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Shooting trouble remotely

Level 11

Users only call the HelpDesk with problems. Some of the issues, like password resets, are easy to resolve. Other issues can get very complex and then add into the mix the user not properly describing the issue they are having or exactly what the error message they see says. When helping a user with an issue, have you ever asked a user to click on something here or there and let you know what pops up on the screen? How long did you wait until you asked if anything different is on the screen and the user says that something was displayed several minutes ago?

I am a very visual person and I need to see the error or see how long it took for the error message to pop up. An error message that comes back right away could mean something completely different than if it took a few seconds; users cannot really convey that timing well. Years ago when I first started working in IT, I used a product called PCAnywhere that would let me remote control another machine. I could even do it remotely from home via dial up!

The ability to remotely see what is happening on a user’s machine makes a huge difference. Today I use a variety of these applications, depending on what my client will support, but they all have a large set of features beyond just remotely controlling the machine. Solarwinds DameWare lets you remotely reboot, start/stop processes, view logs, AD integration, and mobile remote control. Other than remote control of a machine, what other features do you use? Which features make it easier for you to troubleshoot issues from wherever you are?

14 Comments
Level 12

Interesting subject and one I work on with customers every day. The most recent was with a large publishing firm. Users at a remote office were complaining that the 'network was slow'. Not sure how many users were based at the remote office but it was somewhere around 60. While remote desktop would have been ideal if we had pinpointed the problematic client we had not much to go on other than the famous "the network is slow"

To get to the root cause we deployed a LANGuardian to take a deeper look at the network traffic moving around their network. What we found was that all clients at the site were using a proxy based in their US office and all web traffic had to be routed across their WAN. When we drilled down on this traffic we saw that a lot of the sessions were video streaming. Lots of users watching sports and downloading movies. The fix here was user education and more filtering at their HQ. More on the topic in this blog post.

When it comes to troubleshooting remote issues I think you need two things. One is visibility as to what the users are doing and secondly tools like the ones you suggest to take actions.

Level 17

Visibility is key. Running Blind only causes problems.. even with his sight, the user who clicks blindly on whatever pops up next is a blind man.

   Somewhere you may have to ask them if they will allow you to help them, they did call you for help after all.

Level 12

Agree. In a way tools which gather information as to what users are doing are the 'eyes on your network'

Level 12

I'm not so much visual as I don't trust what the user is reporting.  We usually use Remote Desktop Services Manager for RDP sessions and TeamViewer for anything outside the RDP sphere.  You can't beat seeing what the user is seeing when you are troubleshooting an issue.  I couldn't count how many times someone reported that their remote session wasn't working when it was actually an email or application issue.  Maybe its just a function of being an IT guy working in the construction/lumber industry.  Being able to monitor, track and flag an issue before it gets reported is a life saver too.

MVP
MVP

When client interaction is not required we typically use VPN and RDP sessions. If client interaction is required, we have Cisco Webex available for meetings but it also allows us to perform remote troubleshooting (take control).

Level 15

The ability to visually experience the user process is a major enhancement to solving problems quickly.  It takes me all the way back to my PDP/11 days and remote controlling a user's terminal when they needed assistance.  The tools definitely have gotten better, less resource intensive, more diagnostic and monitoring features and ultimately, easier for the user to trust the information given to the IT guy.  Plus, without remote diagnostic tools, we IT people would be far less productive.  I can remember back in my consultant days of billing one out of office client at $125/hour or being in the office and being able to bill 7 clients @ $125.00/hour for the same hour of time.

Level 11

Visibility from the user's perspective it critical. Most monitoring systems poll from the data center instead. In the network I used to administer we put older windows workstations, with dual NICs, at every branch. We could then test things from the user's perspective, run wireshark or iPerf.

Level 11

Just tonight my wife asked why Dropbox wasn't uploading her pictures from her phone. I asked her what was on the Dropbox screen and she said nothing. When I finally got to look at the phone, there was an error message at the top stating that Dropbox didn't have permission to her photos.

Level 11

Agreed.

Also, not just seeing the error message, but the timing of it. Did the error message pop up immediately? Was it 10 seconds? 30? 60? User's just don't realize the importance of something like that when troubleshooting. The immediate message could be related to a rejection or permissions issue, where a longer duration before the error message is more of a timeout.

Level 11

Do you see any value in something like Dameware over Webex? Do you ever have any need to access a workstation when someone is not there locally?

Level 11

With site visits you also have to account for travel time. Usually that is not billable, but a site visit usually has a minimum time.

And with remote access, the troubleshooting can begin almost immediately.

MVP
MVP

Hmmm... My first thought based on the subject was going to be a 168g Sierra Matchking inside of 800 yds...

Based on the body and the fact that I am not so much in the helpdesk business, but rather support them by providing info about the environment.

Having used Webex to help support or get support is a viable tool, while it takes a little more to set up a session than I would expect DameWare,

I think the Webex session may have some safeguards available if the tech is getting too frisky in their exploring or touching of system resources...it is nice to be able to quickly shut them out to prevent a potentially bad thing from happening.

MVP
MVP

As we are primarily a Cisco partner, I would assume the company sees more value in Webex from a marketing/demonstration point of view. With regards to remote access, it is rare that we need to access a workstation without a user. If the support calls are workstation related, the user prefers to be there but in the majority of support cases (non-workstation) we would be looking at UC components, servers, or the network.

Level 11

I usually have to use what the client approves, but I do like the WebEx ability to revoke remote control of my machine. WebEx also tends to have a easy ability to setup access to the remote machine fairly easily and consistently.

About the Author
I am a network and UC engineer for a mainly Cisco reseller. I have worked in the networking industry for about 14 years and started as a network administrator for a small CLEC (carrier) where I did it all in IT and worked on the carrier network. After the CLEC, I went to work for a large healthcare organization in the Houston area and stayed with them for about three and a half years. Now I work for a reseller in the professional services part of the organization. I am currently studying for the CCIE in Routing and Switching lab. You can find me on the Twitter @twidfeki or I blog on Packet Pushers and twidfeki.com.