This is part three 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).

Given that part 1 in the series, as well as in the webinar series, covered the Configuration Manager basics, and part 2 covered the various settings for the Cireson Asset Management app, this article will look into some of the basics of Cireson Asset Management app.

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:

You can find more information about the Asset Management stream, as part of the Cireson Platform, at https://cireson.com/cireson-platform.

Creation of asset information

As we saw in the initial blog, as well as the first webinar in this series, Cireson Hardware Assets can be created from Configuration Manager data. That’s certainly one method of creating hardware assets – extracting the base information from a source, such as Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, or Active Directory. And it is a method that the vast majority of you reading this article would use. As we did in our webinar, we used the Configuration Manager connector to initially create the Windows Computers within Service Manager. This included Configuration Manager specific data, such as the primary user, hardware inventory details, and so on that was extracted from Configuration Manager (although the Active Directory as well as Operations Manager connectors could also initially create the Windows Computers), and inserted them into the Service Manager central management database (CMDB).

Windows Computers

From there, the Hardware Asset Update Workflow created hardware assets from the data in the CMDB created by the Configuration Manager connector. The end result was that we had Hardware Assets created in the Asset Management node, which happened to be created out of Configuration Manager source information.

Manually creating asset data

The next method that we’ll cover is manual asset data creation. This can be the financial, contractual, business or technical data you wish to associate with your assets, or the actual hardware and software assets themselves. It’s really easy to manually create asset data, simply right-click on the asset class you want to create data for, and choose the “Create item” option, where “item” reflects the asset data class you are working with.

In Part 3 of the webinar series, we manually created List values (not technically asset management data, however List values can be consumed by asset data), Catalog Items (which can consume the List values that are available), and Standards. To create new List values, you access the Library workspace, and the Lists node. We started by manually creating a handful of values for specific List items, such as a specific Catalog Item Manufacturer, Catalog Item Model, and Currency. While we didn’t create new “Lists”, we added new values to the existing Lists. For example, for the Catalog Item Manufacturer list, we added a new list value named “Contoso Manufacturer”. This was done by modifying the properties of the Catalog Item Manufacturer list, clicking “Add Item”, and changing the newly added “List Value” item to “Contoso Manufacturer”. Pretty simple to complete.

We then created the “Contoso Desktop” Catalog Item that you see in the screen shot below. We moved to the Configuration Items workspace, expanding the Asset Management node, expanding Administration, and clicking Catalog Items. By default, there are no Catalog Items included with the Cireson Asset Management solution. A simple right-click, “Create Catalog Item”, and filling out the form, and we have a new Catalog Item created. We could have even used the newly created List values of “Contoso Manufacturer” and “Contoso Model”, as List values are available for selection in the drop down lists for asset data (although we used other List values that were added through a custom management pack import).

Catalog Item Manual

Manually creating other asset data is essentially the same process as used for the manual Catalog Item created for “Contoso Desktop” – simply right-click the asset class, click “Create item”, fill in the form, and click OK. You can follow this procedure for all the asset data classes, as well as for both Hardware Assets as well as Software Assets.

Importing asset data

Manually creating asset data, or assets themselves, can be a laborious process if you have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of different items to create in each asset class. With that in mind, Cireson created another method of creating assets and asset data – that is by importing the asset or asset data from a source, most commonly through CSV files.

The Cireson Asset Import app, which we introduced in a previous blog and webinar, allows you to import data from various sources – CSV file, SQL Server, LDAP, or ODBC – into the Cireson Asset Management solution, providing the additional data for your asset management lifecycle.

You start the process by adding a new import connector. When you had the Cireson Asset Import app installed, you get two new options related to this feature available for use – “Asset Management Import Connector” and “Asset Management Import Connector (Import)”. You get to these options from the Administration workspace, the Connectors node, and then the Create connector task.

 

Import Connector Menu

The first option is the one that you would use to create an import connector from scratch (as will be shown next). The second option allows you to import definition files for import connectors that had previously been created using the first option. You’d manually create the import connector, then you’d use the Export task to export it to an XML format file. This file could then be imported through the Asset Management Import Connector (Import) task. We will cover that method later in this article.

To create a new import connector from scratch, you would select the Asset Management Import Connector task, fill in the General Details, Data Mappings, and Workflow Schedule settings, and save the connector. The various settings that can be configured on the General Details page include:

Import Connector General

Once you completed the General Details page, you then move onto the Data Mappings page. This is where you map the attributes for the specific target data class with those from the import source. If the source is a CSV file, you’d map the columns from the CSV file to the attributes of that class, as shown in the picture below. In this case, with a CSV file as the source (as shown in the previous picture), the attributes at the left (under the heading “Property”) are those defined in the Cireson Asset Management data class for the “Vendor” target class, and the attributes on the right (under the heading “Mapped To”) are the appropriate column headers from the CSV source file. Notice that not all properties have to have an associated value from the source file. Also note that as pictured above, this import connector does not have any relationships to be mapped, as there is no “combination class” designated. A later example will show you a combination class with relationship mappings.

Import Connector Mappings

Here is a picture of the CSV source file for used for this import connector. In it you can see some of the column headings that were mapped to the properties of the “Vendor” target class.

Vendor CSV

Finally, once you’ve completed the mappings, you can move onto scheduling the workflow. This is completed on the Workflow Schedule page, as shown below. Often you may not define a schedule for the import to happen automatically, rather you would import the data on demand. This would be the case for a source that is static, such as a CSV file. However if the source is using a query to a live data source, then you may want to define a recurring schedule to run the data import automatically.

Import Connector Schedule

As shown above, this specific import connector is using a CSV file as its source. It has been mapped to the appropriate columns of the CSV file itself, and it configured to run on demand. To initiate the data import, it is a simple matter of selecting the import connector, and clicking Synchronize Now from the Tasks pane (note the blue arrow in the below picture). You will be prompted to run the connector manually as it is currently disabled. Click Yes. A message will appear indicating that the import will happen within the next two minutes. Wait for that to happen, refresh the display, and view your results as shown in the picture below.

Import Connector Status

Relationships

As mentioned earlier, there are times where you will want one data class to have a relationship to other data classes. For example, maybe a Catalog Item has a relationship on the Vendor class. This can be mapped in the Relationships section of the Data Mappings for an import connector. First you need to configure the import connector with a Combination Class, as depicted in the following picture.

Catalog Item Combination Class

Here you can see that the Catalog Item import connector is using a CSV file as its input source, and has been configured to use the “Cireson Catalog Item (Full)” combination class from Cireson Asset Management. With this combination class selected, here’s what is added to the Data Mappings for this specific target class (pictured below). In this case, we’ve configured a relationship from the Catalog Item to the Vendor class, meaning the source must provide data in an attribute titled “Vendor”.

Catalog Item Relationship

Here is a picture of the CSV file headers used for this import connector. Notice column H has a title of “Vendor”, which matches the mapped value in the previous picture.

 

Catalog Item CSV

You can even have an import connector that uses one CSV file as its import source, and that input source CSV file pulls data from another CSV file through a relationship. In the picture below, notice that the mapping for the “Subnet” attribute to be acquired from a file and the field “Name” in that file.

Location Relationships

Here’s a look at the CSV file associated with the import connector. Notice column H has the title “Subnet”, which is what is mapped for the relationship.

Location CSV

Since this file accesses data from another file, such as C:SCSMAsset ManagementCSV FilesImport Data-Subnet Names – NYC.csv, here’s a look at that file and its layout. You can see that the “Name” attribute, which is referenced in the relationship mapping, is the only column defined in this spreadsheet.

Subnets NYC CSV

The end result here, when looking at the “US Headquarters” location, is that you see the three subnets from the related CSV file that were automatically imported as part of the Location import connector.

US HQ Location Subnets

This is very powerful stuff!

Importing Import Connector Definitions

Another concept in this topic to discuss is that of using import connector definition files to help automate the creation of import connectors. For those of you lucky enough to have a test lab where you can conduct proper testing prior to your production rollout, this can be a great way to save time, and potential mistakes, when creating import connectors.

What you would do is create your import connector manually using the procedures discussed above. Then, after you’ve validated that the import source and mappings are correct, you can then export the import connector definition to an XML file, which you could then import into your production environment (along with any required CSV files if used as source for the import connector). This way, you don’t have to worry about misconfiguring any data mappings or other configuration settings on the import connector you would normally have to manually create in the production environment. See the blue arrow in the following picture.

Import Connector Export

Once you’ve exported the import connector definition to an XML file, you can easily import it, as well as any other required files, in a different Service Manager implementation with the Cireson Asset Import app installed. Use the Asset Management Import Connector (Import) action from the Tasks pane, as depicted below.

Import Connector Menu 2

 

In the dialog box that is presented, specify the XML source file to use as the import connector definition, and complete the configuration shown in the following picture. You can change the name of the import connector if desired, and designate a management pack to import the definition to (as mentioned earlier, it is recommended to have a special management pack for import connectors). The Source CSV file should be filled in for you automatically from the XML file you imported. Simply ensure that the path is correct for the current environment.

Import Connector Import

Once imported, you either manually initiate the import connector as discussed earlier, or allow it to run on its configured schedule (if it is configured with a schedule). You can change any settings of the import connector once it has been imported into the environment, just as if it were one that you were in the process of creating now.

Manually creating import CSV files

Using CSV files to import mass quantities of asset data and assets is a great way to get all that important information into the CMDB for asset management. But how do you properly create those import files? That’s the final topic in this article – how to create CSV files for importing into Cireson Asset Management.

Cireson has made the process pretty simple for you. We’ve created a master spreadsheet that you can use to create CSV files for all the various asset data classes. If you just follow the instructions in the spreadsheet, supply the data as appropriate (specifically any required data), you can very easily create spreadsheets that will allow you to map to an import connector.

Go to this Knowledge Base article: https://support.cireson.wpengine.com/KnowledgeBase/View/55?selectedtab=enduser

and download the Asset-Import-Master-Spreadsheet-2015-Q1.xlsx file listed in it. Once you load the file in Microsoft Excel, you will be presented with a worksheet like the one pictured here.

Master Spreadsheet

You can follow the steps listed on the Notes tab (selected at the bottom), fill in the appropriate data in your worksheet, save as CSV, and use the saved file as the source for an import connector. For example, if you wanted to create a CSV file for Subnets, you would click on the Subnet tab at the bottom (you need to use the right arrow to advance the tabs), which would as in the next picture. Fields B6 through E6 are the column headings that you need to have in the CSV file for this specific data class (each data class would have its own unique headings that must be included in the saved file). These titles you would then configure on the Data Mappings page when creating an import connector. Row 5 of the spreadsheet can be used to determine which attributes are required as well as which are optional to include.

Master Subnet

Copy cells B6 through E6 to a new spreadsheet (pasting the headers in row 1 of the new worksheet), fill in the data starting in row 2 (at a minimum, each of the required fields must include appropriate data), and save in CSV format. Below is a quick example of the Subnets values with sample data.

Master Subnet Contoso

Using this process, and whatever data you may already have in spreadsheets for your existing manual asset tracking, will allow you to very quickly create CSV files that are properly formatted to be used as source files for import connectors for Cireson Asset Management.

There you go, hopefully this long article is of help to you in your continued learning of Cireson Asset Management, especially in the area of asset creation, whether manually done or imported. More articles to come as we dive further into asset management with Cireson!