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Ultimate Geek
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Topic # 171786 1-May-2015 08:41
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I'm working with an Auckland-based company that supplies a specialist machine to niche businesses all over the country.

Each machine requires an attached computer (currently using laptops) to control it running a custom Windows application (supplied by the machine's manufacturer) which talks to a local SQL database.

The customers use their existing workstations to push jobs from their industry-standard software to the control computer, where they confirm & process the job.

There are <50 machines & laptops deployed around NZ currently, expanding to >100 in NZ over the next few years and more overseas.


Current systems in place are;

 

     

  1. Install custom software & TeamViewer Remote Desktop on laptop at Auckland office.
  2. Travel on-site to install machine and setup laptop on local network.
  3. Remote support: Login via TeamViewer to try resolve issue.
  4. Control software update: Login via TeamViewer to each laptop and manually update software.
  5. Hardware failure: Courier (or arrive on site with) new pre-provisioned laptop (customer must re-enter data as no backup strategy currently in place).

 


-- Questions --

A. Would commercial touchscreen all-in-one PCs or otherwise be more reliable than laptops? (Running 24/7 in office environment).

B. They're looking for a more efficient and scalable way of;

 

     

  1. Provisioning new Windows laptops with the control software.
  2. Automatically pushing control software updates to remote machines (without overwriting local SQL database).
  3. Remotely backing up the laptops.
  4. Rapidly re-provisioning laptops in the event of hardware failure. (The ideal allow this company to contract a local IT business to deliver a fresh laptop on site, set it up on the clients network and install a remote desktop or provisioning system that would let them remotely configure the unit).

 


I know there are VMWare & Citrix products that do a lot of this, just wondering if anyone has any similar setups and what the best direction would be?

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418 posts

Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 1294761 1-May-2015 08:52
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Its a massive undertaking but look at Microsoft System Center - there is a a lot of major companies that use it.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/system-center-2012-r2-configuration-manager/

You can get a deployment of machines down to around 30min if you do the ground work before hand.



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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 1294829 1-May-2015 09:46
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ResponseMediaNZ: Its a massive undertaking but look at Microsoft System Center - there is a a lot of major companies that use it.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/system-center-2012-r2-configuration-manager/

You can get a deployment of machines down to around 30min if you do the ground work before hand.


Thanks this looks interesting, looking into it now.

Given that the laptops are all individually configured on the clients local networks, a big risk is that we lose remote access to the laptops all together.

I was thinking about the possibility of utilising a technology like Intel vPro to remotely manage the devices over 3G, not sure if it would be worth it.

 
 
 
 


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  Reply # 1294849 1-May-2015 10:08
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--
A. Would commercial touchscreen all-in-one PCs or otherwise be more reliable than laptops? (Running 24/7 in office environment).


In my experience, yes.  I've been selling HP Commercial series computers and laptops for 15 years.



B. They're looking for a more efficient and scalable way of
-
Provisioning new Windows laptops with the control software.

- Automatically pushing control software updates to remote machines (without overwriting local SQL database).
-
Remotely backing up the laptops.
-
Rapidly re-provisioning laptops in the event of hardware failure. (The ideal allow this company to contract a local IT business to deliver a fresh laptop on site, set it up on the clients network and install a remote desktop or provisioning system that would let them remotely configure the unit).


Not all of the all-in-ones have a touchscreen.

If the storage requirement is small, consider Intel NUC computers - ideally with an SSD. I've not used these NUCs but hear good things, plus they should be cheap to courier around.

Software update automation will depend on the format the software supplier gives you. First step might be asking them how best to automate the updates. With a bit of luck a single command line would do the installation unattended, and a simple routine could be set up to download and deploy the new version.

Remote backup could be done several ways. What needs to be backed up. Only the SQL file? How big do these tend to get?

Reprovisioning machines is easy if you have the machines connectable to the central server, but to have someone local supply the machine and start the reimage would be tricky. You could supply an image file and the imaging software over the internet for the client's local IT provider to use but there is no guarantee the exact model replacement computer will be available.

Is this premium priced stuff that would let you FedEx a replacement NUC within 2 days to a client? How much down-time is permissable?




"4 wheels move the body.  2 wheels move the soul."

“Don't believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.” Douglas Adams



563 posts

Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 1294857 1-May-2015 10:27
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Dynamic: Remote backup could be done several ways. What needs to be backed up. Only the SQL file? How big do these tend to get?


I don't have full details yet however I'd imagine the SQL database wouldn't get too big (<1gb, possibly more like <50mb). 


Dynamic:
Reprovisioning machines is easy if you have the machines connectable to the central server, but to have someone local supply the machine and start the reimage would be tricky. You could supply an image file and the imaging software over the internet for the client's local IT provider to use but there is no guarantee the exact model replacement computer will be available.

Is this premium priced stuff that would let you FedEx a replacement NUC within 2 days to a client? How much down-time is permissable?


Yes this is a premium product so they'll be willing to pay for a solution. Downtime costs a fair amount of $ so we're talking same-day recovery or next day at latest.

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  Reply # 1294901 1-May-2015 11:06
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kenkeniff: Yes this is a premium product so they'll be willing to pay for a solution. Downtime costs a fair amount of $ so we're talking same-day recovery or next day at latest.

Hmmm....  what about virtualisation as an option?  Install Windows on a machine and set it up to host a virtual copy of Windows that runs your app.  The host copy of Windows backs up the Guest copy to an external HDD and across the internet (or perhaps just the essential data over the internet).

Use Naverisk (.com but developed locally) to remotely monitor the Guest and Host OS, run scripts from Naverisk to start the backups, check the drive health, confirm the backup worked, etc.  A little work involved in setting up the scripting.

If something hits the fan on an international machine, the local IT crowd replaces the PC and following instructions will get the virtual machine running again or you can do it remotely.

Is cloud operation of the software an option?  Software runs in a web interface from any old machine?  Or run the software from a Remote Desktop session on a hosted server?  Relies on stable broadband of course which may not always be possible.




"4 wheels move the body.  2 wheels move the soul."

“Don't believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.” Douglas Adams

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  Reply # 1295865 2-May-2015 20:06
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kenkeniff: I'm working with an Auckland-based company that supplies a specialist machine to niche businesses all over the country.

Each machine requires an attached computer (currently using laptops) to control it running a custom Windows application (supplied by the machine's manufacturer) which talks to a local SQL database.

The customers use their existing workstations to push jobs from their industry-standard software to the control computer, where they confirm & process the job.

There are <50 machines & laptops deployed around NZ currently, expanding to >100 in NZ over the next few years and more overseas.


Current systems in place are;

 

     

  1. Install custom software & TeamViewer Remote Desktop on laptop at Auckland office.
  2. Travel on-site to install machine and setup laptop on local network.
  3. Remote support: Login via TeamViewer to try resolve issue.
  4. Control software update: Login via TeamViewer to each laptop and manually update software.
  5. Hardware failure: Courier (or arrive on site with) new pre-provisioned laptop (customer must re-enter data as no backup strategy currently in place).

 


-- Questions --

A. Would commercial touchscreen all-in-one PCs or otherwise be more reliable than laptops? (Running 24/7 in office environment).

B. They're looking for a more efficient and scalable way of;

 

     

  1. Provisioning new Windows laptops with the control software
    Norton Ghost Network Edition
    You run a ghost server with the laptop hard drive image avaliable. At the site, a person inserts a ghost boot disc, it boots up some cut down version of WinPE? and then downloads the hard drive image via the internet from your server, and writes it to the hard drive. Reboot and away you go.
    Alternatively, use a steadystate replacement that is compatible with the edition of windows you are running - switch to screenconnect instead of teamviewer.

    You could also standardise on a specific model of laptop or hardware - talk to lenovo or HP about this as you will usually find the business editions have more longer-lasting product lines, and a clear, well defined upgrade or replacement path. Eg. When model X becomes old, model Y is specifically designed to replace it.
  2. Automatically pushing control software updates to remote machines (without overwriting local SQL database).
    How do you do this now?
    I personally would use something like bittorrent sync.
    If the program is small and only an exe and a few files, then perhaps you could just sync the program directory on all the terminals with your master in your office. When your developer releases a patch, you just replace the files, wait for it to sync and then use screenconnect to mass reboot the machines one night. Or use a windows scheduled task to reboot the terminals every night at 3am. On bootup, a batch script can copy the files from say c:\incoming to c:\program files\appfolder
    If it is a more complicated program, you could use bittorrentsync to push out a setup installer that your developer makes to each terminal, and then use screenconnect to run it. The developer can use installwise or the windows installer service to create a silent installer that patches the files. Or they could build a "check for updates" function into the application and your scheduled reboot or something could trigger the patch installer download and run.


  3. Remotely backing up the laptops.
    Send me an PM/email - I can chat to you about that

  4. Rapidly re-provisioning laptops in the event of hardware failure. (The ideal allow this company to contract a local IT business to deliver a fresh laptop on site, set it up on the clients network and install a remote desktop or provisioning system that would let them remotely configure the unit).
    If you were agnostic about the end user hardware, and ignored the ghost suggestion above, then the local IT guy can supply the hardware, plug it in onsite and you use teamviewer/screenconnect to run your installation program and set it up accordingly.
    I used to do this for many companies - one i often delt with is called Toniq in christchurch. We would supply the pharmacies in Napier with a new desktop till machine, or backoffice pc. It had to be a fresh install of windows xx professional, therefore no bloatware. We call up toniq who would then remote in using their VNC app and then install the toniq software from christchurch.
    Other software providers would give us a 10 page step-by-step of what they needed to be done with regards to setting up usernames on the computers, removing certain services, changing settings to create the windows environment they were willing to support.

 


I know there are VMWare & Citrix products that do a lot of this, just wondering if anyone has any similar setups and what the best direction would be?


I think if you can tell us a bit more about the application - how complicated is it? Do you guys develop it inhouse, or is it developed by another company? If thats the case, does the developer have a patch process they designed for you to follow?

I have only gone as far as making a few visual basic apps so all i needed to do was install the runtime and copy over the exe's into the right folder, then create a shortcut on the desktop. So my experience is limited but the person designing the software will be the best person to consult regarding their planned upgrade process - copying/pasting to replace files, or running a full installer / updater program. How you distribute those updates and action them is step 2




Ray Taylor
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www.ruralkiwi.com

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