Serio Blog

Monday, 17 May 2010

A few improvement are coming down the line for SerioPlus users, likely one week away.

Billing/Charging

The most significant change we've made is in the area of billing, and allowing you to record the chargeable value (i.e., cash) of activities you undertake for clients

We've created a system that allows you to define standard charging bands, which can either be standard across-the-board or varied from customer to customer.

Using the charging bands, you can nominate specific Actions to be either charged at an hourly rate based on the time taken, or on the basis of a flat fee. The system is designed to be flexible, so if you negotiate something special with the customer then the system will cope with that just fine.

At the 'back end' of the Billing/Charging update we've added a screen that allows you to manage your unbilled charges, and to assign these to invoices as you invoice your customers.

If a customer asks you to justify your charges, production of a fully itemised list will be easy.

A number of new 'cash/billing' reports have also been added.

Remote Tools Update

We've performed a few updates to the Remote Tools in SerioPlus.

Aside from changing the default screen view to 'smooth view' to improve the visual aspects, we've also made it possible to show your own desktop for customer training.

Sunday, 07 Mar 2010

What's New?

No Server - it's a hosted service. This is the most important change – you no longer need to maintain a server, perform upgrades or backups, worry about security if it's on the Internet. The service is delivered over the Internet where ever you are. The client tools are a free download, install them where you need them.

New support tools. Integrated into SerioPlus are tools for remote desktop sharing, file upload and download to customer desktops, and text chat facilities. These tools will work seamlessly through  most firewalls and are an aspect of the service we will continue to develop in the coming months. These tools are there to help you deliver quicker, more efficient support to your customers regardless of their network location.

Integration of the Serio CMDB/CMS into the Service Explorer. The Service Explorer has been a popular addition to the tool, now you can browse and edit Configuration Data directly from the Service Explorer. The Item Diagram is more accessible too – simply click a CI and it will display the Item in visual context.

Updates to Reports, including Scheduled Running. We've added daily, weekly and monthly status reports, and like the rest of the reports package you can schedule this to run reports and email them in PDF to whoever you choose whenever you choose.

Concurrent Licensing. All licensing is now based on an easy to understand concurrent connection model.

Revised Logging Form. We've made some substantial changes to the logging form, to improve ergonomics and reduce time taken to log a ticket.

Web Portal. Your own web portal with zero set-up required. Just click the link on the SerioClient welcome page.

Try it now: Existing customers who wish to try the new service should email

serio-support _at_ serioplus _dot_ com

to obtain a Voucher Code. The Voucher Code will place you on specially-reserved servers away from our public servers.

Sign-up to try here: http://www.seriosoft.com/passport/newpassport.htm

Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010

SerioPlus Update, Getting Closer
SerioPlus has moved on in leaps and bounds since our original announcement back in October. The user testing we’ve done has gone extremely well – customers have reported that the application looks and works as expected, is responsive, and works seamlessly on their networks without any configuration changes.
Most importantly, SerioPlus does not require the customer to have their own server as mentioned here (http://www.seriosoft.com/Blog/?p=320).
This post will address some of the new features we’ve added. Time permitting, I’ll post about how the new architecture differs from the old in the next week or so.
New Features
Remote Control & Customer Support
You’re probably thinking that this is nothing new – VNC does this. The features we’ve added to SerioPlus allow you to see & control a users desktop machine through firewalls, with zero config for you as a Serio user.
Our aim with this is to remove the need for you (our customer) to resort to VPNs in order to help your customers. We want you to be able to welcome new customers easily and still offer great support.
We’ve gone a few steps further however in recent weeks. SerioPlus also has remote file upload and download – so if you need to send an update you can do so, or if you need access to an error log file, you can do so. Again, this works through the HTTP-based transfer protocols we are using, and via the SerioPlus servers.
Finally, there is a chat (IM) that works through firewalls as well. We’ve added this as another means of customers to contact you, and will be an area of future development.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us to test and refine this technology.
Report Scheduling
This is also now live. It’s very simple, take any of the reports in SerioReports and schedule them to run at a date and time of your choosing to as many people as you choose. Each report is delivered in PDF format, and each report can be run daily, weekly, or monthly. Again for SerioPlus users, this will be a zero config feature.
We are currently adding a number of summary reports that will show Key Performance Indicators that will be well suited to this.
Configuration Management now integrated into the Service Explorer
We’ve expanded the Service Explorer to include information about Configuration Items (CIs). This data can now be viewed and edited directly from the Service Explorer. We’ve also made the Item Diagram easier to access as well, so you can use it in conjunction with the Service Explorer.
Where we’re at Right Now
All of the major items of functionality we wanted to have are now in place. Most importantly for us, the new server infrastructure has proved itself to be reliable over the past 6 months since it went live. We’ve also managed to identify infrastructure providers that will give us the reliability and performance we need.
We are currently working on a new install program, and are working through a number of user interface updates to SerioClient, SerioAdmin and SerioReports.
Where we want to be in the next 4 months
- We want to allow you have a ‘contact support’ applet you can add to your customers desktops, or that they can download from the internet in a few moments. If they need help, they click to start a text chat session with one of your support agents, who then has access to the file and screen capabilities of SerioPlus. This will all work regardless of firewalls. It’s already possible to log a ticket from text chat, and this is something we want to take further.
- We want you to be able to monitor your computers networks and servers easily, again regardless of firewall issues. We want you to know when your customer has a problem before the customer does.
If you have your own Custom Reports
Custom report writing has always been a tricky issue for any hosted service or application. Our response to this has been to create a (read-only) ODBC driver for SerioPlus (in fact, this is how SerioReports works).
Whilst this works perfectly well for SerioReports, not all of the features required by products such as Crystal are implemented yet (mainly the schema discovery functions), and you should assume that the SerioPlus ODBC driver will not work with products other than SerioReports. We’ll be continuing to develop the SerioPlus ODBC driver in the next 6 months, but in the meantime call us to discuss what possibilities exist for workarounds.

SerioPlus has moved on in leaps and bounds since our original announcement back in October. The user testing we’ve done has gone extremely well – customers have reported that the application looks and works as expected, is responsive, and works seamlessly on their networks without any configuration changes. Thank you to everyone that took the time to help out and refine the technology.

Most importantly, SerioPlus does not require the customer to have their own server as mentioned here.

This post will address some of the new features we’ve added. Time permitting, we’ll post about how the new architecture differs from the old in the next week or so.

New Features

Remote Control & Customer Support 

You’re probably thinking that this is nothing new – VNC does this. The features we’ve added to SerioPlus allow you to see & control a users desktop machine through firewalls, with zero config for you as a Serio user. It is just there, and works.

Our aim with this is to remove the need for you (our customer) to resort to VPNs in order to help your customers. We want you to be able to welcome new customers easily and still offer great support.

To make this possible, we've gone further than desktop sharing. SerioPlus also has remote file upload and download – so if you need to send an update you can do so, or if you need access to an error log file, you can do so. Again, this works through the HTTP-based transfer protocols we are using, through most firewalls, and via the SerioPlus servers.

Finally, there is a chat (IM) that works through most firewalls as well. We’ve added this as another means of customers to contact you, and will be an area of future development.

Report Scheduling

This is also now live. It’s very simple, take any of the reports in SerioReports and schedule them to run at a date and time of your choosing for as many people as you choose. Each report is delivered in PDF format, and each report can be run daily, weekly, or monthly. Again for SerioPlus users, this will be a zero config feature.

We are currently adding a number of summary reports that will show Key Performance Indicators that will be well suited to this.

Configuration Management now integrated into the Service Explorer

We’ve expanded the Service Explorer to include information about Configuration Items (CIs). This data can now be viewed and edited directly from the Service Explorer. We’ve also made the Item Diagram easier to access as well, so you can use it in conjunction with the Service Explorer.

Where we’re at Right Now

All of the major items of functionality we wanted to have are now in place. Most importantly for us, the new server infrastructure has proved itself to be reliable over the past 6 months since it went live. We’ve also managed to identify infrastructure providers that will give us the reliability and performance we need.

We are currently working on a new install program, and are working through a number of user interface updates to SerioClient, SerioAdmin and SerioReports.

Where we want to be in the next 4 months

- We want to allow you have a ‘contact support’ applet you can add to your customers desktops, or that they can download from the internet in a few moments. If they need help, they click to start a text chat session with one of your support agents, who then has access to the file and screen capabilities of SerioPlus. This will all work regardless of firewalls. It’s already possible to log a ticket from text chat, and this is something we want to take further.

- We want you to be able to monitor your computers networks and servers easily, again regardless of firewall issues. We want you to know when your customer has a problem before the customer does.

If you have your own Custom Reports

Custom report writing has always been a tricky issue for any hosted service or application. Our response to this has been to create a (read-only) ODBC driver for SerioPlus (in fact, this is how SerioReports works).

Whilst this works perfectly well for SerioReports, not all of the features required by products such as Crystal are implemented yet (mainly the schema discovery functions), and you should assume that the SerioPlus ODBC driver will not work with products other than SerioReports. We’ll be continuing to develop the SerioPlus ODBC driver in the next 6 months, but in the meantime call us to discuss what possibilities exist for workarounds.

Friday, 27 Nov 2009

SerioPlus has now moved to the next stage of testing. If you've been given an invitation code you can sign-up and login at the link below to take part.

http://www.seriosoft.com/passport/newpassport.htm

Tuesday, 27 Oct 2009

We're currently hard at work perfecting Serio Release 6.

This will be the biggest release we've done, and the biggest departure from our current offerings that we've ever made.

The most obvious and welcome improvement is that we have created a brand new Server – and one that doesn't use DCOM (that's right, no more DCOM). What this means for customers is that the whole thing runs as a Windows service. Everything, including email. The new Server (called Serio Transaction Server) is actually a web server, and delivers services to all our client applications via HTTP (SSL).

Most excitingly, by February 2010 we'll be able to offer each customer the ability to host their server with us, using Serio as a service over the Internet – so you won't need your own server. We are calling this Serio Plus.

(If you still want to host the software yourself that's fine, we want to offer a choice of hosting options).

Save Money

We aim to save customers money by taking care of

  • Upgrades
  • Backups
  • Security
  • Installation of web tools like PocketSerio-i and SerioClient Express

Customers will also save money by not needing to maintain a server platform themselves, and will not need to spend money on upgrading operating systems.

New Licensing Model

All customers using the new Serio Plus service will immediately transfer onto a concurrent licensing model – making your licenses go further, allowing you to install our client software onto as many machines as you choose.

Serio Release 6 FAQ

Q: Are you going to force me to give-up the server I have now?
A: No. Upgrades and updates will still be available for those that want to host the software themselves.
 
Q: What stage are you currently at?
A: The new server is currently live, and working with us.
 
Q: If I want to move to Serio Plus, what is involved?
A: Simply send us two things: Your attachments, and your database. We will then set you up with a Serio Plus account. We will be able to do this in a matter of a few hours for most customers.
 
Q: Will it cost any extra?
A: For the majority of customers, we intend to offer Serio Plus as a 'no extra cost' option.
 
Q: Will it save me money?
A: In most cases, we think so. You no longer need to maintain a server (so, for example, you can cancel your server maintenance contract). You no longer need to perform upgrades, or perform backups. If you use our products to maintain a support web presence, we do that for you. The fact that Serio Plus offers only concurrent licensing will also reduce costs.
 
Q: Is it secure?
A: We've added multiple levels of security into Serio Plus. Aside from account controls such as account Ids and pins, we've created Serio Plus such that each account runs in it's own virtual space, separate from other accounts. We think it's pretty secure.
 
Q: Will I have to make changes to my firewall?
A: Almost certainly not. Our testing so far has indicated that if a machine can access the Internet with Internet Explorer, Serio Plus will work also.
 
Q: Why have you done this? After all, you are a software company.
A: We've done this to lower the barriers to ownership, certainly. But we also want to offer some new and powerful services and needed a platform to provide these to customers. More information will be provided about these new services later.
 

Wednesday, 01 Jul 2009

To celebrate the launch of Serio IT Service View Pro, Serio will be holding a Plugin writing competition during July, August and September 2009.

We'll be awarding a winning prize of USD$400 and a runner-up prize of USD$200 for the most useful, original and best thought-out Plugins submitted.

Background: IT Service View monitors IT Services & computes Availability statistics by means of Plugins - these are monitoring packages written in SerioScript that have published Properties and Responses defined by the Plugin author. Plugins can access WMI and SNMP data, read files, access Performance Counter data, read web pages, analyse web page content - and in this way verify the state of different IT Services.

This is what the judges will be looking for, and the criteria on which Plugin entries will be judged:

  1. The Plugin covers a product or service not covered by one of the current Standard Plugins.
  2. The Plugin covers a product or service in reasonably widespread use.
  3. The Plugin works reliably.
  4. The Plugin is easy to use, by sensible use of Properties and Responses. There should be no need for users to change the Plugin code to make it work.
  5. The Plugin has a clear description telling you what it does, and how to use it. If the product or service being monitored requires any special set-up, then the description will tell you this also.

Closing date for submissions is September 30th 2009.

Terms and conditions of Entry

Entries must be submitted by email to competition@seriosoft.com.

Plugins must be exported and supplied in exported form, as attachments you your entry email.

If you've used any MIB files that are not supplied as standard in IT Service View, you must include these in your entry email.

Correspondence of any kind will not be entered into regarding the competition.

The entry email must be entitled 'Plugin competition'.

The decision of the judges is final.

You must have a Paypal account in order to accept the prizes offered - no Paypal account, no prize. Any fees deducted by Paypal will be made from the prize money.

You may submit more than one entry. However, each separate entry must be submitted in a single email - do not submit multiple entries in a single email.

By entering, you agree that we may place your Plugin onto a Community Plugin webpage for download by others.

If you create a DLL to be used as part of the Plugin, you must supply full source code for the DLL and instructions on how to build (or supply the project files).

Winners must supply the following information about themselves for publication: Name, Nationality, Country of Residence, Occupation - so that we can publish the winner's details. By taking part in the Competition, you warrant that any Plugin supplied is your own work, and does not breach the copyright of any individual or organisation.

Prizes are non-transferable and there are no alternatives.

All taxes, transfers, insurances, and other expenses resulting from the prize are the sole responsibility of the winners unless otherwise stated.

Failure to claim a prize within the time or in the manner specified may result in disqualification and the selection of an alternative winner.

The competition and these rules are governed by Scottish Law.

It is your sole responsibility to ensure that your details and e-mail address are accurate, and that Serio is informed of any changes to these. Serio accepts no responsibility for any changes which are not properly notified from the time of submission of your entry to the time of notification that the prize has been awarded.

Monday, 29 Jun 2009

If you or your colleagues receive work emails through Blackberry handhelds, the chances are your company is using a piece of software called Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES).

BES diagramBES provides the link between your company's mail server (e.g. Microsoft Exchange) and the mobile network (T-Mobile, Vodafone, etc.) that actually delivers and receives emails from handhelds (as shown in the diagram).

If this link is broken, no-one will be able to send or receive work emails through their Blackberries.

It's clearly in the interests of Service Delivery managers that the availability of this vital service is continuously monitored, so that Service Desk staff know about any problems before users do. Additionally, if you can report at the end of the month on the exact periods of downtime experienced and the percentage availability achieved, you have valuable information for improving user experience of the service.

The Blackberry Enterprise Server Plugin for Serio IT Service View helps you monitor and report on key indicators of the health and availability of your Blackberry Enterprise Server.

Connection to the SRP Host

In order to send emails out over the mobile network, your Blackberry Enterprise Server periodically connects to something called the SRP Host. You'll have entered the address of the SRP host when you first set up your Blackberry Enterprise Server. You can see what the SRP Host address is for your country by going to the Blackberry website.

The BES Plugin for Serio IT Service View monitors the ability of your Blackberry Enterprise Server to connect to the SRP Host. Since no connection to the SRP Host effectively means no service, IT Service View changes the BES device status to Red (Unavailable) and, if desired, sends out email notifications.

For users of Serio IT Service View Pro, these periods of downtime will appear on scheduled Downtime and Availability reports sent to managers via email.

Build-up of Undelivered Emails on the Blackberry Server

Another indicator that there may be a problem is a build-up of undelivered emails on the BES. Again, the Plugin can notify you when there are an excessive number of such undelivered emails. As soon as the number rises above a threshold you define, IT Service View will alert you.

Using other Plugins to Monitor BES

Other Plugins for Serio IT Service View can provide valuable information about problems elsewhere that may be affecting your Blackberry Enterprise Server.

For example, use the Exchange Plugin to monitor the health of your Microsoft Exchange Server. Use the Windows 2003/2008 Plugin to monitor the Windows Server on which BES is running, or to check that Blackberry services are running correctly and restart them if not.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Serio IT Service View comes with a Plugin for monitoring Linux servers, allowing you to monitor free disk space, free RAM, processor utilisation, and running processes.

This article describes how to set up monitoring of a Linux Server with Serio IT Service View. The specific distribution discussed is Ubuntu, but hopefully you will find it straightforward to adapt the procedure to your own version of Linux.

Part One: Installing snmpd (Part of the Net-SNMP suite)

Serio IT Service View monitors Linux servers through the SNMP Agent, snmpd, which is part of the Net-SNMP suite. snmpd must be installed and running on the Linux server you intend to monitor.

For users of all varieties of Linux, you can find advice on downloading, installing, and configuring Net-SNMP at the following website: www.net-snmp.org.

For Ubuntu users, there is no need to download as snmpd is included as standard in the Ubuntu distribution. To ensure that snmpd is installed on Ubuntu,

1. Open the Synaptic Package Manager (accessed from the 'System' > 'Administration' menu).

2. Select 'All' on the left.

3. In the list on the right locate the snmp and snmpd packages. If these are not yet installed, then mark them for installation and click on 'Apply'.

Part Two: Configuring snmpd

1. The snmpd.conf File

The configuration settings for snmpd are stored in a file called snmpd.conf. On Ubuntu, this file is located in the directory /etc/snmp.

A standard snmpd.conf file is supplied with Serio IT Service View. You'll find it in the 'Helpers' folder, under the folder were Serio IT Service View is installed (usually \Program Files\ITServiceView).

Back up your current snmpd.conf file on your Linux server, and then replace it with the standard one supplied with Serio IT Service View.

You can use the snmpd.conf file supplied with Serio IT Service View as-is, wihout changes. However, if necessary, you can make changes to the snmpd.conf file using a text editor. Use the comments within the file to guide you. There are two cases in which you may need to make changes to snmpd.conf:

a. to set the Community String

For security reasons, you may want to change the Community String within the file (set by default to 'public').

b. to specify the list of processes you would like to monitor

If you want use Serio IT Service View to check if certain processes are running on your Linux server, you need to list these processes in the snmpd.conf file. Add the processes you are interested in to snmpd.conf, using the example and comments within the file to guide you.

2. Command Line Options

You can run snmpd with various command line options (see http://www.net-snmp.org/docs/man/snmpd.html).

For the Ubuntu distribution, the default command line options are specified in the file etc/default/snmp, which you can open with a text editor. The default options are specified in the line beginning 'SNMPDOPTS':

SNMPDOPTS='-Lsd -Lf /dev/null -u snmp -I -smux -p /var/run/snmpd.pid 127.0.0.1'

One change is required here: you need to remove the final '127.0.0.1'. It specifies that snmpd should listen only for requests only on the loopback interface, which means that it will not detect requests from Serio IT Service View. With this change made the line should look like this:

SNMPDOPTS='-Lsd -Lf /dev/null -u snmp -I -smux -p /var/run/snmpd.pid'

Save the file after making your changes.

3. Restart the snmpd Service

After making changes to configuration files, you need to restart the snmpd service. On Ubuntu, you can issue the command:

sudo /etc/init.d/snmpd restart

Part Three: Testing snmp on your Linux Server

It's not necessary to do this step, but it will help you confirm that the SNMP Agent, snmpd, is running smoothly on your Linux server. First check that it is running, by entering the following command at the terminal on your Linux server:

ps -A | grep snmpd

Then try the following command, also from terminal on the Linux server:

snmpwalk  -c public -v 2c localhost dskTable

(Note: If you changed the Community String from 'public' to something else in step 1 above, you need to substitute your new Community String in the command above.)

You should see a long list of results about the disks on your Linux server.

If you don't get any results, or you get a time out or other error message, there's clearly something wrong with the way snmpd is running and you need to resolve that before continuing. In that case, review the steps above to see if you can spot the problem.

Part Four: Adding the Linux Server as a Device in Serio IT Service View

The final step is to add the Linux server as a Device to Serio IT Service View. Do this in the usual way using the New Device wizard.

When using the wizard, you need to specify some SNMP settings. Make sure you specify 2c as the version for SNMP. Also, if you changed the Community String (see Part Two, section 1 above), you will need to specify the Community String you have used.

That's it! You're ready to go online.

Thursday, 30 Apr 2009

Serio IT Service View uses WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) to monitor Windows 2003/2008 Servers through its standard Plugins.

When you add a new Windows Server device to Serio, you'll be asked for Windows Login details for WMI, and you'll be able to test that WMI can connect to your target server.

If this test fails, you'll receive an error message, which may help you diagnose the problem. If you're still stuck, try working through the following checklist.

1. Starting with the basics, is the Windows Server you're trying to connect to switched on? Can you ping it?

2. Check your credentials. The Windows username and password you supply to connect to WMI must have Administrator rights on the target server. If you're using a domain administrator account, make sure prefix it with the domain name, as in:

mydomain\administrator

3. Is the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service running on the target server? WMI uses RPC to connect to remote servers. Check that the 'Remote Procedure Call' service is running by looking on the Services panel within Administrative Tools on the Control Panel of the target server.

4. Is the target server Windows 2008? If so, there are a few changes you may need to make to the firewall, DCOM launch and activation privileges, and User Account Control (UAC) settings. It's all explained in this handy Microsoft article:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa822854(VS.85).aspx

5. Still stuck? Another option is to bypass WMI altogether and use SNMP to monitor the server with the Serio Inventory Agent.

Friday, 24 Apr 2009

A study from the US IT trade body CompTIA reveals that a minority of companies (and in the current economic turmoil a decreasing number) have given IT security training to their non IT staff.

Whilst any study from a trade body should be treated with a little caution, this one stands up. Here in the UK it seems to be pretty rare amongst medium to large companies to see any user-community focussed IT security training - which is interesting, as this end-users are probably the portal through which most viruses, trojans and losses of password cases arise.

The situation has been made worse in the past few years by the advent of cheap laptops, wireless access at home (often badly set-up), a profusion of mobile devices, public wireless networks, USB menory devices and more. Most users simply trust they are OK. I wonder how many corporate laptops get used at home on a personal network connection, and on public Wi-Fi networks?

The study shows the the biggest hit from security breaches is to the end-user themselves (33% of security breaches) - i.e., loss of their laptop or other service, and then the loss of productivity that comes from that. Further down the scale (19% of security breaches), but still with significant effect, are effects to corporate services and networks.

A little advice about safe surfing and safe use may pay more dividends than an emphasis on technology and control for preventing security breaches.

Banks are the Same (Mostly)

UK Banks are an example of this when it comes to on-line banking - spending vast sums on server and corporate-side security whilst the personal and small business customer has to sort the other end of the connection, the home or business computer, themselves with wildly varying success. Read the terms and conditions (the smallprint) of your on-line banking provider - you'll find the responsibility is pushed firmly onto you as a consumer, with little in the way of support.

However, one bank does deserve an honourable mention - RBS Group. RBS introduced a system over a year ago that extended the ridiculous and overused password system used by most banks with a requirement to enter a password but then to use something that you possess - a device and a card. Without this, you can't transfer funds and drain an account - meaning even if you suffer a password loss through spyware, the damage that can be inflicted on you is limited.

RBS have gone one better now with the launch of something called Raport. This product is basically there to step in and make the connection between your machine and the bank less vulnerable to malware - and it's offered for free.

I expect other banks will follows the RBS line in the coming year. I also think there is every possibility that they'll start to take more interest in customer computer security in the near future.

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