Today is the day that Jeroen van de Kamp's new baby is being shown to the world. Many of you know Jeroen as the guy behind the "Flex Profile Kit." When I was visiting Amsterdam last November, Jeroen spent a few hours with me (and Emily.. poor poor Emily) explaining this automation framework they created at Login Consultants.
It's called the Solution4 Framework (or "S4 Framework" for short), and it's basically a huge set of scripts, scripts, tools, and more scripts that you can use to completely manage your Terminal Server or Citrix Presentation Server farm.
The whole S4 Framework concept is massive (and massively confusing). Let me try to explain it like this: Those of you who are familiar with Flex Profiles know how they work. Flex Profiles are more-or-less scripts that specify what user registry keys get saved centrally when a user logs off. Another script runs at logon that puts those keys back. The Flex Profile "Kit" is just a ZIP file with some sample scripts and some utilities to make it all work.
Now imagine the Flex Profile Kit concept, except applied to EVERYTHING instead of just profiles. This is what the S4 Framework is. You can use it to manage user profiles, application and EXE security, application publishing, the user desktop, the installation and configuration of Presentation Server, application installation and configuration, CMC settings, group policies, server maintenance, etc.
Oh, and by the way, S4 logs everything to a massive change log.
And oh, by the way again, there is a documentation script that will create a Word document that shows exactly how your entire environment is configured.
Seriously, in my nine years as a Citrix consultant, this is the single coolest free thing that I've ever seen. (It's also the most complex, scariest, and daunting thing I've ever seen.)
The S4 Framework is really meant for gearhead-type super-geeky Citrix admins who like to script everything. Essentially it's a massive collection of scripts that not only handle login and logoff, but that also handle server configuration. The idea is that if you bring a new server into your environment, you just change a few INI files in your central repository, run a configuration script on that new server, and stand back as the server is configured and brought into the environment. (And of course this is all written to the change log and the Word documentation is updated so that you can be fired and easily replaced by an intern making half your salary.) If you want to make a change to your environment, again you change some INI files in the central repository and stand back.
There are also scripts that run periodically on the servers and startup and shutdown scripts that ensure all of your servers are consistent.
This thing is completely modular. You can choose to use little bits of it or to use the whole thing. There's a library of about 70 "resource" scripts that you can call to easily and almost instantly create your own scripts to do whatever you want. (They even have a script "factory" you can use to create your own template scripts that will fall into the S4 management framework in terms of logging and documentation.)
It's hard to describe everything that this Framework can do and how it works. I can leave you with a few thoughts though:
First of all, this is not something that you can just download and click, click, click. Plan on spending a few solid days with it to understand it, and probably several more days or weeks wiring it up in your environment.
Second, you have to be a good admin in order to use this. It's going to require scripting and reading and patience and testing and generally time spent figuring it out.
If you're interesting and want to move forward, I suggest this plan of action:
- Jeroen and Dennis Damen recorded a 37-minute video that explains more about the S4 Framework. The first nine minutes are a PPT overview of the whole concept, and the final 30 minutes or so are a hands-on walkthrough of how it all works. Watch this video first.
- If you still like this concept after the video, then download the ZIP file that makes up the toolkit. Read through the documentation and look at the sample files.
- Take a look at the S4 Framework forum at Login Consultants website to talk to other people crazy/brave/cool enough to go down this path.
- Share your feedback and thoughts in the comments of this article.
The bottom line is that this framework is not for everyone. If you don't like to script, or if you want a fast solution, then look somewhere else. But if you're looking for a way to truly and automatically manage and maintain your environment, and if you want many "best practices" built right in, then it's worth considering.
I'll reiterate that I'm simultaneously scared and excited about this framework. I'm not sure that I want to blindly recommend it to everyone, but I really think this can can be a major game-changer for a lot of environments.