University of Kentucky Gains IT efficiency, Security, and Better User Experience with Kaseya VSA 9.4

Steve Creager has been using Kaseya VSA for over a half decade. As technical support for the Office of Research Services for the University of Kentucky, Creager is responsible for managing some 400 PCs, and at the same time creating a better infrastructure and continually improving the end user experience. Kaseya VSA, and the latest version VSA 9.4 is a big part of that effort.

Questions from Kaseya have been bolded and italicized.

How was the implementation of VSA 9.4?

Creager: It was one of the smoothest updates we’ve ever gone through. We didn’t have a problem. The day we did the upgrade we ran through the checklist. It popped up and told us we needed to update our SQL Server and we did that and after we did. Then it just went straight through and it was done. We had no errors whatsoever.

Were there specific features that caught your attention with VSA 9.4?

Creager: We like the new UI. We think that’s awesome. And within Service Desk you now have a statistic button in one of the menu bars to gather quick statistics over a time period that you choose. We like that a lot.

What types of statistics are you interested in collecting?

Creager: We like the top 25 oldest, not-closed tickets, the number of new tickets in a 24-hour period by category, and the number of tickets per assignee.

What do you do with those statistics?  How does having that information help you?

Creager: It lets us go back and check if our SLAs are failing. Keep in mind we’re a small group. We are part of University of Kentucky Research. We take care of 400-some odd computers. We have 27 servers, and in addition to the support group which I oversee we also have a programming group which has four other people in it.  They also use Kaseya. We assign them tickets now so if somebody calls in and says – “Oh, we’re having this problem with this program,”, our in-house program – VSA lets use look at the programmers’ tickets and say “Hey, you’ve got this ticket open, are you meeting our SLAs, and find out what is going wrong?”

How long have your support folks been using VSA?

Creager: It’s been seven years.

So they’ve been using it all along.

Creager: Yeah. The programmers came in the last three.

How do the programmers take advantage of VSA?

Creager: It helps them be more structured throughout their day. If the end user has an issue they can send a ticket in to Kaseya. Then myself or my lead tech who oversees the queue can assign it to the programmer who is responsible for the in-house program that’s listed. That lets that programmer know if there’s an issue with the program or if it’s an issue with who you’re training. It lets them be more structured so they don’t always have to answer the phones, so to speak. In the past, it’s been if there was an issue with an in-house program, the end user would call them up directly. That’s not a good thing if they’re in a meeting or doing something else. The ticket base allows them to be more structured and able to plan out their day.

The programmers background is not in doing support. It’s really programming. To have a tool that makes it more efficient sounds pretty helpful.

Creager: That is true. I don’t know if you know the joke or not but how many programmers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is because it’s a hardware issue.

What’s different about the VSA 9.4 user interface and why are those changes good?

Creager: We like that it’s more of a flat design than what it was before. Each time there’s been a major upgrade in regards to the end user interface it’s gotten better. This will be our third major user interface that we’ve seen and we like this. There are more options in modifying ticket columns in the service desk. Overall, it’s just more vibrant.

Are there new features with Live Connect that you’ve found useful? For instance, Live Connect no longer needs an agent on every device it’s reaching out to.

Creager: We like that we can control a machine that does not have a Kaseya agent on it. I don’t know who thought that up, but that is awesome. We can send an email to the end user who may be out in the field, may be at home, may be at our conference, and who is using a non-departmental computer but need access to something within our group. Live Connect lets us log in, work on their computer, and get things corrected. We like that. Overall, I’ve been impressed with Live Connect.

When you had issues with machines without agents before this latest version of Live Connect, how were those issues dealt with?

Creager: We normally had to go through a third-party piece of software. We’d either do that or the user had to bring their computer in prior to them going to a conference so that we could make sure that everything was set up for them. It’s more flexible to send an email out and say “Click on this, we’ll log in and take care of the issue” and 24 hours later have the temporary agent uninstalled.

How do you use VSA universal search?

Creager: We use universal search to find a computer name or an IP address, which allows us to access it faster. The main campus sends us an email that a computer has been blocked from the university for some kind of infringement. They give us an IP address and we can plug that IP address into the universal search and find that computer a lot faster as opposed to having to go through each group.

What’s unique about working in a research organization within a university in terms of IT? 

Creager: We support the research group. I think at one time there was 300-plus staff that we helped support.

I’m not bragging about us but we’ve had people that have worked within research departments here that have transferred out that have come back to us and said they liked our type of support. It was a lot easier for them to get support.

We’re one of the few groups on campus that has their own help desk type software. There are a couple of other groups, but for the most part other departments kind of do it the old fashioned way, with a paper trail or an email or something along those lines. What the people we support like about us using Kaseya is we can be more proactive in giving them help. We are more proactive in upgrading stuff at night when they’re not at their desk. They don’t have to be away from their desk while somebody is sitting there doing updates to software, do patch management, or stuff like that.

What would you have done differently in regards to VSA?

Creager: We would have started out using the service desk from day one as opposed to just using the ticketing. We did the ticketing for about three years and then switched to the service desk — the service desk gives us a lot more functionality. It gives us more detailed reports which we need.

VSA lets us do more automation that can be done just with the ticketing. That’s one thing that I wish we had done at the very beginning.

We also use the service desk for our change management group, which is actually it’s our whole department. We sit down once a week so we know what’s going down, what changes have been made from one program to another or hardware changes, and server changes as well. We like that as well. That allows us to keep track of our change management.

What were the challenges of doing change management without the automation that VSA provides?

Creager: The implementation of the change management was a different mindset for a lot of us. It took a little bit of buy-in for some people, but it’s been a good thing because it allows us to let others know if there’s a change that’s going to be coming down that’s going to possibly affect them. It’s really done well. The fact that we’re able to keep track of items submitted, and being able to share that information with everybody, makes it a win/win for us.

Can you give me an example or two of the types of changes that you’re talking about?

Creager: It could be service failure that’s outside of normal business hours, a server that has to be down due to a power outage on campus, a server outage due to hardware failure, any type of error or corruption of our SQL Servers, any critical server updates that might come down and affect any of our in-house programs. We also have what we call our preauthorized changes. These are things that are automatically authorized, but we still have to show the group what’s going on. This could be an access change, software updates such as Kaseya updates, any changes to reports — stuff like that.

You also mentioned how VSA helped you consolidate your tools.

Creager: We went from five different programs down to Kaseya. we’re really big into consolidation. We have 400-some odd computers and there’s only one and a half techs assigned to take care of those 400 computers. The more automation we can get, the easier the interface, the more we like it.

How do you define IT automation? How does VSA support your view of IT automation?

Creager: IT automation helps with patch management. And we love the policy management module. That lets us keep everything on the same level without having to go through and individually add each new computer that comes into our server center.

How does that work exactly?

Creager: With policy management, we have it set up by machine groups. If I get a brand new computer in, we load our software on it via an image. We load the Kaseya agent, the Kaseya agent comes online, we go to the policy management, we do a filter that will show us which ones do not have policies assigned to them, and which are not compliant.

When that new computer comes, we apply the policy to it. We have a policy as far as what the menu looks like when you click on the Kaseya icon in your system tray. We have a policy so that when a computer has low disk space it will send a ticket. We have it so it does a patch scan on specific days for certain groups. We have it to where it will do most of our patches. We have a message that’s sent out by an agent procedure that reminds the end user to leave their computer on at night on their assigned day. We’re talking about maybe seven or eight, ten different things. Instead of having to do it all manually for each new computer or each new agent, all we have to do set up the policy, the machine comes online, we assign that policy to that machine, and we’re done.

It sounds like there are benefits to having this done in an automated fashion rather than a manual fashion. Obviously there is the time savings but wouldn’t there be fewer errors at the same time?

Creager: That’s what I was going to mention as well. There are no errors because once you set it up the first time, you’re good to go and it’s across the board. It’s not like you’re setting up one thing, make a change, then another and then that part is not in sync. If you make a change to a policy, you can make it go across the board.

IT for a long time has tried to have standardized systems so it’s easier to support them, that you know what software is on them, how they’re configured, and how they’re updated. It sounds like that’s another advantage; that you know how the systems are set up and configured because VSA is taking care of that for you.

Creager: That is correct. It allows fewer issues, fewer problems. We know the security is taken care of. When a user calls in with an issue, we already know in advance the policy management says it’s supposed to be this, this and this. If they’re telling us something that doesn’t quite match up with that, then we know that something has happened. That goes back to security that allows us to be able to do more in-depth investigation to find out what’s going on.

Because a lot of the IT functions are automated, does that allow some folks in your IT organization to be more strategic, think about new technologies that might improve the computing experience for the end users, and allow you to do more things like adopt some cutting edge types of technologies?

Creager: Yeah, it does. Even though I’m the tech support manager, I’m one-half of the tech that goes along with our other tech person. In the past, before we really started doing more automation, my one-half designation was more like three-quarters. I was doing more of the support as opposed to being a manager. All this automation has freed time up for me to move back to what I should be doing, being more of a manger as opposed to being more of a tech.

I’m able to manage more of the infrastructure to allow the end users a more carefree environment. When they come in in the morning, they know their computer is going to turn on, it’s going to be updated — they’re not going to have any issues.

What are the things that you think about and do in this extra time?

Creager: We’re able to make sure they have current technology, and the systems that they need to do their job. We make sure the software that they have is what they need to be able to do their job, take care of little things like that they have a certain version of Internet Explorer due to government regulations or for a government website.

If we can manage and caress the infrastructure and make sure that their computers and their software that they have meets their needs, it allows them to do their job better. That’s what we strive for.

It also sounds like it creates a better work environment. Instead of chasing problems that can be solved automatically, you can think strategically about your infrastructure and about the computing experience.

Creager: It does. Plus, not being proactive is a bad thing. No one wants to sit around putting out fires all the time. The more you can be proactive, the more you can stop fires from even starting. The extra time allows me to be able to do that.

What’s an example of you being proactive?

Creager: For one thing, our department is upgrading to Office 365. We’ve created agent procedures to have a list of personal folders, and archive files for the end user. Another example? Making sure our servers are running the current version of software it needs for the end users. We are more proactive in making sure the computers are able to be turned on at night to be upgraded, making sure that they have access to certain printers on site within their group, and stuff like that.

Are there IT metrics or measures that you’re judged upon?

Creager: That’s one of the things that I was discussing with my director earlier this morning. We have a framework for our SLAs — what we want them to be and the metrics involved. Kaseya’s service desk can set up SLAs to where if a ticket is not meeting an SLA, the tech working on that ticket is notified. We’re looking forward to using the service desk to enhance our SLA framework.

With the automation, and the fact that we’re very experienced in using VSA, we can get more aggressive with your SLAs. For instance, we can solve problems more quickly than we would have been able to do without VSA, and make that part of a more aggressive SLA.

That’s one of the things that we liked about the software from the beginning. It makes our life, as support, a lot easier for us, and support people and our end users.

How did VSA help you consolidate your number of IT management tools?

Creager: We were able to consolidate five different programs into Kaseya, and still had money saved left over. That’s a win for us. Kaseya allows us to maximize our expenditures for in-house software programs. That’s a plus for you guys and it’s a plus for us.

One program was a separate ticketing program and that’s all it did, just ticketing. We had another program to remote into computers. Its drawback was the firewall we have in place around our medical center. There are a couple of departments that we support on our medical center side that we weren’t able to connect to with that program because of the firewall. Kaseya, of course, alleviated all that.

There’s a cost savings from consolidation, but also a usability issue. One program that does those five functions is a lot easier to work with than five discrete programs. With the five different ones you’re looking at different screens and consoles and toggling from application to application whereas now it’s all within one environment.

Creager: That is correct. Moving from those five discrete systems to one centralized product brought the actual annual licensing cost to 41 percent of the previous year’s licensing cost and basically made the decision a no-brainer.

The other thing that’s neat about it is we hired a new senior tech, and also brought in temporary people. The interface is so intuitive that training for new personnel when they come in is almost nil. We can set them down in front of a Kaseya screen and within ten minutes they’re up and going.

Is there anything about VSA or maybe about VSA 9.4 in particular that we haven’t talked about that you think has value?

Creager: I like how with Live Connect we can edit the registry on a machine. We can look at the registry while the end users are still using their machines. We like that we can upload, and download files to their machines without having to tap them on their shoulder and say “Hey, I need a couple minutes here.” I like the asset and the audit portion. I like the ability to add our own custom fields to the audit. I like being able to run agent procedures to allow us to populate those audit fields. With the Info Center, we still use some of the older reports, but those reports have been die-hard reports for us – the things that help determine which computers need to be upgraded due to age, or which ones need to be upgraded with additional memory, stuff like that.

I think 9.4 is really heading in the right direction. It’s impressive. It is very impressive.

Learn more about VSA by clicking here.

Check out the full story of how the University of Kentucky’s IT team has benefited from VSA here.

dougbarney

Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.

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