Consoles, you can’t live with them, can’t live without them


Consoles, you can’t live with them, can’t live without them

Console, in past decade many have we seen, some we loved some we hated. Consoles every now and then new ones arise and old ones die. Console, subject of many debates on twitter, you either love them or you hate them.
I thought it would be a good idea to write about consoles and write why some are loved and some are hated (from my perspective), To comment on something is to easy, people will react that you find something wrong with everything if you search long enough. So next to comments on console I will give a few ideas of how to improve consoles, not per console but a general guideline of my perfect console design.

Rules when designing consoles

From my point of view there a few rules that everyone who every designs a console should take in account. I’ll list them here and discuss the later on.
  1. One console, no one of us has a console fetish;
  2. Start-up time has to be near to 0 seconds;
  3. Integration, integration, integration
  4. Availability when database is down;
1. Debated discussion I’ve seen on Twitter about this, Citrix has 20 console VMware has only one. Now VMware has acquired several products and therefor has multiple consoles while Citrix dropped a few. 
Actually I don’t care about this discussion… I think it’s clear to anyone that there should only be one console. I don’t care how many products you have, I only want to open that particular console once while installing and configuring. After that I want one management console.
…but we have more products with their own console….
I’m sure the great minds working at vendor can make two consoles talk to each other so from one management console when we give a command the other server/services or console should react to that. My customers (I’m designing and implementing for them) don’t give a rats ass if there are two, ten or one hundred server running, they want to click in one console and expect things to happen.
Every new console will make adaption of a product more difficult, I’ve heard it over and over that they get lost wondering where to configure things.
So short version, get you console together and don’t give us functionality with the complexity.
2. Start-up time is also important, time is money is a well known statement and that’s a fact. 
We all know the consoles where we have a bar going up and down or left and right and nothing seems to happen. There are of course functions that need to be loaded because without them there will be no functionality but this shouldn’t take longer than a few seconds.
Some of the consoles starting in an MMC will give a not responding even when it’s just loading but even Windows at that time thinks there is something wrong. How often I got the message “Would you like to end loading” when opening a console like Storefront. 
Customer react to this slow starting of console with the question “is something wrong or does it always take so long?”. I don’t want to sell a product that always takes so long to start…. who would want to buy a product that always takes so long to start…..no one, right? 
Customers want instant result, fast consoles and amazing end user experience. Well give them that.
3. I think I mentioned it already… if you have more than one console please make sure they integrate. Current day vendors expand by acquiring others, this results in consoles being added. There is nothing wrong with this, of course you can’t add functionality in one day to one main console. What you can do is make sure we as your customer see one console. I think Citrix Storefront is a good example of this, from Studio you can access Citrix Storefront without the need to go to the Storefront server and open the console there. 
Citrix Provisioning server is an example of how not to work with a console, this console is an example for my wrong doings in consoles… speed, availability, integration…
Citrix bought Ardence in 2006, completing this in 2007 and still today there is no integration with current products.
I always loved Provisioning services but lately designed more with Machine Creation Services because of the integration and easiness for customers. 
4. Products are talking to databases and other products to provide functionality and when those components are down functionality is missing. What I have noticed a couple of times is that consoles stop reaction when e.g. a database is down… like the console should have anything to do with the database for  product.
When a database is down, or when e.g. vCenter/SCVMM etc etc is down I would like to see a message in the console with what is down or unreachable… not some Greek error message no one understands. The error, I guess, is clear to the vendor and therefor they can provide us a meaningful status.
These are four rules that I think are important when designing and working with consoles.  One console, fast start-up, integrated with other consoles and meaningful status messages. How difficult can it be? please think about this next time you design a console.

Consoles

I talked about the four points that are important to good consoling….so let’s take a look at some consoles. I can’t look at all console so here are some of them.
I’ve collected a few console just to give some examples of the good the bad and the ugly.
First console I want to talk about is the VMware horizon View Administrator console.
Good thing about the console is that it starts up fast, logon times are not too bad either. When looking at the integration between other products, Appvolumes, Immidio, Mirage there is still a lot of work to do. Will VMware add this functionality to this console, perhaps. Perhaps they will design a new console or use e.g. the Airwatch console to provide the combined functionality.
I don’t fancy the console and the way you have to navigate through it, I think it’s to much of a hassle to edit pools and change settings in a pool. It’s a web console and web consoles are of course subject to performance of the hosting server. Web console can be slow to respond but the console seems to handle this fine.Good thing about the console is that Red shows there is an error, the console is there and it shows an error.
If we look at Citrix Director we see a web console that is slow to act when data is requested. The Director console has taken over functionality from the old Citrix Xenapp 6.5 consoles. All the functionality of those old consoles related to user sessions are lost and therefor the console is merely a service desk console. 
I hope Citrix will work on this console and add more functionality to create a console for Citrix managers. The console starts up fast, logs on fast but from there on it could be a bit faster. Not my worst console in console land. functionality after you searched for a user is amazing, I can’t ask for more information regarding a user session. I love that they added the user logon detail breakout. 
Citrix Provisioning Services is a cool product with a cool technique. I’ve been working with it for many years but the console is the component that is not my favorite part of it. The console is failing too often and integration is still not there. I had the console crashing so often with errors that the fun went away. With MCS emerging a good integrated solution was available and now that we know more about scalability and so on I tend to use it more and more. Customers want a solid solution.
There are other consoles that we won’t talk about. We could talk about Studio which is slow on starting… really slow and that crashes when a database is down. Studio is a good console when it is started and when nothing is down, it is however to dependent on everything running, it should be more independent for it’s our management console that we need to determine what is wrong. If the management console is down where do we have to look for information???
There are many many more consoles but my point has been made… please fix your consoles make them function like consoles and make us happy 🙂

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