When a new customer is implementing Centero Software Manager, they often ask us how application distribution ought to be handled. There is no single right answer to this, but based on our experience, we are able to give out plenty of handy tips for application distribution processes.
Application distribution process refers to the sequence of events that starts when a new application is released for the endpoint environment. The process consists of different groups and distribution schedules planned in advance. In addition to version update distribution, those processes are used in OS updating.
Why Are Distribution Processes Important?
The distribution processes enable the administrator to maintain control of the application versions. Possible problems are easier to solve and fix when there aren’t numerous different versions in the environment. That is precisely why you shouldn’t distribute new application versions to all the workstations in your environment simultaneously.
If we use a traditional two-phase distribution model with test distribution and main distribution, we can notice possible problems already in the test phase and stop the distribution. The glitches will then affect only a small number of workstations and not shut down the whole environment.
An Example of a Two-Phase Distribution Process
|Distribution group||No. of users/workstations||Distribution starts|
|Main group||200||7 days after test group|
What Does a Good Distribution Process Look Like?
In a truly good distribution process, enough attention is paid to testing, and application versions are tested by people who really understand how the application should function. The test users should also be aware of new distributions and should get notifications by email, for example.
In general, the IT department is a great place to find capable test users for regular everyday applications, but working in IT doesn’t mean that one knows everything about every application. If a certain application is used only in a certain department in an organization, test users should come from there.
In test distribution you should also pay attention to the number of people in the test group, compared to the main distribution group. If the test group loses members due to changes in personnel or workstations, the reliability of the testing decreases. Therefore the size of the test group should be monitored, and if the distribution system allows, use surveys and administer them dynamically with various sets of rules.
A ground rule for test group sizes is for them to be approximately 10% of the whole distribution group. There should be about a week between test distribution and main distribution to find out possible problems and to stop distribution.
The 10 percent rule and the one-week gap between the different distribution groups doesn’t obviously apply to all environments. If there are 20,000 workstations in an environment, that makes 2,000 endpoints in testing, which is a lot if there is a compatibility problem. In larger organizations there should be more phases in distribution than just two.
An Example of a Distribution Process for an Environment of Approx. 10,000 Workstations
|Distribution Group||Members||No. of users/workstations||Distribution starts|
|Technical testing||Workstations only used for testing||2||Immediately|
|Test group||IT support workstations||60||Immediately after technical testing|
|Pilot group||Workstations picked in random||800||7 days after test group|
|Main distribution 1||Stationary workstations in offices e.g.||4,000||7 days after pilot group|
|Main distribution 2||Workstations in the field||3,500||3 days after main group 1|
|Main distribution 3||The most critical workstations||1,500||7 days after main group 2|
How Does Centero Software Manager Utilize Distribution Processes?
At Centero, we thoroughly test each application we package to prepare for different situations that may arise. But why should our customers use the aforementioned processes in their environment?
Every IT environment is different from the standpoint of configurations and other applications, so compatibility issues must be taken into account. For example, if a browser version is incompatible with a third-party browser-based system, the test person should be a user of the said system.
The good part is that automating distribution processes in CSM is easy, to the extent of email notifications.
It is possible to tailor distribution processes for each application in CSM, but also to create processes depending on the need to only update an application for workstations that are already using it, or to distribute it to everyone. It is common for applications such as Flash Player, Java, and Adobe Reader to be distributed to every workstation, and for some other applications to offer a choice if the user wants to install it.
Below, I present screen captures of two different distribution processes in CSM for SCCM. The image above shows the distribution process updating chosen applications for every user, and the below image shows the process for Firefox browser.
In the process titled required, the test group is CSM – Test, including for example IT personnel, and the main distribution group is CSM – Production, with all workstations in the organization. The main distribution starts a week after the test distribution deadline.
In the Firefox test distribution, the group CSM – Mozilla Firefox Test is configured to include every test group workstation with Firefox. The main distribution group CSM – Mozilla Firefox Production includes every workstation with Firefox installed. These two distributions have the same one-week gap between them than all other distribution processes.
To get Firefox to every user in the environment who wants it, we can set the last phase in the process to be an available-type distribution for all users. When a user installs it once, their workstation will be automatically added to the SCCM main distribution group, and the application is updated automatically from there on.
Did we learn something?
The distribution processes for application updates should be planned in advance, in each and every IT environment. The processes increase control over application versions in the workstations, and possible glitches are spotted in the testing phase without any interruptions for regular users.
The tips in this blog are meant to prepare you in designing new distribution processes or updating your current ones, but all special needs in your IT environment should always be accounted for.
To gain full benefits from application distribution processes, use Centero Software Manager to automate them!
Aapo Kettunen is a system expert working with CSM implementations, application packaging and testing, administering Office 365 environments, and administrative support. The best things in the job for Aapo are the chances to solve tough problems for customers and to make their jobs easier by development processes. He is a true expert who enjoys challenges that offer the possibility to learn something new.