Systems Center Service Manager (SCSM) – Initial Experiences

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on Microsoft’s latest addition to the Systems Center suite, Systems Center Service Manager (Yes I’m spelling Center the American way, because it’s the product name :))

For those who haven’t been keeping up, here’s what products come under the suite so far: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/systemcenter/default.aspx

It ends up being a lot of initialisms and acronyms (learn the difference, SCOM is an acronym, SCSM is an initialism) that are all similar and confusing. So today, we are discussing SCSM.

SCSM http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/en/us/service-manager.aspx is Microsoft’s offering for a helpdesk which follows ITIL and MOS (acronyms 😉 ). It will also integrate with SCCM for your assets and software, and SCOM for alerts and monitoring. It’s more of a framework than an out of the box working helpdesk system.

You want some docs? Here you go http://blogs.technet.com/b/servicemanager/archive/2010/04/25/where-s-the-docs.aspx

My environment is all virtual, running on Hyper-V. One server for the SQL backend (2008 minimum required) and two for SCSM, one for the Management Server and one for the Database Warehouse components.

Getting it installed and up and running isn’t too difficult, and if you’ve done something like SCCM before, it’s at that stage you stare at your lovely new console and wonder where to even start. I poured through guides, how to do this and that and started to get a few pieces working. It was very difficult getting any support on this, as Microsoft couldn’t find me anyone in Australia with any knowledge on it, nor could all the companies I could think of. I finally managed to track someone down, who gave me more of a run through of how it worked and what I needed to configure for it to be a working Helpdesk system.

Anyway, it’s very much a v1 product. It can do a lot, and is very customisable… but there’s also a lot it can’t do.

At the time of writing this post, officially the only way of getting emails into SCSM is via a maildrop and IIS, meaning you need to instal IIS6 on your shiny new 2008 R2 server. On top of this, if a technician sends out an email to someone about a job, the end user can’t reply and have the reply added to the job! The recommended way is to have a second mailbox set up, which your technicians use to monitor for replies and copy/paste the information over. I was very disappointed when I got to this step. A lot of searching around found a way to add some powershell 3rd party bits and pieces, and run a script – this was far from ideal though, I don’t want to go through headaches with each update due to using 3rd party scripts unsupported (although suggested) by Microsoft.

I was in luck though, I had sent a few tweets to Travis Wright http://blogs.technet.com/members/twright/ – the Senior Program Manager for SCSM. He’s the man when it comes to SCSM (and a nice guy!) and timing worked out that I could test an extra component (called a Management Pack in SCSM land) which would enable Exchange Mailbox integration, as well as allow jobs to append when replied to! A bit of mucking around and tweaking, finding a bug or two and we got it up and working. This was a huge step-up for SCSM as I was about to go live with it, because our previous software was about to expire and I was trying to avoid us paying several thousand dollars to renew for a while.

Anyway, that’s now up and running and we are live with SCSM. It’s been a decent shift from what we were using before – and there are a few bits and pieces that are missing but coming soon from Microsoft (such as the ability to just email someone with an update – Travis has shown me briefly what he’s got planned and looks like a perfect solution… so that might only be a few weeks away).

Conclusion:

SCSM is a v1 product. It does some things very well, but it’s also missing some features you may expect to be there in a v1 product. It’s highly flexible in that almost everything is customisable one way or another. You can add your own links and commands (launch vnc to connect to the affected computer of a job for example). It even has a nice portal you can get your users to log jobs and see how they’re going through.

If you were looking at a new helpdesk solution, it’s worth investigating – but unless your current software is a disaster, there’s no reason to jump ship. This product is already in use by several internal Microsoft departments, as well as other large companies (heavily customised I’m sure) so development will continue.

Keep an eye on this one if you’re a Microsoft house too because you should be able to save a lot of money by avoiding other costly Helpdesk solutions.

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