of the MS Desktop Optimisation pack - help you catch the 90 per cent of reboots that end users do to fix problems and never report to the helpdesk, and you can deploy it by group policy with any software installation - even without a full System Center setup. ®

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