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September 2, 2014
by Antony
11 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Roundup – Access, Monitoring and Session Videos

Our latest update 4.2 has been out for a while now and has brought with it a lot of big changes and improvements.  In this post we’ll sum up all the changes so you can be sure you aren’t missing anything out.

Even better, one of our users has been kind enough to put together this excellent video showcasing all the new features in 4.2 so if you want the easy viewing condensed version look no further:

SimpleHelp 4.02 Top Features

SimpleHelp 4.2 Top Features

All new access tab, see offline machines and save searches

The biggest change has been the all new access tab.  Previously in SimpleHelp the access tab was a live constructed list of machines with the primary purpose of allowing you to choose remote machines to connect to.  Offline machines weren’t shown and the only info was the name of the machine and whatever extra information was included in it.

In the new access tab we list machines even when they are offline and include a bunch of captured info from the machine.  The info is automatically updated so you can keep abreast of changes and searchable so you can look for machines by the user logged on or filter by operating system.

The new Access list in SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta.

The new Access list in SimpleHelp 4.2

You can even create your own quick filters by searching for whatever you like then clicking the star button to favourite your search.  It becomes a part of your filters on the left to allow you to switch between common views you use.

Saved filters now appear as permanent entries below the hierarchy of machines.

Searches can become sticky filters

 

The new access tab sets the scene for much more broadly useful and comprehensive access to your managed machines and many of the other additions in 4.2 are making strides towards filling out the space here.

Monitoring, condensed machine info in a table or watch thumbnails in a grid

Monitoring has been something we’ve been working towards for some time and 4.2 brings a bunch of it with our first monitoring-enabled release.

First off we’ve added two potential views of your managed machines.  The first of these is the table view where you can view a summary of the info for each machine like its name, status (whether its in use, offline or can be auto-updated), the user currently logged on (helpful if your users don’t have specific machines allocated to them but need support) and the most prominent metrics – CPU and memory graphs (helpful if you are keeping track of servers and need to watch out for spikes).

Remote Access Table View

Viewing summarised machine monitoring info in the table view

The second view is the grid view.  Here machines are organised as cards in a grid with a live constantly updated thumbnail of the remote machines screen.  This can be helpful for looking out for errors on servers or for keeping an eye out for unexpected access to critical machines.  Each card also includes the user currently accessing the machine and a larger view of its CPU and memory.

Machine Grid View

A grid view of the same group selection.

Both the table and grid view share a Machine Details pane at the bottom which can be turned on and off in the toolbar.  When on any selected machine load a range of additional live gathered information into this pane.

Machine Details, instant access to live machine updates including screen and files

The Machine Details pane is split into bands with the top being a summary of the basic info about the machine.  This top band shows the machine operating system, hostname and a larger view of the thumbnailed screenshot from the grid view.  Clicking on the screenshot will instantly pop up a much larger screenshot updated live every few seconds from the remote machine (this doesn’t take any time to establish a full connection – its all done through the secure monitoring subsystem)

Remote machine screenshot zoom

 

Large remote machine screenshot

 

Further down the bands of gathered and live updated info we have disk usage, top processes (a ‘worst offender’ list of processes ordered by CPU usage) and network info.

Remote monitored machine disk usage

Monitoring resource hogs

Monitoring remote machine network IP addresses including WAN

In addition to the metrics though the details panel also sports a few tabs to give you a different look on the remote machine.  The first of these is instant file access.  With this you can easily transfer files to and from the remote machine without setting up a full connection.

SimpleHelp 4.2 Instant File Access

Instant Secure File Access

The next tab on the list lets you make any notes you want to associate with the machine for any reason.  You can type anything you like in here and it will become searchable / filterable just like any of the other machine info.  This section is also split so you can add Notifications – messages that will pop up as warnings to any techs that are connecting to the remote machine.

Remote Machine Notifications

Machine notes and popup notifications

 

Remote Machine Warning

A sample machine popup

Last but not least the config tab allows you to make some more advanced changes to your machine like remotely configuring its setup.  Very soon in an upcoming release you will also be able to securely migrate your machines to another server via this section.

Zero Knowledge Wake on LAN

If you’re managing a network then you may already be using Wake on LAN, or as you trundle around pressing power buttons you may wish you were.  Wake on LAN keeps the network up on a machine even though the rest of it has gone to sleep.  It then looks out for a specific packet – one that includes its MAC address in a specific format.  If it sees that packet coming in then it takes it as a cue to wake the machine and start it up.

This can be great for waking up whole networks of machines but the process of gathering and managing the MAC addresses needed to issue the WOL packet can be incredibly tedious.  SimpleHelp uses both the information gathered from these machines to make this process nothing more than a click of a button.

Our remote access service uploads not just the MAC address of machines now but also their local network IP address and their WAN address.  When you click the ‘Wake-on-LAN’ button for an offline machine SimpleHelp checks this info to sort machines into their respective networks and choose a bunch of machines that are on the same network as your target machine.  It then uses the MAC address to create a specially formatted packet to wake your machine and asks the selected machines on the same network to send that packet and wake your target machine.  No more gathering or typing out MAC addresses, no need to set up any proxying, just choose anything from one to a group of thousands of machines and hit the button to wake them up.

Zero Knowledge Wake on LAN

Just hit the button to wake an offline machine with WOL

 

Session histories and video recording

That about wraps up the new access tab and monitoring capabilities in SimpleHelp 4.2 but thats not all we’ve been busy with.  The other major addition to 4.2 is the History tab and session videos.

In this tab you’ll find an automatically managed list of support sessions, access sessions and presentations run by your technicians.  You can filter by date to view a particular slice of time or search for specific technicians or other info.  Technicians can record sessions using a button on the chat pane and can pause at any time, recordings can also be made mandatory by the server admin.  Once a session is complete it will get a new entry in the history tab and, if it has a video associated with it, this will also be listed.

Session histories and video recordings

A session history with its associated video

Videos are stored in a highly compressed HTML based format which uses virtually no space if there is no change and by default the video will be stored on the tech’s local computer.  If the video is to be shared then it can be sent to the server and then any tech that views this history entry will be able to view the video and share it with the relevant customer so they can easily view what took place during the session.  The SimpleHelp server can also automatically host the video password-protected to allow customers to be sent a link to view their sessions.

As ever we are all about making life simple so videos don’t require flash, can be viewed in any modern browser including mobile browsers, can be saved for offline viewing by the customer and uploaded to another server just as a single HTML file.  Check out the video below for an example hosted on a standard web server.  In the future we’ll be annotating these videos with extra info about what happened during the session such as file transfers to allow you to give customers an unparalleled view of outside access and complete peace of mind.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 13.47.26

 

Watch a sample SimpleHelp session video

Watch a sample SimpleHelp session video

Video recordings and their upload to the server can also be managed by the server admin to force both for all sessions and provide a centrally managed detailed history of changes across all machines and sessions.

Still Cross Platform and Scalable

This is all a lot of change for your SimpleHelp servers and we know that some of you like to stay thrifty and run them on minimal VPS or for the really bold even a raspberry pi (honestly though we don’t recommend that for production!).  Looking at the above you wouldn’t expect that a basic server could manage that much info coming from hundreds or thousands of machines but we’ve made sure that everything has stayed very scalable and completely cross platform.

The monitoring, file access, videos and all the rest work just the same whether the tech or customer is on Mac, Windows or Linux.   Whats more, rather than having thousands of machines constantly trying to upload screenshots or metrics and just hoping that the server’s network connection can handle it we’ve spent a lot of time getting the latency way down in all the monitoring communications and now machines only upload basic info regularly and more heavy duty data like thumbnails are uploaded on demand only if one or more technicians is actually viewing that machine.

Where Next?

As ever we’ve been listening to everyone’s comments closely and something we’ve heard a lot of is how nice better mobile support would be.  Rest assured that is in the pipeline but we also have some big plans for expanding the monitoring and access tab further so keep an eye out in the future for alerts, scripting and a lot more…

 

July 24, 2014
by Antony
4 Comments

Notes and Notifications, How To Help Your Techs To Not Break Stuff

SimpleHelp 4.2 has brought some major changes to the access panel.  Earlier versions showed just a tree of machines with some additional columns for info and the only real function available was to connect to them.  4.2 brings a wealth of detailed information, metrics, screenshots and even some new functions (like Wake-On-LAN) giving you a much better insight and more convenient control over your networks.

In addition to these major changes we’ve also made a lot of smaller tweaks and improvements.  A small addition we made that evolved over the 4.2 cycle was machine Notes.  The new remote access infrastructure gives us a lot of flexibility when managing machines now and one simple addition we wanted to make was adding notes to machines.  These would be anything the tech felt like writing and would be accessible when viewing the machine details.   They would also be searchable along with the gathered information so could be used to attach some custom info to a machine and make it more easily findable:

Searchable Remote Access Notes

The feedback has been that these have proven to be very useful for techs to store info that other techs need to know.  A marker on the notes tab in the details panel lets you know that there are notes for this machine so if a tech has left notes about it it is likely worth reading them:

Remote Machine Notes

The marker is useful but its also quite unassuming.  If you weren’t paying attention you might easily forget to check the notes and if the notes were important you might end up making an error that could have been avoided.

To help prevent this situation and make them more useful in the latest build of 4.2 we’ve split the notes tab into Notes and Notifications:

Remote Machine Notifications

This is a simple split but it allows SimpleHelp to change how it treats both of these.  Both can be searched and can contain anything the tech likes but Notes are passive – they are just there for info.  Notifications on the other hand now produce a popup warning when a tech tries to connect to a remote machine.

Any information that a tech really needs to be aware of before they connect can be added to the Notifications and when a tech hits connect they first get a popup with that info:

Remote Machine Warning

They then have to hit OK and their connection progresses as usual.  If there is a lot they need to be made aware of they can always be referred back to the machine Notes.

They don’t get to connect without clicking OK so Notifications should make it much easier for techs to share important customer or company restrictions and requirements when managing machines and avoid costly mistakes.

 

 

April 6, 2014
by Antony
8 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta – Wake on LAN

The new remote access framework in 4.2 allows SimpleHelp to monitor remote machines easily and quickly, meaning we can show screenshots and other info on demand without establishing a new connection and can also upload a bunch of other useful info over time like CPU and Disk stats.

But this underlying framework isn’t just one-way, it allows quick communication in both directions opening up a host of other possibilities.

One feature which has been requested a number of times in the past is Wake on LAN.

Have remote computers wake up others on the same network

Wake on LAN allows a computer that is awake to send a network packet to another sleeping computer on the same network to wake it up.  This isn’t possible in all circumstances, for it to work the ‘sleeping’ computer actually has to be awake at the level of the network card and listening for an incoming packet of the right type to trigger the wake up.  Additionally the packet has to include certain information about the remote computer (namely its network card MAC address) in order to wake it up, otherwise the packet will be ignored.

For example computers like laptops etc  typically don’t do WOL over wireless connections since this would require a lot more power to maintain the connection while the computer was supposed to be sleeping (and conserving power).  Desktops and servers though often support WOL on their network cards and can be woken with a magic network packet to gain access to them without leaving them all on all of the time.

Using our new framework we can now quickly ask remote hosts to send out a WOL packet to another host on the same network to wake them up:

Remote computer monitoring allows SimpleHelp's automated Wake On LAN feature

Automatically wake remote computers with Wake On LAN

Issue WOL without even knowing the remote computers MAC

Further, because we already gather information from remote hosts you don’t need to input any information about the remote host to be woken, all you need to do is select one or more sleeping remote access services and ask for them to be woken up.

Your SimpleHelp server’s monitoring means it has enough info to know:

1) Which hosts are awake (and can therefore be asked to send a WOL packet)

2) Which hosts are on the same network as your target host

3) The MAC address and IP of the target machine

When you ask it to wake a sleeping machine it checks the network info for the target machine, correlates it with a selection of live machines that are on the same network and asks them to send out a WOL packet to the target host.

February 28, 2014
by Antony
8 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta – Machine Details

The all new Access tab in SimpleHelp 4.2 lays machines out in a more friendly way and includes a range of additional information about each machine including a constantly updated screenshot in Grid Mode.

This is just a small part of the data SimpleHelp can now collect about machines though and when you select a machine if its being monitored a range of more in-depth information will appear in a panel below your selection.

The details panel is split into bands which show information on different aspects of the computer allowing them to change and expand as necessary.  The top band has controls to monitor and connect to the machine and also shows the computer OS, name, hostname, status (online/offline/upgrade required) and the last time the machine contacted the server along with a slightly larger thumbnail of the screen:

Basic uploaded machine information

When you hover over the screenshot a magnify icon appears allowing you to click to expand.  This larger screenshot is more detailed and is fetched immediately and updated every few seconds (where possible):

Remote machine screenshot zoom

Remote machine large screenshot

 

Next on the list and new in 4.2 we have a Notes section where technicians can note down any machine-specific information they want to.  These notes then immediately become searchable:

Monitored machine notes

Monitored machine notes search

 

The next section shows a larger view of the machine’s CPU and memory usage, colour coded to allow you to easily see resource issues and the following sections highlight disk usage and also track any processes using a large amount of CPU (this section may not appear if the machine is lightly loaded):

Monitoring remote machine CPU and Memory usage

Monitoring disk usage

Monitoring high CPU processes

Lastly we have an overview of the network connections of the machine including any local network addresses, MAC addresses and even its WAN address.:

Monitoring remote machine network IP addresses including WAN

This is already quite a wide range of searchable and easily absorbed information to have at your disposal which will no doubt help with not just quickly diagnosing issues with machine but also picking up on them before they become a problem.

But it is also just the beginning, if you have any suggestions for additions you’d like to see here then let us know in the comments.

 

January 24, 2014
by George
5 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta – Access Panel Table and Grid View

SimpleHelp 4.2 includes a revamped Access tab with a range of new features. In this post I’d like to introduce you to two different views of the machines accessible through SimpleHelp, a row-per-machine table view and the  at-a-glance grid view.

Machine Table View

Selecting any group in the access tab now populates the machine view with machines contained in the selected group, as well as the machines contained in any child groups. The result is a table of rows, where each row represents a machine, and where rows are grouped based on the group they are in.

Remote Access Table View

The table view showing machines in the currently selected group.

Above, I’ve selected to view all machines that are registering with my server. The table view contains sections for the following groups:

  • Laptops
    • Support
    • Testing
  • Servers
    • Build
    • Email
  • Windows

The group heading contains the name of the group and its ancestors below it. Each machine is then allocated a row:

Remote access machine

Each machine in the group is listed, along with information about it.

The machine name (Testing Windows XP SP3 in this case) is followed by the following information:

  • In Use Indicator – coloured if the remote machine is currently in use, grayed out if it is not in use. The icon does not appear if in use information is not available.
  • Username - the last logged on user.
  • Operating System – the remote operating system.
  • Metrics – CPU (green) and memory (blue) indicating how much the CPU and memory have been used recently.

At any point, pressing the Grid button button allows you to switch between to a grid view of the same machines.

Machine Grid View

The machine grid view is designed as a visual way of monitoring and analysing multiple remote machines. The grid view includes the same information as the table view, but also periodically fetches a screenshot for each machine, allowing the technician to easily see what is changing.

Machine Grid View

A grid view of the same group selection.

Each machine contains the information as in the table view, but also a screenshot and a red indicator (Active session count) allowing technicians to easily see the number of active sessions to this machine. Hovering over a machine brings up an action panel that allows you to connect to and manage the machines directly from the grid view:

Machine Actions

The machine actions are shown when hovering over a machine in the grid view.

The actions possible depend on the machine selected. Above, the green slider allows you to turn monitoring on or off for this machine, while the right action allows you to initiate a connection.

January 7, 2014
by George
12 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta – Machine Hierarchy, Offline Machines and Saved Searches

SimpleHelp 4.2 introduces a new way to collect, organise and filter remote computers that you can connect to. In this blog post we’ll detail some of the changes made to how machines are presented in SimpleHelp 4.2, how machines are grouped together and how you can create new groups just by searching.

Prior to SimpleHelp 4.2, the list of available remote computers was constructed if, and when, the remote services registered with the SimpleHelp server. If a service stopped registering then the computer would be removed from the list. There was no easy way for technicians to see which machines have gone offline (in order to detect failures). Additionally, searching for machines is a great way to find computers that you are interested in, but there has been no way to save these searches up till now.

SimpleHelp 4.2’s new access panel layout is shown below:

The new Access list in SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta.

The new Access list in SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta.

On the left is a hierarchy of groups. In this image there are four main sections in the hierarchy:

  1. The All Machines section shows all remote computers that have registered with the server in the past, whether or not they are online or offline at the moment.

  2. The Online section shows only those machines that are currently available.

  3. The Active Sessions section shows computers that one or more technicians are currently connected to.

  4. The Offline section shows only those machines that are currently offline.

Under each section is a group hierarchy, where each group contains one or more remote computers. The number of remote computers in the group is illustrated by a  number to the right of the group. You can now drag and drop machines into groups, quickly rename machines and have it all updated immediately without have to reconfigure the remote computer’s service.

We didn’t stop there though. We thought it would be really useful for you to decide more arbitrary groupings of computers. For example, you may wish to have a section for computers running Windows. To do this you can now search for Windows to see all computers running Windows:

Filter the access list for computers running Windows.

Filter the access list for computers running Windows.

and can save your search by pressing the favourite button (Favourite Filters) that appears in the search field. A favourite search is saved for this technician, and appears below the main hierarchy contents:

Saved filters now appear as permanent entries below the hierarchy of machines.

Saved filters now appear as permanent entries below the hierarchy of machines.

Using SimpleHelp 4.2 technicians can now easily construct meaningful group structures, can filter machines across all their groups and can save these filters for future use.

December 25, 2013
by Antony
10 Comments

SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta Now Available

Merry Christmas!  SimpleHelp 4.2 Beta is now available for download!

We thought that since the beta had run on so close to Christmas it would be fun to release it as a present to anyone waiting to see what the new developments are.

The Focus of 4.2

SimpleHelp 4.2 is our first step towards building a bigger, better product in the future.  While we could have included basic support for monitoring and running commands on remote access services more quickly, for us it has never been about marketing points. Instead it’s about providing you, our users, with the best software we can imagine.

Although a lot of 4.2 has been about groundwork, we’ve already added some really exciting features as well.  Although we think this is a big step up from 4.1 its important to realise that this is just the beginning and there will be more to come in the future.

It’s been a lot of work but we’re happy with the result and we think it’s already been worth it. We hope you do too.

What follows is a quick overview of the major changes in 4.2, we’ll post more in depth details in the coming days about what to expect.

Monitoring

We’ve had a lot of requests to “keep remote access services in the list” and to make more information available about the machines, such as the user that is currently logged on, to make servicing these machines simpler.

In this release any remote access service shared can be asked to provide monitoring information efficiently and very securely to your server for display in the new access tab.  Data can be gathered from any supported operating system (Linux, OS X, Windows) and is stored securely by the server.  The data is then presented in the Access tab in either a table format or a thumbnailed grid of machines showing screenshots.  All data is updated live as the machines run and change.

Here’s a screenshot of the access panel in grid mode:

Access panel example screenshot

The server can now communicate more efficiently and immediately with remote services allowing it to ask them to quickly perform on-demand operations such as Wake-On-LAN.

Session Histories and Video Recording

Another request we have often had is to keep an easily accessible log of sessions that have been run.  In 4.2 the technician client has a new History tab which gives you a searchable, time-filtered list of sessions that have been run along with various information automatically picked up from them such as chat logs and technician comments.

You can also record a video of your session via a button in the tool panel which is then automatically uploaded to the server and made available via the History tab.

Download and Important Notes

4.2 makes some important security upgrades and changes which you need to consider before upgrading.   The upgrade process follows that from previous versions: once your server is upgraded all sessions will upgrade as necessary.

Since we have had to make some in depth changes to the remote access services it is necessary to restart them for them to support monitoring.  To do this you can use the Update Remote Service option in the cog menu in the access tab however once you have upgraded a service to 4.2 it cannot connect to any servers of an earlier version.  We therefore recommend that you don’t upgrade your live system to the beta at this time.

Some of the changes we have made will ensure that this is no longer necessary in the future and you will simply be able to mark services as ‘open for maintenance’ at a time which is convenient for you to allow the server to restart and upgrade them automatically.

Part of the security upgrade in 4.2 means that after starting the 4.2 server for the first time you should back up your server configuration as soon as possible.  If you lose this backup then even if you reinstate your server any remote access services will not connect to it.  You can now backup your entire server configuration folder via the Administration tab (Server > Overview).

In this beta version there are no restrictions on monitoring and monitoring does not use up sessions.  This may or may not change in the full release so again feel free to give us your feedback.

Before Downloading

4.2 is currently in Beta, we do not recommend you replace 4.1 with it at this time and we cannot offer high priority support and bugfixes while it is in beta.

Remember that:

  • Once a service is upgraded to 4.2 it will not connect to any version prior to 4.2 without being manually downgraded
  • You should back up your server configuration as soon as you run 4.2 via the Administration tab

If you would like to download and try 4.2 you can do so at the following links:

Beta Download Links

Feedback

As always we would love to have your feedback and in particular if you have ideas for additions to the monitoring and control framework then let us know.

November 21, 2013
by Sarah
0 comments

SimpleHelp Remote Support – The Fastest Way To Clear Your IT Support Queue

Want to know why your IT support queue is clogged up so often? It’s not the server outages or other major emergency ticket problems that are building up. It’s the niggly little issues that don’t cause any critical downtime, but which are a minor annoyance to your clients or users. Whilst these problems might not be having a direct effect on revenue, over time they could result in more serious issues, and at the very least, these issues are doing nothing for your resolution stats.

 

Meet Bob And His Problematic Mailbox

Let’s take a look at a typical scenario. Bob emails the help desk on a Monday afternoon saying that every time he opens his email, he gets a message saying that his mailbox is near capacity. He is still able to carry on working in his email program and the error only appears when he first logs on. And because the issue is a relatively low priority it sits in the IT helpdesk queue whilst other higher priority issues are dealt with. In the meantime, Bob continues to happily click “Cancel” every time the message pops up and carries on working.

And then on Friday morning, disaster strikes…

Bob has an urgent issue. A client is trying to send him some important information for a meeting that morning, but Bob’s mailbox is full and he can not receive any more emails from anybody. He doesn’t understand what to do next and is soon on the phone shouting at the poor IT technician on the other end. In the end, Bob loses the contract as the client loses patience.

 

How SimpleHelp Could Make A Big Difference To The Small Issues

Okay, so that’s a pretty unlikely outcome, but a very common scenario. It’s issues like these that could be resolved so quickly using SimpleHelp’s remote support software. Within moments of Bob’s call, an IT tech could have connected to Bob’s PC, shown him how to archive or delete old emails. The IT support log could have been resolved and closed in less than 5 minutes and Bob would be more likely to have won his contract.

 

SimpleHelp Also Helps Users To Help Themselves

Training is often a catalyst to minor IT issues, but this is an easy one to resolve with SimpleHelp. One of the best things about remote support software is that you effectively start to teach users how to solve their own issues. Don’t let them disappear to make a coffee whilst you remote control their PC. Ask them to watch what you do so that they can resolve their minor issues for themselves in the future. This might not work for all issues, but for problems like a near capacity mailbox, it certainly will help to take the pressure off of the helpdesk.

 

SimpleHelp Ensures You Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

When minor and intermediate IT logs need resolving and closing and you need to free your teams so that they can focus on major projects and be more proactive, SimpleHelp gives you a great return on your investment. IT helpdesk queues suddenly become easier to handle, user wait times are decreased because you no longer have to physically travel to their workstation or office and your IT department suddenly becomes more efficient and professional.

 

Check out SimpleHelp’s remote support for yourself. We’d be delighted to tell you more.