Centralis AXE 2.0: The new ZENworks application processing and publishing solution
Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
Digg This -
Posted: 31 Oct 2003
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Background - Centralis AXE, and why it was written
- 3. AXE Processing & Publishing Overview
- 3.1 The Processing & Publishing Stages
- 3.2 Getting Started with AXE - Three things to know
- 3.3 Getting Started with AXE - Five things to try
- 3.3.1 Global Settings
- 3.3.2 Setting Up Templates
- 3.3.3 Using Templates
- 3.3.4 Standard Processing Rules
- 3.3.5 New Processing Rules
- 3.3.6 Preview
- 3.3.7 Application Publishing
- 4. Summary of Changes & New Features
- 5. Application Processing
- 5.1 Application Profiles
- 5.1.1 New Profile
- 5.1.2 "Templates" and Defaults
- 5.1.3 Importing an AXT/AOT File
- 5.1.4 Application Properties
- 5.2 Rules
- 5.3 Updated Rule Set
- 5.4 Creating New Rules
- Application Publishing
- 5.5 New Application Publishing Features
- 5.5.1 Exporting an AXE application profile
- 5.5.2 Creating an AXE Application Object
- 5.5.3 Create new eDir application objects in eDirectory directly from AXE
- 5.5.4 Update existing application objects with changes
- 5.5.5 Import and export files in AOT format as well as AXT
- 5.5.6 Import eDirectory application object settings into AXE
- 5.6 Change Location Wizard
- 6. Interface & Usability
- 7. File Version Reporting
- 8. Citrix Integration
"It took about a month to complete our ZENworks for Desktops project, where it would have taken another 6 to 8 months if we hadn't had Centralis AXE."
Centralis AXE introduced thousands of ZENworks administrators to the concept of automated snapshot processing - the ability to apply a standard set of rules which transform a snapshot into a working application object in a fraction of the time needed for manual editing.
AXE 2.0 has been created based on the feedback of those customers, and features time saving improvements to the basic features such as creating rules, as well as a wide range of new features around application processing and publishing.
This document examines the new features of Centralis AXE 2.0, and the additional benefits they offer to the ZENworks administrator.
Centralis AXE has been developed to assist ZENworks for Desktops administrators by simplifying, standardising and accelerating the process of creating Novell eDirectory (NDS) application objects. Centralis AXE version 1.0 was released in November 2000, with a Feature Release update issued in December 2001.
"With v2.0 it has also become even faster and easier to create reusable sets of rules. Using our large, self created set of rules we cleaned an Application snapshot from 400kb to 20kb and the Application worked! Imagine the space saved in eDirectory and the time saved for the user installing the application. Centralis AXE cleans up snapshots within minutes instead of hours of manual work, and you are able to establish a standard as to how application snapshots are cleaned out. This means that error sources can be eliminated and snapshots are of a higher quality."
Centralis has created and updated AXE as the core ZENworks tool for our own consultants, to minimise the time and effort associated with creating eDirectory application objects, and to improve standards both within environments and between consultants.
Centralis AXE imports ZENworks for Desktops snapshots into a database, creating Application Profiles which can then be edited using the software's powerful processing capabilities.
Centralis AXE contains a range of editing Rules to correct common problems in turning ZENworks for Desktops snapshots into eDirectory application objects, and allows the creation of user-defined Rules so that new knowledge can be captured, stored and applied easily to future snapshots, and also to allow specific editing requirements to be added for applications individually.
Dynamic, Rules-based editing, means faster, more accurate eDirectory application object creation and can minimise the size of the eDirectory application object, by eliminating unnecessary registry entries and files. Rules can be shared between administrators and between Application Profiles, allowing you to build up a central repository of knowledge gained from experience of creating eDirectory application objects.
The latest release of the software provides updated interface and improved usability, plus directory-enabled application publishing, creating application objects in eDirectory.
Centralis AXE 2.0 is not designed to replace the knowledge and experience of ZENworks for Desktops administrators, but rather to provide a means of storing, applying and sharing that knowledge.
One of the features of AXE is to provide AXT/AOT "splitting". This optional feature uses Move Rules to divide the snapshot into multiple sections. There are two main uses for this - one is to clean the snapshot, i.e. move unwanted entries into a Redundant section. The other is to separate User and Machine entries, i.e. create separate shared and personalised objects.
AXE assumes by default that both types of rules are switched on - so it will clean the snapshot, and also split the snapshot to create both user and machine objects. If you only want to create a single object for each application you should not use the Express Export feature (see below).
Splitting Rules are applied when you are Exporting an AXE Application Profile to create the processed AXT files. Within the Export Profile Wizard you are presented with a screen confirming which File Splitter Options to apply. Specifically this allows you the option to uncheck User File Routing Rules (which separate personal from shared settings), and Redundant File Routing Rules (which "clean" the snapshot).
Note that the Express Export button on the first page of the Export Profile Wizard will automatically apply User & Redundant rules - so if you do not want to create a separate User Object, do not run Express Export, but instead step through the Export Wizard. A global default to switch off User File Routing rules, and allow the Express Export to be run will be included in a future update.
A number of features within AXE depend on access to the .FIL files which were created when the original snapshot was taken. For AXE to process snapshots correctly, and for features like the File Version Conflict Report to work, you must have access to the directory where the .FIL files are stored.
The evaluation edition of AXE has a number of restrictions:
- Publishing - In evaluation mode, AXE will not allow you to actually publish applications to eDirectory
- File Version Report - In evaluation mode, this feature is disabled.
- License Expiry - The evaluation license will expire 30 days after download of the AXE software.
- Import / Export - The import and export of rules is disabled in the evaluation edition.
In this section we outline some basic steps to try out the features of AXE. All of these can be used with both the evaluation, and full commercial editions of the product.
Before you start to process any snapshots, take a moment to fill in the AXE Global Settings.
Filling in details about the standard User ID, drive letters etc. will save time when processing your snapshots. You can also specify a default Template to use once you have created one - see below.
If you have standard settings or entries you would like to enter into one or more snapshots, you can set up a Template Profile. Within AXE select Create New Profile, and select Create a New Blank Profile. Specify a name for the template profile (e.g. Template) and a directory in which to store and files associated with the template. You can now fill in any standard entries (e.g. system requirements) which you would like to add automatically to future snapshots.
Note that you can set up any number of profiles with different groups of settings, and can make one of them default through the Global Settings for AXE (see above).
Once you have set up a Template Profile, use Create New Profile, and select the option to use an existing profile as a Template.
AXE will automatically merge all the setting from the Template Profile into your new snapshot.
Take an existing, unedited snapshot, import it into AXE by following the New Application Profile wizard, then Export it, and compare the AXT file (i.e. what AXE processing has done automatically) with what you would have edited manually.
Choose an existing, unedited snapshot that has a setting which you regularly need to change for your environment. Import it into AXE, then find the setting by looking at the properties of the Application Profile. Right click on the setting and select Create Express Rule.
Simply follow the Create Express Rule wizard to create your own AXE rule to move the setting to the Redundant file.
To check that your new rule works, use the Preview button on the bottom left of the Properties window. This gives detailed information about the rules which will be applied, and at the top of the screen, the Export Preview allows you to see what your rule will do to the setting.
Set up your standards for application publishing. Go to Global Settings, and enter your company standards for Distribution, Associations, System Requirements, etc.
If these already exist in your application objects, try reading them in from an existing object during the New Application Object creation process. (Note that application publishing is not supported in the evaluation edition. You will only be able to publish to eDirectory via ConsoleOne, and not all AXE defined settings will be applied without a commercial license.)
Centralis AXE 2.0 contains the following new features and enhancements, which are explained in detail in the body of the AppNote:
- Updated AXE rule set, including more than 80 new rules covering Windows XP, 2003 and MSI installs (Note - Use the AXE Rule Import Wizard from Centralis to import new rule sets)
- New express rule creation dramatically cuts the time taken to create new rules
- New Force Move rule makes it easy to assign a rule specifically to one application
- Create ZENworks application objects directly from AXE
- Use "templates" to store and apply a wide range of application information as standard
- Import application publishing settings from AOT files and eDir application objects into AXE
- Select between updating and recreating application objects
Interface & Usability
- AXE processing steps have been streamlined for faster, more intuitive use
- New AXE application publishing wizard gives control over the GUIDs and versioning
- Many of the processing steps have been streamlined to further simplify processing
- Updated user interface, with redesigned menus and toolbars
- Systems Requirements handling extended for full ZENworks 4 compatibility
- Improved Citrix MetaFrame integration due Q4 with the Citrix add-on pack
- Creates Citrix published applications from the AXE application object
The management of application profiles and processing rules in AXE 2.0 has been re-designed to make them more flexible, and also much easier to create.
An application profile is created in AXE for each application which is imported. The profile is the entry in the database which represents the snapshot, or imported AXT/AOT file. Profiles can be organised into hierarchical folders and sub-folders, which are displayed in tree view under Profiles in the main AXE browser window.
A new profile can be created as a Blank profile, which contains no imported entries, or as an import from AXT/ AOT file. In addition it is possible to select an existing profile to act as a template, in order to inherit selected entries and settings (See Application Profile Templates below)
AXE has always been associated with creating and enforcing standards to improve the quality and reduce the time required for snapshot based application deployment. This concept has been extended within AXE 2.0, to store a wider range of default settings, and provide the option to use sets of stored settings as "templates". These features will allow administrators to further improve standards and reduce processing time by automatically populating or updating standard entries in application objects, including:
- System requirements
- Registry settings
- Support contact information
- Application associations
- Application flags
If you choose to create the profile from an existing AXT or AOT file, the File Import Wizard prompts you to select the file, and also allows you to indicate that the file has previously been processed by Centralis AXE. This prevents certain variables being incorrectly handled by being processed more than once.
If the file is in AOT format, Centralis AXE will perform a conversion, and import the resulting AXT file into the database for you, prompting for details of the environment in which the snapshot was taken, and the folder in which the application profile will be stored. There are also options to select the processing rules which will be applied, and to change the name of the application profile at this stage (see Fig 2 below).
Note that Centralis AXE will require access to the directory in which the original snapshot (.FIL) files are located, in order to extract information for the File Version report (see below).
Once the application profile has been created in AXE, the properties can be examined using a right click to bring up the properties form. This gives access to a wide range of settings, including:
- Profile details
- Files & Directories
- Registry Settings
- INI Settings
- Environment Variables
- Icons / Shortcuts
- System Requirements
- Application Entries
Note that for each of the entries within each of these categories it is possible to do some or all of the following, depending on what is being viewed:
- Add a new entry
- Delete an entry
- Display the setting and detailed properties of the setting
- Preview how the setting will be processed and changed when the processing Rules are applied
- Create an Express or Force Move Rule (see below)
This form also displays information about how AXE will process the application profile on Export (see below). These include the rules which will be applied, e.g. User Rules, Redundant Rules, and the ability to Preview the export results.
"The Rules feature is invaluable, and Centralis AXE has helped greatly in speeding up and standardising application integration. What was once a very tedious manual process, relying heavily on experience, has been greatly simplified." Phil Busby, The London Institute, UK
Centralis AXE Rules can be used to make adjustments to Snapshot files by using a 'find and replace' mechanism or by moving whole data sections to an alternative output file based on either a basic or advanced text comparison criterion. Centralis AXE supports two basic rule types; Find & Replace, and Move. A new category called "Force Move" has been added in AXE Version 2.0.
Find and Replace rules are used to find and replace all occurrences of a text string within an .AXT file (e.g. to replace the environment variable %SYSTEMDRIVE% with the equivalent internal NAL variable %*WINDISK%). Replace Rules can be applied to multiple fields across multiple data categories as required. Text comparisons for Replace Rules are not case-sensitive.
"One of the main features of Axe is its ability to 'split' AXT files into three components. There are rules included in the product for this, and you can create your own rules. Axe not only speeded up development considerably, but helped me make more stable and secure objects as well." Phillip E. Thomas, Senior IT Consultant, BKK AS, Norway
A Basic Move Rule moves sections of the AXT to a particular output file based on a simple text comparison criterion. These Rules can be applied to multiple fields across multiple data categories and require only the search string and the target file to be specified. This is used to remove unnecessary and unwanted entries from snapshots, and also to separate User and Machine elements of a snapshot when deploying to Citrix MetaFrame environments.
Occasionally, the simple text criterion used by the Basic Move Rule is not sufficient to select specific sections where it cannot be guaranteed that the text will not appear elsewhere, especially when dealing with registry settings. In this case, an Advanced Move Rule needs to be used to remove the update of the system shutdown time from Snapshots where there was a reboot during the install process.
The Advanced Move Rule allows multiple criteria to be specified within a single data category, so in this case the Rule can be applied to the registry settings with the key name specified along with the value name to ensure only that particular setting is removed. Where multiple criteria are specified, ALL criteria must be met to satisfy the Rule conditions.
AXE 2.0 introduces a new class of rule with "Force Move". This rule applies to a specific AXE application entry only, and overrides all other rules. It can be applied to all the same settings that conventional AXE rules process, but is used where a rule is required for a single application only. This allows AXE administrators to separate rules which are generic, and those which are specific to a single application. Applying rules to specific applications rather than all applications can significantly reduce processing time.
Force Move rules are used as an alternative to deleting files and settings within the original snAppshot in order to preserve the snAppshot for future processing.
Force Move rules can be applied to any entry within the snAppshot, including those items which are not handled by generic rules, such as macros and environment variables. As with generic rules, these are then "moved" into one or both of the machine and user or the redundant sections during processing. Where a Force Move rule is required, a right click on the entry will bring up the Force Move Rule wizard (see creating New Rules).
"With AXE v2.0 it has also become even faster and easier to create reusable sets of rules. Using our large, self created set of rules we cleaned an Application snapshot from 400kb to 20kb and the Application worked! Imagine the space saved in eDirectory and the time saved for the user installing the application. Centralis AXE cleans up snapshots within minutes instead of hours of manual work, and you are able to establish a standard as to how application snapshots are cleaned out. This means that error sources can be eliminated and snapshots are of a higher quality." Mathias Faust, Sunny Connection, Switzerland.
Centralis AXE remains the core ZENworks consultancy tool for Centralis, and new rules are regularly added by both Centralis consultants and AXE users. Customers purchasing AXE 2.0 will have access to a complete new rule set, which is more than doubled in size from AXE FR1, including over 80 new processing rules covering Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP, Windows 2003 and MSI based installs.
To create a new rule of any type, simply right click on any entry (e.g. a file or registry setting), and all the details will automatically be entered into the new rule wizard for you. Depending on your selection, AXE will automatically fill in the full path and settings, and select between standard or advanced rules. All you need to do is select what to do with the setting.
Whenever a new rule is required, simply right click on the entry to bring up the Express Rule wizard. If the rule is to be applied to all applications, select Express Rule. If the rule is specific to the particular snapshot, select Force Move Rule. The Rules Wizard will automatically be populated with all the information you need, so you can simply follow the process through to create the new rule.
The most significant new features in AXE 2.0 are around application publishing. For the first time ZENworks administrators can process their snapshots, apply saved global settings, then publish the resulting application object to eDirectory - all from within AXE.
AXE provides the option to create or update ZENworks application objects directly from AXE, rather than creating an AXT for use through ConsoleOne.
Not only does this new facility make it much quicker and easier to manage application objects, AXE can also simplify and standardise many of the settings commonly used in creating applications (see Templates below).
AXE will also allow administrators to import the AOT file and settings from eDirectory object directly, without the need to convert it into an AXT file.
The key new features of application publishing are given below:
In order to create an application object, the application profile must be exported in order to apply the processing rules (see previous section). This is done by right clicking on the profile and selecting Export. The Export Wizard provides a step by step guide to creating the application object, or alternatively the Express Export option provides a single step process using your default selections.
Export includes the following stages:
- Splitting options - selecting whether to apply the User and Redundant Move rules
- Track Distribution per user options for directory, file, INI, registry and shortcuts
- Flag Overwrite options for File, Registry and .INI files
- Output options for locations, filenames and formats
The Export Wizard allows selection of the ZENworks version to be used for the ZENworks application object, supporting the following versions:
- ZENworks for Desktops 1.1
- ZENworks for Desktops 2
- ZENworks for Desktops 3
- ZENworks for Desktops 4
If a version of ZENworks for Desktops is selected which is earlier than the one used to take the original snapshot, AXE will export in the selected file format, but leave the AXE application profile unchanged to allow future exporting in the original file format.
AXE application objects are created from the AXE application profile. This is done by right clicking on the profile and selecting New, Application Object.
Note that multiple application objects can be created from each AXE application profile. This is particularly useful if your snapshot contains an application suite such as Office which you wish to present as separate objects, or if you are publishing to multiple containers.
The New Application Object wizard allows you to:
On completion of the wizard, the properties of the application object are displayed.
Using the Centralis AXE publishing wizard, administrators can take the processed snapshot, and create an eDirectory object from it. This can be done by right clicking on the application profile, or on the individual application objects created from the profile.
Note that if multiple application objects have been created from a profile, AXE will allow the selection of one, several or all the application objects to be published in a single operation.
The Wizard provides options for updating and recreating objects (see below), then publishes the application objects to the eDirectory locations identified in the individual application objects.
As well as creating a new ZENworks application object, administrators can select to Update or Recreate an existing object. The publishing wizard allows the administrator to choose between Recreating or Updating an object. A number of options will be presented for controlling GUID and Application Version, depending whether Update or Recreate is selected.
If Update is selected, the administrator can simply update the application object with all the settings from the AXE application object, or alternatively select the Advanced Update Options. This allows the administrator to select which items will be updated, down to the level of icons, registry settings etc.
It is also possible to import AOT files into AXE. This is particularly useful if you have a number of existing ZENworks application objects you need to update. AXE provides a simple Import Wizard which allows you to select the AOT file, then creates an AXE application profile from the imported information.
It is also possible to import settings from existing eDirectory objects. These settings can be applied to your new application objects, or stored to create a template. This is particularly useful if you have a number of existing ZENworks application objects you need to update. AXE provides a simple Import Wizard which allows you to select the eDirectory application object, then creates an AXE application object from the imported information.
AXE Administrators often need to work with multiple file locations and NDS / eDirectory trees, for example where pre-production test and development environments are used, or where server consolidation is undertaken. AXE 2.0 has been enhanced to provide a Change Location Wizard which simplifies the process of moving items between environments in three key areas: Profiles, Application Objects and Application Associations & Contacts.
Selecting Change Location Wizard from the Tools Menu brings up an initial dialog box allowing you to select from Profile, Application Object and Application Associations & Contacts. As this change has potentially very serious consequences, it also displays a warning message that the procedure may be irreversible.
For each type of change, the Wizard will display a form to enter the Location Reference information. This allows you to enter the current location information (e.g. file path including server name), and the replacement information. It also allows you to select either all the application profiles, or a specific folder.
AXE will then display all the application profiles within the selected folders which contain the string to be changed. You can then select one or more against which to run the text replacement, and see a preview of the changes which will be made.
For example if you have moved a snAppshot from a test server to a production server, the associated Profile in AXE must be updated to refer to the new location. The Change Location Wizard is run against the Profile to complete all the required changes.
The source path (snAppshot Folder) within a Profile can be changed by running the Change Location Wizard from the Tools Menu.
The source path within a snAppshot points to the associated source files. AXE uses this information to import and export AXT/AOT files and to read file versions for reporting and setting copy flags. The Wizard will find all matching text entries within the snapshot folder path and source path macros and replace them with the text provided.
The eDirectory location for an application object can be changed by running the Change Location Wizard from the Tools Menu.
If the location of one or more application objects in eDirectory has been changed, the Change Location Wizard will allow you to update the application objects in AXE to point to the new location.
The Application Object Associations and Contacts for an application object can be changed by running the Change Location Wizard from the Tools Menu.
If the structure of your eDirectory tree has altered (e.g. due to merger or renaming), the Change Location Wizard will allow you to update the associations & contacts for application objects in AXE to point to the new location.
It should be noted that the actual associations and contacts will not change, and must therefore exist in the new container in order to be valid.
Throughout AXE, processes have been streamlined to provide improved ease of use. Wherever possible wizards have been introduced to guide users through complex processes, and in some areas Express wizards allow experienced users to skip through entire sections.
Based on user feedback, most options and processes within AXE can now be accessed using a simple right mouse click. Graphics and toolbars have also been extensively updated to bring the software up to date, and greatly improve the look and feel, as well as the usability of the software.
In AXE 2.0, the handling of Systems Requirements has been extended to provide full compatibility with the new options introduced in ZENworks 4.
AXE 2.0 not only fully supports the ZENworks 4 file formats, it allows administrators to snapshot using ZENworks for Desktops 4, and then output the application object in the file format of any previous version. This allows the administrator to take fully featured ZEN 4 snapshots, deploy compatible 3.2 application objects until an upgrade is undertaken. The application objects can then simply be updated to ZEN 4 format in eDirectory from AXE.
With the AXE template facility you can also simply add updated system requirements and other information to existing ZEN 3.2 snapshots, and create them as fully featured ZEN 4 objects!
You can report on all files, only files with version information, or files which match a specified pattern mask. The resulting report can be defined such that all files, only files with more than one instance, or only files with conflicts are displayed. A conflict can be defined as one or more of the following options - different file version, different file date/time, different file size, different target location for file.
"Centralis did address our requirement for ZENworks, NDS & Citrix integration, and the council was impressed with the company's understanding of both Citrix and Novell environments" Ian Slee, Assistant Borough IT Services Manager, Bracknell Forest Borough Council.
The Citrix add-on pack for AXE (due Q4 2003) introduces a new level of integration between ZENworks and Citrix MetaFrame.
Centralis AXE already contains processing rules to enable ZENworks for Desktops administrators to create working application objects from application snapshots on MetaFrame servers. The add-on pack will also enable administrators to create MetaFrame published applications based on the snapshot, directly from AXE.
This will provide several levels of benefit for ZENworks administrators deploying applications to a Citrix environment.
Specifically, AXE will:
- Clean the snapshot, removing the many unnecessary entries created by taking a snapshot on a Citrix MetaFrame server
- Separate user portion of the snapshot out for a separate install if required
- Populate the Citrix published application details with information from the AXE application object, including title, command line etc.
- Automatically fill in your Citrix published application preferences from global settings for the full range of standard values, including Colour Depth, Windows Size, Encryption Level and Audio settings
- Automatically assign user rights to the Citrix published application from the AXE application object or allocate them from eDirectory or Domain
- Allow the administrator to use either the application executable or a NAL command line to launch the application
- Create the ZENworks application object and the Citrix published application in a single operation from the snapshot, or update them with your latest changes
All of this can be done from within Centralis AXE, without using the Citrix Management Console, Microsoft Management Console, or Novell's ConsoleOne.
Novell Cool Solutions (corporate web communities) are produced by WebWise Solutions. www.webwiseone.com