When I was promoted to Lab Support Administrator at Missouri State University (MSU), the position was responsible for hiring and managing student workers and full-time staff, making sure the labs were staffed, and that equipment kept working. Over the next four years, I took on a number of additional tasks, and several of these fell under the heading of “fleet management.”
Windows Deployment Services (WDS)
The first project I kicked off was switching from Symantec Ghost, which was being discontinued, for imaging the computers to WDS. “Imaging” means installing the operating system and applications, performing the configuration, and then effectively creating a copy of that computer and applying the copy to many other computers.
We had multiple people building and deploying multiple images. The process would fail often and was time consuming on both the build and deploy sides. I had one of our Centralized User Support Specialists use WDS to build a new imaging approach where we could deploy the OS and applications separately, which gave us more flexibility, and this also reduced image build time. Deploys became faster and more frequently successful, and were easier to address when they did fail.
This improvement alone saved us about 3000 person-hours each year.
Windows Server Update Services (WSUS)
The campus had about 6000 computers and we needed a better method of managing Windows updates. I built and managed WSUS and defined a process for testing updates, then a time-gated rollout so that only a portion of campus would be impacted if an update passed testing but caused problems in the field. I could both deploy and roll-back updates remotely and en masse.
In the course of this work, I found a number of updates that broke functionality and blogged about it on the Help Desk blog. I was occasionally the first person worldwide to break this news and provide workarounds, such that engineers from Microsoft began reaching out to me directly about updates and resolving problems.
Microsoft and Adobe Application Distribution
To ensure license compliance and manage software remotely (especially uninstalling to free up and redistribute licenses), I began using Microsoft’s Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT) and Adobe’s enterprise licensing application. Combined with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), this enabled me to deploy and manage software from my office to the 6000 computers spread across 80 buildings that occupied multiple square miles.
Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)
SCCM is pretty big and complex, and I didn’t have any background in it. I read some books, a lot of articles, watched videos, and built it from the ground up so we could better manage computers across campus.
Lab Computer Management using Faronics Deep Freeze and LabStats
Faronics Deep Freeze lets you “freeze” a computer’s state and reset it after users log off. We implemented this to reduce the frequency with which we needed to reimage lab computers. With Deep Freeze in place, computer software never broke due to user actions because we could just restart the computer to fix something, and by reducing the frequency of reimaging, we increased computer availability time.
Printer Management using PaperCut
PaperCut was related to a separate project to standardize printers in academic areas across campus. I used this to introduce charging students for printing to curb the handful of people who used a ton of toner and paper. I performed the calculations to determine the right amount of printouts to grant students, the cost, and built and ran the system to manage printers in all academic computer labs on campus.