In Part 1 of this article I described what the concept of Configuration Manager Console “Right-Click Tools” are, and what benefits they offer. I also walked through the installation of Rick Houchins’ “SCCM Right-Click Tools”, arguably the grand-daddy of the genre. In this article, I will explore what these “tools” can do for you as it relates to saving you time and hassle.
- The Client Actions Menu
- The Client Tools Menu
- The Collection Actions Menu
- Application Deployment Evaluation Cycle
- Discovery Data Collection Cycle
- File Collection Cycle
- Hardware Inventory Cycle
- Machine Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle
- Software Inventory Cycle
- Software Metering Usage Report Cycle
- Software Updates Deployment Evaluation Cycle
- Software Updates Scan Cycle
- Windows Installer Source List Update Cycle
- Collection Actions in Action
- The Collection Tools Menu
- Add Devices to a Collection
- Change Client Cache Size
- Install SCCM Client
- Ping Collection
- Reboot Collection
- Restart SCCM Agent Host
- Shutdown Collection
- Uninstall SCCM 2012 Client
- Up next
Now that we’ve taken a look at the installation and where all the pieces are hidden, let’s look at what you get for all this effort. The net result is a set of additional menus in the console, and related scripts and utilities that each of the menu features call upon to perform various tasks against one or more remote computers from within the Configuration Manager console.
The come in two basic types: Client or Collection. For each there is an Actions and Tools menu. Clients also have a Client Logs menu, for viewing various ConfigMgr logs on a remote computer.
The Client Actions Menu
The Client Actions menu contains a list of ten (10) features which enable you to invoke Client Agent “Actions” on a remote computer. These are the same “Actions” you’d find if you open the Control Panel applet “Configuration Manager” on the remote computer itself. Rather than having to remote into the other computer and open the applet from Control Panel (under “System and Security”), you can now right-click on the computer in the ConfigMgr Admin console, choose Client Actions, and click “Machine Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle”.
Configuration Agent Applet (Actions)
Client Actions Menu
The Client Tools Menu
The Client Tools menu (figure 3) is probably where most Configuration Manager Administrators spend their time on a daily basis. In my experience, the most commonly used Right-Click Tools features are the “Machine Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle” on the Actions Menu, and about four or five features from the Client Tools Menu.
Client Tools Menu
The list of features on the Client Tools menu can save you hours of time and effort managing remote computers. For example, restarting or shutting down computers, Restarting the ConfigMgr Client, or browsing the CCM folder on the remote computer. While each of these is not incredibly difficult to accomplish with scripts and shortcuts, it’s much easier to access them from a simple popup menu within a single management interface.
The Collection Actions Menu
The Collection Actions menu looks identical to the Client Actions menu, except that each of the menu items performs the action on all of the computers within the selected Collection.
Let’s look at each of the features on the Collection Actions menu:
Application Deployment Evaluation Cycle
This feature invokes the evaluation of available Application installations for each computer in the Collection. If any Applications are to be installed, this will cause them to install as long as there’s no conflict with other policy settings, such as Maintenance Windows. This is probably the second most used feature on the menu (after Machine Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle)
Discovery Data Collection Cycle
This feature invokes a Discovery Data Collection on each computer in the selected Collection. A new set of Discovery data files is generated and sent to the Management Point (MP) server for processing.
File Collection Cycle
This feature initiates a software File Collection cycle on each computer in the selected Collection, if configured in the active client policy, and sends the results to the Management Point server for processing. Note: This can create additional network traffic.
Hardware Inventory Cycle
This feature initiates a new hardware inventory scan of each computer in the Collection. If an initial hardware inventory record exists in the site database, only the delta is submitted to the MP.
Machine Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle
This feature downloads the current machine policy from the MP and processes it. This is one of the most often used features on this menu as it is an integral part of the Application deployment process. The default policy polling cycle is 60 minutes, so if you need to get remote clients to install an assigned Application as soon as possible, it’s often necessary to use this option.
Software Inventory Cycle
This feature initiates a new software inventory scan of each computer in the Collection. If an initial software inventory record exists in the site database, only the delta is submitted to the MP.
Software Metering Usage Report Cycle
This feature initiates reporting of Software Metering data from each computer in the Collection.
Software Updates Deployment Evaluation Cycle
This feature initiates the Software Update installation cycle. Only computers which are determined to be in need of an available update will download and install the update.
Software Updates Scan Cycle
This feature invokes the Update Scan Cycle on each computer in the Collection. This doesn’t install updates, it simply initiates the scanning and reporting to identify missing updates.
Windows Installer Source List Update Cycle
This feature invokes the Product Storage Update Manager to re-evaluate the Source value for each application installed via Windows Installer. This ensures that the source path values are current and allows MSI processes, such as Repair, to work properly.
You might have noticed that the Client Actions menu has “User Policy Retrieval and Evaluation Cycle”, while the Collection Actions menu does not. I don’t know if that was intentional, or an oversight, but it is worth noting, especially with so much emphasis being placed on User-oriented deployments in Configuration Manager 2012.
Collection Actions in Action
Each feature on the menu brings up an HTA web form to provide a detailed view of what each client is doing as the requested action task is being processed. In this case, I have a client that is offline, and I can easily see by the failed Ping attempt, which means I can pick the phone and threaten to waterboard the user if they don’t turn it back on, or plug it back in to my network. The results of processing are saved into a local log file, which you can open for viewing by clicking the “Log” button on the HTA form. You can also keep the form open and continue to execute the same Action by clicking “Re-Run”.
Collection / Machine Policy Refresh
Most of the Actions described above will cause the remote computers to incur some processing overhead. Some of the Actions will cause more overhead than others, for example the File Collection Cycle. Some will also cause additional network traffic, since they result in submitting data back to the Management Point server. However, keep in mind that since we are talking about a Collection of computers, and you are performing a “batch” process, any network impact will be compounded by the number of computers involved.
This will be apparent when you invoke Actions which result in downloading and installing software. You should be aware of this if you should happen to decide to initiate the installation of a large deployment to a large number of computers, like Microsoft Visual Studio, especially if they are sharing a low-quality WAN link. It’s important to have a thorough familiarity of your site environment, especially aspects like WAN links, Distribution Point servers, and Application deployment characteristics.
The Collection Tools Menu
The Collection Tools menu is where most Administrators find the “bang for the buck” (even though it’s technically “free”). The eight (8) tools available for use on all members of the selected Collection are simply incredible in terms of their utility and power. Actually, I’m surprised Microsoft still hadn’t bothered adding these to the base product, but I’m sure they have their reasons.
Collection Tools Menu
The Collection Tools menu is still as useful and necessary as it ever was, and the underlying code has been improved to make them more reliable and quick than ever before. Let’s explore each of the Tools:
Add Devices to a Collection
This feature prompts you for a target Collection and adds all of the members of the selected (source) Collection as Direct members in the target Collection.
Change Client Cache Size
This feature prompts for the value to set for the maximum cache size on all members of the selected Collection.
Install SCCM Client
This feature performs a “push” installation of the Configuration Manager client onto each computer in the selected Collection. This is handy when you aren’t already using site-wide Client Push installation and need to work on a batch of computers at once, and do it remotely.
All of the “Actions” and “Tools” actually perform a PING attempt against the remote computers before they proceed with the requested Action or Tool. But this feature is handy for when you just want to see how many computers in the selected Collection are online.
This feature sends a Shutdown/Restart request to each computer in the selected Collection.
Restart SCCM Agent Host
This feature stops and starts the ccmexec service (aka, “SCCM Agent Host” service) on each computer in the selected Collection. This is often helpful during troubleshooting of client operations.
This feature sends a Shutdown request to each computer in the selected Collection. Unlike the Reboot Collection feature, the computers are not powered back on.
Uninstall SCCM 2012 Client
This feature removes the SCCM client from each computer in the selected Collection.
As with the Collection Actions, there are some aspects to consider with the Collection Tools as well. The good news is that they aren’t nearly as significant.
Now that we’ve covered the overview and installation (Part 1) and explored the features (Part 2), my next article in this series will look at some alternatives to SCCM Right-Click Tools.