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Embotics Cloud Management Blog

Making Self-Service Provisioning Practical

vCommander service catalogA Service Catalog can bring a number of benefits to both the IT organization and their customers – the  main one being that it allows users to deploy virtual machines without administrative intervention, streamlining the interface between IT and the end users. In doing so, users get access to virtual machines more quickly than would be possible if they had to wait for an administrator to create the virtual machine for them. The business also benefits from improved productivity, decreased administrative workloads, and reduced costs.

In many ways, the Service Catalog and its underlying automation is the key to making self-service provisioning practical, and it performs three important functions:

  1. Simplification of the virtual machine creation process - Eliminating the complexity that’s associated with manually setting up a new virtual machine, ensuring that the VM and any associated software (OS, Anti-virus, Applications etc.) will be deployed correctly.

  2. Control over user actions - Allows the administrator to retain control over the virtual machine creation process, while giving users –limited options to enhance their productivity. This ensures that newly deployed virtual machines immediately comply with the organization’s minimum-security standards for virtual machines.

  3. Predictable deployments - Because Service Catalog based virtual machine deployments are based around standardized templates, administrators are able to accurately predict the impact of creating various types of virtual machines, in terms of performance, capacity, and cost.

Once fully implemented, the catalog will not only help users order virtual machines, but also allow them and their managers to budget for the costs involved, track their requests and more, but the first step is to build it.

It’s well worth taking the time to develop your Service Catalog by clearly defining the services you wish to offer and not just treating it as a “box-ticking” exercise. So, before you start to build a catalog, consider business needs. Also consider that it is also a tool for the end-users, so it needs to work for them. What the IT team think it should look like doesn’t really matter as they are not the ones using it.

Ultimately the goal of creating an efficient Service Catalog is to improve business user productivity by making it easier and faster for users to source the technology they need to do their jobs better, not reducing IT costs by directing users through an automated channel (although this too will happen if done correctly).

It’s important to engage the end user community from the start to give your Service Catalog a better chance of success. If the catalog is easier and faster to use than calling in to the service desk, users will work with it. If it’s not, they won’t. Usability is the number one factor for creating a Service Catalog that business people want to use again and again. It has to be quick, intuitive and frictionless. Too often, IT people make assumptions about the technical skills of the users they support, so it’s important to validate a prototype of the tool using a user beta group before launching it to the whole community.

Take the time to work with your business users and to consider the key offerings and their expectations for overall user experience. The catalog may need to contain production workloads with standard operating systems and off-the-shelf applications along with custom applications from your engineering team’s build server. These systems may need to be offered in a private, public, or hybrid cloud environment, depending on the workloads. You may also want to enforce either hard or soft quotas to ensure that resources and budgets are kept in check, and you’re certainly going to want to automate the integration with other important third-party systems.

The catalog also needs to be monitored and managed for availability, capacity and performance, and it should be subject to continual service improvement, just the same as any other service. There is always room for improvement. It’s a good idea to set up a steering group (comprised of stakeholders from IT and the business), meeting regularly to discuss performance, changing business needs, and how things can be improved.

As the Service Catalog grows, with more services being offered to a wider variety of customers, it’s important to make sure that it is well organized, ensuring that the self-service experience is as smooth and efficient as possible. You can achieve this by:

  • making sure that only relevant services are offered to customers
  • naming services appropriately
  • using meaningful icons and categories.

Making the Service Catalog Relevant

One of the best ways to optimize your Service Catalog is to make sure that end-users only see services that are relevant to them. This prevents them from having to search through a busy Service Catalog to find the VMs, vApps, and unmanaged components that they actually need.

Even if you already have vCommander deployed with a flat Service Catalog, where all services are offered to all users, it’s easy to update a service to refine who can see it.

Defining Relevant Services

  1. Under the Configuration menu, choose Service Request Configuration.
  2. In the Service Catalog tab, click Edit for an existing service you want to update.
    vCommander Service Request
  3. In the Edit Service dialog, click Next until you get to the Visibility page.
  4. Choose Publish – Specific organizations, users and groups, enter the email address of each user or group who should see the service, and click Add.

vCommander Service Visability

  1. Click Finish.

Repeat this for every  service that needs limited user visibility in your Service Catalog.

Make the Service Name Relevant

By default, vCommander will name the services you add to the Service Catalog with the name of the VM or template on which it’s based. For users that are very familiar with your virtualization infrastructure and corporate naming policies, this may provide enough detail to understand what’s being offered. However, it’s always best to design clarity in for new customers who come on board as you ramp up your deployment or staffing turnover occurs.

Renaming Services
  1. Under the Configuration menu, choose Service Request Configuration.
  2. In the Service Catalog tab, click Edit for an existing service you want to update.

vCommander Service Request

  1. Update the relevant Name and Description.
  2. Click Finish.

vCommander Service Name DescriptionUsing Meaningful Icons

Most users will stick with the default icon view of the Service Catalog, so it’s essential that services use icons that clearly identify the OS and purpose. Some icons are available for use out of the box, covering many popular services.

You can add your own new icons using GIF, JPG or PNG files not exceeding 1 MB. For best results, use icons which are 48 x 48 pixels.There are a few open source libraries available, from which you can choose icons suitable for your needs, although any file meeting the requirements stated above will work.

  1. Adding New Icons to the Available Icon ListUnder the Configuration menu, choose Service Request Configuration.
  2. In the Service Catalog tab, clicklick Configure and select Icons from the dropdown menu.

    Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.30.02 PM.png
  1. In the Manage Service Icons window, click Add.

    Manage Service Catalog Icons
  2. Browse to and select the icon file and click Open.

The new icon now appears in the Manage Service Icons window, so you’ll be able to select it when you create a service.

  1. Click Close.

Using Meaningful Categories

Filters are especially important when you have a large Service Catalog, as  users will want to filter the list to find the services they need using categories that you have created and assigned to services. Typically, categories include those which identify:

  • Guest operating system
  • VM configuration
  • Production vs. lab/staging
  • Purpose
Adding categories to vCommander.

You can create categories and assign them to services.

  1. Under the Configuration menu, choose Service Request Configuration.
  2. In the Service Catalog tab, click Configure and select Categories from the dropdown menu.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.28.37 PM.png

  1. Enter the Category Name and click Add.
    Manage categories
  2. Use the Up and Down buttons to adjust how the category order will appear in the Service Catalog.
  3. Click OK.

Embotics vCommander makes it easy to create a Service Catalog that is easy to use, easy to manage and easy to track and monitor the activities and costs of the users, that provides greater intelligence back to the organizations management, and provides self-service provisioning back to the users. To see how easy it is to create a service catalog with vCommander, click on the link below to download a trial now.

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