System Center Configuration Manager 2007 : Configuration Manager Solution Design - Testing, Stabilizing During the Pilot, Deploying

9/19/2012 7:10:27 PM


You will want to establish a lab environment and implement ConfigMgr in a completely isolated lab scenario. Labs return large amounts of ROI to those organizations that use them. Using a lab allows IT administrators to work with, experiment, and learn new technology, configurations, and scenarios needed in a production environment, while mitigating the risk by isolating the lab environment from those systems that could cause a loss in revenue or service if an outage occurred. In short, labs should mirror a production environment as closely as possible, have no risk associated with their use, and be able to be reset to allow for quickly repeating a process or testing a given scenario.

Using a lab allows several options that build on each other to guarantee the success of the ConfigMgr implementation. With a lab, you can implement ConfigMgr without interference of network devices such as firewalls, routers, IDS, and IPS. If resources allow, you can scale the solution in the lab to validate the expected performance and behavior of the design destined for the production environment.

Your ConfigMgr test plan should validate the overall solution design from client settings through site-to-site communications. This does not have to be a complete test of every ConfigMgr function, although the more thorough the test is, the more comfortable everyone on the team will be with the solution and the more prepared the team will be for the deployment. There has to be a testing balance because the sheer size of the ConfigMgr solution could take months to test feature by feature. Before piloting the ConfigMgr solution, administrators should develop a test plan specific to the features they have chosen to implement and the design components questioned during the envisioning and designing phases. Table 1 illustrates a sample test plan.

Table 1. ConfigMgr Deployment Test Plan
Task#Pilot Testing TasksComplete (Yes/No)?Results/Comments
1.Determine test client group and create collection with direct rule name mapping Allows ConfigMgr deployment team to positively identify the client involved in the test.
2.Verify discovery and install ConfigMgr client on test computers with manual push installation In the ConfigMgr console, under Collections, find the target computers, right-click a computer, choose All Tasks, Install Client.
   Upon success, enable the client push installation.
3.Verify automated push installation Validate a client system receives the ConfigMgr client.
4.Verify inventory Using the ConfigMgr console, verify that the newly installed client shows hardware inventory information.
5.Verify client agent settings Validate remote control works and prompts the user.
6.Verify BITS downloaded package Create a small test package. Ensure that all test DPs are used. Advertise it to the test computer. Ensure that the advertisement is downloaded from the assigned DP and then installed. Verify that the test computer receives the package and installs correctly.
7.Verify reporting Connect to http://BLUEBONNET (for the SCCMUnleashed.com environment) and verify that web reporting is operational.
   Run the All Software Companies report from within the ConfigMgr console Reporting node.
8.Verify security Validate that ConfigMgr administrators with limited rights can only perform the tasks approved.

Technologies such as Microsoft Virtual PC, Microsoft Virtual Server, Hyper-V, and VMware’s ESX, Server, and Workstation allow ConfigMgr administrators to implement, test, validate, and roll back design features in minutes using a minimum of hardware. Third-party solutions for these products, as well as some crafty use of Microsoft Server and Microsoft Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), allow simulating individual network segments as well.

Once the ConfigMgr solution design is validated in a lab environment, keep the lab for long-term use and testing of packages, scripts, service packs, changes to the site settings, use of new roles, and so on. Using the lab will lower the overall effort associated with management of the ConfigMgr solution, provide its administrators with experience and confidence, increase productivity, and lower the chances of problems in the production environment.

Stabilizing During the Pilot

Piloting leverages all the information and lessons learned in the design and testing phases while incorporating the communication plan and implementing the solution in the production environment to a limited number of systems. Piloting the ConfigMgr solution initially lets the project team validate its design and the network infrastructure, and measure the load the solution places on the infrastructure.

Tip: Piloting Target

As a rule of thumb, use a percentage of the environment as your pilot so the project team can handle any issues that arise and the pilot does not go as expected. 1% is a good quick pilot where the audience can provide direct feedback to the project team. Once success is met, then move to a larger 5%–10% pilot group. It is also a good idea to select users or systems from dissimilar regions or departments, to ensure the pilot accurately represents production and keeps the pilot as informative as possible for the team.

The pilot is the first actual test of the communication plan, the network infrastructure, and the user’s response to the deployment. Feedback from pilot users is valuable for the project team, who should address the items raised so the production deployment goes smoothly.

The ConfigMgr project team should focus on items questioned in the design or test phase. Those site roles you plan to implement should exist in the pilot; it is much easier to fix or even redesign a system where there are no other systems dependent on its use! Test each of the functions you expect to use on the various site systems and roles. If you will be using protected DPs, verify they are working correctly and clients are not pulling packages across a WAN because the local DP has boundaries defined incorrectly.

Tip: Pilot Deployment

Most problems with ConfigMgr deployments are associated with the network infrastructure or client-based security software such as client firewalls. Testing will validate the solution works as expected. Piloting should uncover these issues and allow ConfigMgr administrators the ability to develop solutions.

The pilot phase of the project is usually one of the longest phases. This is due to the issues that arise, the efforts required to resolve them, and the processes that may have to be followed. This phase will usually point out issues in the production environment that were going unnoticed. The closer the lab environment is to the production environment, the smoother the pilot will be. Labs that accurately depict the production environment are unfortunately rare and ultimately the pilot phase becomes a long and costly one.

Tip: Package Failures

The lack of time synchronization is frequently identified as the root cause of why packages are not running at their advertised time.

Release clients the exact same way you would for the production release. It is important to follow the release plan to validate the overall solution design. Deviating from the plan may lead to results that are incorrectly positive. Verify the same features are enabled, collect the data from the pilot deployments and tests, evaluate the data, and update the solution design if needed. If the project team decides a ConfigMgr feature needs to be changed from how it was originally architected, testing and piloting that agent or feature should be started over to validate the change did not cause a negative impact elsewhere or cause a requirement to no longer be met.

Changes may be required to the ConfigMgr solution at an agent, site, or hierarchy level to accommodate needs discovered only through piloting the solution. Become familiar with the Windows Event Logs and Performance Monitor tools. 

Antivirus software is frequently lacking in a lab environment due to the isolation of the lab and the fashion in which it is built. When the ConfigMgr solution is placed into production, antivirus and other management agents are typically loaded on the system. You will want to exclude the ConfigMgr site server inboxes, logs, and client cache locations. Exclude the following list of file extensions from your antivirus software:



The deployment phase should be one of the easier phases in the project life cycle. If tests were conducted in a legitimate fashion and pilot scenarios were indicative of real-world conditions, deploying the finalized solution should have no surprises. If there was no pilot phase, and the production implementation is the first actual instance of ConfigMgr in production, care should be taken to make sure no negative impacts occur to production. Three critical tasks need to be monitored when implementing ConfigMgr:

  • Agent rollout

  • Distributing of packages to distribution points

  • Advertisements targeted to systems where reboots may occur, such as patch packages

Depending on the roles previously implemented, the scope of the pilot activities may require reimplementing site servers and/or site systems. When utilizing this model of test/pilot/production, it is important to validate the consistency of the site server and site systems implementations. Overlooked items can produce skewed results, disqualifying all other tests performed in the given stage or scenario. If this approach is desired, consider utilizing a scripted implementation of the specific system. 

Note: ConfigMgr Scripted Installations

Unattended setups using the /Script command-line option are only supported on new installations of primary sites, secondary sites, and Configuration Manager consoles.

Because you can deploy ConfigMgr in a large variety of configurations, the technical ability required for a successful implementation of Configuration Manager 2007 is greater than average. Knowledge of basic concepts is critical, and collaborating with existing IT groups such as networking, security, and database administration will likely be key success factors. Although Microsoft provides a familiar wizard-based experience to implement the ConfigMgr site server, much of the configuration and deployment tasks occur outside this initial implementation experience.

By the time ConfigMgr is deployed into production, the ConfigMgr project team will know the permissions required to push agents, will have validated that time synchronization is successful, will know the settings to deploy at specific sites, will understand the network impact on given segments, and will have a solid concept of the site systems in the hierarchy, their roles, and the expected user experience.

After ConfigMgr is rolled out, the ConfigMgr team, which may be different from the project team, should take ownership and responsibility of the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the solution.

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