This is the final part in a series of articles providing information on asset management from a Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager basis when integrated with Cireson. In this series, we have already introduced the asset management capabilities of Configuration Manager, the limitations of those native capabilities, and then discussed how Cireson’s Asset Management products can provide a fully capable asset management solution that your company can use and rely on. Cireson Asset Management can take the great basis of asset data that Configuration Manager provides, expand upon it to give you a more functional set of assets that you can truly manage. These articles roughly correspond to the webinars that are being presented in a series of webinars that began in June. Each webinar is recorded and available on the Vimeo site if you happen to miss them or want to watch again.
Part 1 webinar recording (https://vimeo.com/130468107).
Part 2 webinar recording (https://vimeo.com/132363640).
Part 3 webinar recording (https://vimeo.com/133777506).
Part 4 webinar recording (https://vimeo.com/134887135).
Part 5 webinar recording (https://vimeo.com/136214643).
To recap, the first four articles, as well as webinars in the series, have already gone through the process of getting Configuration Manager data into the Service Manager CMDB, installing the Cireson Asset Management solution, and creating, as well as importing, custom asset data (including hardware and software assets). In the most recent article, we examined asset data for the Cireson Asset Management solution in a bit more detail to prepare us for the fifth, and final, article and webinar in the series (that article being this one J.
Overview of Cireson Asset Management
Cireson’s Asset Management stream of products consists of the following apps that can assist you in your asset management processes:
- Asset Management app – this app provides the core set of functionality for Cireson Asset Management. It adds the additional data classes that allow you to associate financial, contractual, business and technical data to your hardware and software assets
- Asset Import app – this app allows you to import hardware and software assets, as well as the financial, contractual, business and technical data that you can associate with your hardware and software assets to provide the full asset management data you need
- Asset Excel – this add-on to Microsoft Excel allows the asset manager to use an interface that they are already familiar with to interact with the asset data
- Asset Barcode – this is the newest app in the stream that allows you to view and manage your asset data from a smartphone, including receiving assets
You can find more information about the Asset Management stream, as part of the Cireson Platform, at https://cireson.com/cireson-platform.
As we are in the final stretch on our journey in this series, we’ve already done all the hard work – we’ve got our Configuration Manager data imported into the Service Manager CMDB. We’ve installed, licensed, and configured the Cireson Asset Management app as well as the Cireson Asset Import app. We’ve looked at manual creation of assets and accompanying data (that financial, business, and contractual data you want to associate with your assets), as well as how to create spreadsheets for importing those assets and data into the CMDB for management.
So what that leaves us for today is some topics such as:
- Limiting the asset data that you want to view
- Using the Cireson Portal to access the asset data
- Using Microsoft Excel and the Cireson Asset Excel app to access the asset data
- Allowing access to asset data to other users who may need it, and may not have access to it
- Seeding your software assets with a pre-canned catalog
For me, coming from a Configuration Manager background, the easiest way to think about views are in terms of Configuration Manager queries. They are saved ‘views’ into specific sets of data based on criteria that you configure, with designated attributes to be displayed. Sounds very much like a query in Configuration Manager to me. There are a number of default views in Service Manager itself, as well as default views provided with Cireson asset management. All the views that we’ve seen in the webinar sessions, and screen snips in the accompanying articles, have used the default views, with one exception. The “All Hardware Assets Detailed” view is a custom one that I imported via a custom management pack. In the picture below, you can see the default hardware asset views, along with this custom one.
The process of creating a view is pretty simple. Service Manager provides a built-in task for creating new views, which we’ll discuss first. Then, for those of you who are Cireson customers, if you own the Essentials Management Suite, or the Business Management Suite, you already own the Cireson View Builder app that provides more functionality and features for view creation. We’ll look at the native capabilities of Service Manager for view creation before we look at the Cireson View Builder.
For our scenario, as an asset manager, we are only responsible for managing the assets in New York. Our CMDB has data from assets all over the world, so when we use the default views to access appropriate asset data, we have to then enter filters to remove the clutter so that we only see our data for New York. So let’s create a view for the New York assets. For simplicity sake, we’ll demonstrate creating a view to show only the subnets that are related to New York. Subnets have a very small set of attributes available, so the discussion will be simpler with that asset class. The same principles that we cover here will work for all the other asset classes, including hardware and software assets.
First let’s get to the Subnets node to see what’s there already. Access the Configuration Items workspace, then expand Asset Management, expand Administration, expand Locations, and click All Subnets. What you see with this default view is all eight subnets in the Contoso environment, as pictured below.
Notice that there are four columns with data displayed as part of the default view.
To create a new view, you would go to the parent node, in this case, Locations, and either right-click (or in the Tasks pane), click Create View. This brings up the native Create View dialog box from Service Manager. You would then supply the following information for your custom view:
- Name – this is the display name of the view in the console
- Management pack – this designates the management pack the custom information is to be stored in. As a best practice, you would normally create a custom management pack for customizations in Service Manager
- Search for objects of a specific class – this designates the class of objects that you want to be able to search for (as criteria) and display in the results. For our scenario, we’ll change from the default of “Configuration Item” to “Subnet”
- Available properties – this is where you select the attributes that you want to add for the criteria. In our example, we only want to see subnets associated with New York, so we’ll add the “Name” attribute
- Criteria – this is where you designate how you are searching for the appropriate results. In our example, the default criteria created becomes “Name contains…”. In Contoso, the subnets start with the location, so we’ll add “nyc” for our criteria, which then becomes “Name contains nyc”. The operator could be changed to “starts with” or other operators that are appropriate
- Columns to display – select the appropriate columns that you want to display the in the view when it is accessed. We’ll select “Display Name”, “IP Mask” and “Subnet Mask” for our custom view
Click OK, and the custom view is created under the Locations node. Of course, you may want to create custom folders for your custom views, for example, maybe a folder for “New York” assets where you would then place all your custom views related to the assets in New York. When the custom view is accessed, the results are returned as pictured below. Notice that only three subnets are returned, and all three have “nyc” in the subnet’s configured name, as per our criteria. Notice that each column has a defined, default width and the column header is the same as the object class contained.
Let’s compare this custom view with the process of creating a custom view with the Cireson View Builder app. If you have this app already installed, you may have noticed a task group for it when you launched the standard view builder. The group name is Cireson View Builder, and has a few tasks in that group. We will launch the Create View task from the Cireson View Builder group when launched from the Locations node (again, you may very well want to create folders for custom views, we’ll not do so for simplicity sake here).
The Cireson View Builder app is very similar to the standard Service Manager task, so I’ll skip over the common features and configuration – in fact, everything that you saw in the standard view builder process needs to be done in the Cireson View Builder app also. However, there are unique features in the Cireson View Builder app that we’ll use in our example include:
- Image – you can browse to an installed management pack and select an image to use for the node instead of using the default image. We’ll select the Cireson logo from the Cireson Asset Management MP
- Two options for automatically refreshing data if appropriate – neither will be enabled in our example however
- Set initial column order, display strings and other column options – here you can change the display name of selected attributes, change the order of the displayed attributes, and set a default column width. In our example, we’ll change the “IP Mask” attribute name to “IP Address Range” and the “Name” attribute to “Subnet Location”. We’ll also click the Options button after each one, and then select the “Auto” checkbox so that each column is sized as needed. Finally, we’ll move “Name” to the end of the list just for another visual change
After clicking OK, and accessing the view, the results are pictured below. Notice the icon associated with the view (in the navigation pane), the order of the displayed results, the column names, as well as the default size of the columns (compare to the previous picture from the standard custom view we created). That’s a lot of customizations that can be managed.
Additionally, you can use the Cireson View Builder to edit any views created by the Cireson View Builder, as well as any from the standard Service Manager view creator. Just use the Edit View (Cireson) task for that view.
Accessing asset management data in the Cireson Portal
Using the Service Manager Console to access the asset management data is OK, but as you may have experienced in your own environments, there are some usability and performance issues with the Service Manager Console. Cireson recognized those long ago, and has created a number of apps to help with the usability of the Service Manager Console, such as the View Builder app we just mentioned above, the Preview Pane app that you may have seen in the webinars, and so on.
Another great app that Cireson provides is the Cireson Portal. There actually are two different portals from Cireson – and end user portal and an analyst portal. These were not specifically written to allow you to access your asset management data, but you certainly can. Some of the cool features of the Cireson Portal that make it a great choice to use instead of the native Service Manager Console include:
- It is web-based, which a lot of customers want
- It has its own database cache and service that provide very responsive data retrieval and saves
- It is operating system, platform, and browser independent – any modern browser, on any platform, running any operating system, can use the Cireson Portal
- It has no dependencies on Silverlight, SharePoint, or the Microsoft Azure Pack
- It uses HTML 5 knowledge rather than the standard RTF format
If you have licensed the Cireson Portal, and you have access to the asset management data, you will see new nodes in the Portal that allow access to the asset management data (as seen in the picture below):
Asset Admin – equivalent to the Administration node in the Service Manager Console
Contracts – equivalent to the Contracts node in the Service Manager Console
Hardware Assets – equivalent to the Hardware Assets node in the Service Manager Console
Software Assets – equivalent to the Software Assets node in the Service Manager Console
For each of the nodes, you would see the appropriate information when you access any of the objects classes contained within the node. Below are pictures of the menus that appear with each node selected.
For example, when to view the subnets, as we have been using that class in a lot of our examples, you’d point to the Asset Admin node, then click the Subnets object. The results would appear as in the picture below.
This is the standard view in the Portal. However you can make your custom views available to the Portal also. All you need to do is to “Promote” the view from the Service Manager Console.
Promoting the view will allow it to appear in the Portal for appropriate users. Here is a picture that shows the results after promoting both custom views.
And just to verify that the views work, here’s a picture of the Cireson NYC Subnets view.
The Cireson Portal is a great way to interact with your asset management data. If you have not tried it, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. You’ll not want to go back to using the Service Manager Console again.
Accessing asset management data in Microsoft Excel
Using the Cireson Portal is a very popular method of accessing your asset management data, although you may not have purchased the Cireson Portal yet. If not, there is another very useful method that you are already familiar with. The vast majority of asset managers out there use spreadsheets to track their assets. As part of the Cireson Asset Management solution (and stream of products), you also get another app that can be extremely useful for managing asset data – the Cireson Asset Excel app.
The Cireson Asset Excel app installs onto your computer running Microsoft Excel through a very simple, and quick, installation process. Simply run an executable, register, and away you go. Once installed, it becomes another add-in that appears in the Microsoft Excel ribbon, as pictured below.
As you can see above, with this app integrated into Microsoft Excel, you can complete quite a number of your asset management needs from Microsoft Excel. You can easily and effectively:
- Manage your financial, business and technical data for association with your assets
- Manage your contracts
- Search for, and modify, both hardware and software assets
- Create brand new hardware and software assets
All without leaving the familiarity you have with Microsoft Excel. For example, below is a picture of the cost center information from Excel that is also available in the Cireson Portal, as well as via the Service Manager Console. Notice the “Update” button in cell F1. If you were to modify the cost center information, you can click “Update” and any modifications are updated in the CMDB.
Asset management security
Any user that has access to the Service Manager Console should be able to view your asset data. But that’s simply viewing asset data. You may need to allow additional users to manipulate (edit, create, delete) your asset data other than the default user roles of Administrators and Advanced Operators. If so, Cireson makes it very easy for you to do so.
As part of the Cireson Asset Management app, an additional tool is downloaded, the Cireson Asset Management Set Permissions tool. To use this tool, you first specify the database server and database name of your Service Manager database. Once you have done that, you would click Test Connection button to verify that you can successfully connect to the Service Manager database. Once that has been done, you specify the user profile that you want to either allow, or revoke, permissions to the asset management data in the database. Click the appropriate button and away you go.
Using the Cireson Asset Management Set Permissions tool only provides access to the Cireson asset management data in the database, and thus the Service Manager Console. If you want to provide access to the asset data from the Cireson Portal, you will need to perform some additional configuration in the Cireson Portal itself. You would need to log into the Portal as an administrative user, then user the dropdown menu below your user name, as depicted below. Click the Navigation Settings link.
You then would then need to either add the appropriate Active Directory groups to the appropriate nodes to expose them in the Portal, or configure them as “Public”, which makes them available to everyone.
Quickly populating your software assets
As we’ve mentioned in throughout the webinar series, and earlier in the accompanying articles, software assets are not created for you automatically as hardware assets can. You either have to manually create your software assets, or import them from some source. Well now Cireson is providing a way for you to jump start your software asset catalog creation. The Cireson Software Asset Management Extractor (or SAME for short), is a pre-canned catalog of many popular software titles from popular vendors. As of the writing of this article, the SAME catalog included 521 titles from nine different vendors, including:
- Adobe Systems
- Kaspersky Labs
- Wolfram Research
My colleague Pete Zerger has already written a great blog about the Cireson Software Asset Management Extractor, so I’ll just point you to it, and leave all the details to his blog. You can find his blog at this link:
Well, that’s about it for this series of webinars and the accompanying articles. It was a blast creating and presenting them to you. I hope that you found the information valuable, and of great assistance to you in your learning, implementation, and use of the Cireson Asset Management solution. As always, if you have any questions about anything, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks all for your participation as well as your continued support of Cireson.