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A Preview of Things to Come: NS7 - Altiris Installation Manager

Created: 23 Apr 2008 • Updated: 29 Sep 2008 | 13 comments
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vortex0007's picture
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Altiris Notification Server 7, currently in closed Beta, offers dozens of major changes. One of the most important changes has to do with the installation process. This article introduces the new installation manager.

Keep in mind that the product is in early Beta and features and functionality might change before the final release of the product!

The Altiris Installation process has never been as simple as it should be. In NS6, the process always went something like this:

Download a 60MB install file from http://www.solutionsam.com/solutions/6_0/.

Run through the installation of said file - where another dozen MSI's were launched and installed.

When this was complete, a wizard launched, prompted for several questions related to database settings, and then the NS was installed.

Next Solution Center was launched, customers picked their Suite or their unique products and then dozens of additional .exe's were downloaded.

Next customers had to dig through the Altiris KB and hope they could locate all of the hot fixes and service packs that had been released for their products and then run through these manually.

The whole process is a nightmare for anyone that is not intimately aware of the Altiris products and technology and left many customers frustrated. Not to mention that the process is very time consuming. To go from bare bones server to CMS Level 1 + hot fixes is on average a 3 - 5 hour process.

Late in the NS6 development cycle, an attempt to simplify the installation process was created in the form of the Altiris Installation and Configuration Manager (AICM). The AICM provided a single .exe to customers along with an XML file that was basically a template file. The XML template contained many of the details about which .exe's were necessary to complete a product installation. This method worked quite well for brand new customers who were buying popular suites such as Client Management Suite (CMS) or Asset Management Suite (AMS, or SAMS), but it still had several major shortcomings all stemming from the fact that it was not a stand-alone process - it was more like a scripted installation using the original NS6 install process described above. It was clear from the beginning that a new method would need to be developed to truly simplify Notification Server installation.

Beginning with Altiris Notification Server 7, the installation process has been completely redesigned from the ground up. The result is a stand-alone installation product currently named the Altiris Installation Manager (AIM).

To install Altiris Notification Server 7, customers begin by downloading a 28MB file named Altiris_AIM_7.0.exe.

This executable needs to be run on the server where Notification Server 7 is to be installed. The next several screenshots walk through this process, beginning by a double-click of the Altiris_AIM_7.0.exe.

Click Next to continue.

Longtime customers will be happy to know that the entire installation is no longer done using InstallShield - it is now 100% Wise Installation Studio.

Choosing the default installation path and clicking "Begin install" leads to a successful installation.

The Altiris Installation Manager has now been successfully installed. The next step is to launch the installation manager.

The Altiris Installation Manager (AIM) is a GUID based menu system that allows point and click installation of the Altiris solutions. Unlike previous versions of Notification Server, the AIM is a stand-alone application and not available from within the NS7 console.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the process has been greatly simplified. Users click on the solution they are interested in and then choose the "Install selected products". In the example below these are several of the components of the Altiris Client Management Suite.

An important point to understand is that this is not just a static listing - the AIM understands pre-requisites. For example when the Altiris Inventory Solution was selected prior to selecting the Altiris Notification Server, AIM prompts the user letting them know that in order to install Inventory Solution, they must also install the NS server.

Notice in the screenshot above the Filters - these can be used to simplify the view - for example one of the filters is by Suite - so Client Management Customers could filter by Suite and instead of having the multiple check-boxes above, they would have a single check box.

Once the options have been selected, a confirmation page is displayed as a final review of what components will be installed.

The next few screens are new to Altiris customers. Due to the nature of the software solutions sold by Symantec, the company is under tighter import/export controls with regards to software. As a result, additional licensing agreements are required. The legal agreement as well as the personal information section of the installation is required to comply with these regulations.

The Personal Information collected here is a forwarded to the Symantec Compliancy servers which check to ensure the software is being installed from a country that is legally allowed to run the software. In the screenshot below, none of the fields were completed and the "Next" button was clicked in order to illustrate which fields are mandatory (as indicated by the yellow triangles).

Clicking Next introduces a much more robust Install Readiness Check as seen in the screenshot below. Existing Altiris customers might be familiar with the pre-requisite checker, a separate download that offered limited guidance to ensure some of the server OS pre-requisites were met prior to installing the NS 6 solution. The new method in NS 7 is more robust and built into the installation.

In the screenshot above, clicking on the hyperlinks under theASP.NET recommendation loads a new window with specific instructions on how to correct the problem.

Once the problems have been solved, click on the "Check Install Readiness Again" to re-evaluate and then click Next to continue.

Moving along with the installation, the next several screenshot should be familiar to those who have installed Altiris Notification Server in the past.

Click Next from the previous screen, and the Database Configuration screen loads:

In the screenshot above, look at the status bar at the bottom of the screen. The download of the installation files has already begun. This is happening in the background as the administrator is completing the wizard. The implication is that the machine must be connected to the Internet for the AIM to work - and while yes, it needs to download the files from the Internet, for those that do not have internet facing NS servers, do not worry - the AIM has a new offline installation method.

This next screen illustrates additional management features that can be installed as part of the installation. As the product is still in Beta, the only solution that has management features available with CMS is the Patch Management Solution. Several products such as Monitor Solution and others are expected to have additional Management Features available.

Clicking Next reveals an new option that is available during the installation - rolling out the Altiris NS agent. As seen in the screenshot below, administrators now have an option to rollout the Altiris agent during the installation of the NS.

Rolling out the Altiris Agent is as simple as clicking on the domain on the left, clicking the ">" button at the center of the screen, followed by supplying credentials. It is also worth noting that the "Validate computers" button is available to ensure the systems are live and can communicate with the server before beginning.

Clicking on the Begin Install begins the installation process.

This next several screenshot shows the progress of the installation along with scrolling graphics and text that promote new features of the NS7 solutions.

For a bit more technical detail, what is happening in the background during this process is that AIM is reading an XML file that is stored in "Program Files\Altiris\Altiris Installation Manager\Installs\Altiris." This XML file contains the definitions for which products are available, where the products are located and provides the installation logic that is presented in the GUI. The filename must be in the format NAME.pl.XML in order for the installation manager to read the file.

If there are problems with the installation of AIM, a log file named a.log is created in %temp%\AIM Logs\AIM 2008-04-04 14-11-27\ where the date will change based on when the installation is launched.

As indicated in the bottom left hand corner of the screenshot above, AIM is downloading local copies of all of the necessary MSI files. These files are also placed in the "Program Files\Altiris\Altiris Installation Manager\Installs\Altiris" folder on the server. The screenshot below shows the installation progress bar.

Another significant difference is that in past builds of Notification Server, Administrators could download the various Altiris software components in .exe form from http://www.solutionsam.com/solutions/6_0/ and run them manually on the NS server. This option is no longer available as all of the MSI's have been coded to require the Altiris Installation Manager. In addition, solution install files are now distributed directly as MSI's instead of .EXE's.

When everything is finished, the final dialog is displayed and Notification Server 7 along with the solutions are installed properly.

Comments 13 CommentsJump to latest comment

jjesse's picture

What happens if I do not have access to the internet during instalation? I have done several installs where the NS does not have access to the internet and have used a USB drive w/ a local copy of solutionsam on it to handle this problem.

Also I may have missed it, but I did not see a place to enter in proxy information if I reside behind a proxy. How does the AIM work for those behind a proxy?

Jonathan Jesse
Director of Training
ITS Partners

Jonathan Jesse Practice Principal ITS Partners

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rstaats's picture

A concern of mine as well. Hopefully it will pull proxy info from the OS/I.E. ... if it doesn't it would hose my installation. I don't want to have to punch a hole just for installation.

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Tenacious Geo's picture

Looks much easier! Thanks.

-Geo

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vortex0007's picture

So what happens if you don't have Internet Access?

Simple.

Download and install AIM on a computer with Internet Access.

From AIM, there is an option to create an offline storage disk. The wizard walks through several steps and then it downloads all of the necessary files, packages them up into a single .exe and then you burn the results to a CD/DVD.

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jjesse's picture

Are there settings for setting up a proxy on the download?

Jonathan Jesse
Director of Training
ITS Partners

Jonathan Jesse Practice Principal ITS Partners

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vortex0007's picture

How Proxy settings are going to be handled is still being worked out.

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rstaats's picture

Thanks for the response. This (proxy) would be a high concern for my organization.

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michaeltsa's picture

How about licenses? Can we use the old licenses for now?

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vortex0007's picture

This is beyond the scope of this article. Look for more information as the product gets closer to completion.

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Dominique's picture

I have done two installation but the one which is an upgrade of NS 6 has more screens after the readiness prompt and I am looking for explanation about them...

"Export Data from a Notification Server to a
file store"

- What will be exported?
- Where? locally? to another server? anywhere?

Is it part of a restoration process in case of failure?

Dom

Dom

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vortex0007's picture

At the time this article was written, the development of the upgrade portion of AIM was not complete. These components were recently added to the Beta II that has now gone public.

Here's a short explanation of how the upgrade scenario works:

AIM will launch a query that will open the NS 6 database and query the tables to pull out everything in them. They will be backed up to a single file that must be stored somewhere. The export file can be stored locally, on a network drive or even on a different file server.

Once the file has been created, the existing NS6 database tables are updated/dropped/modified to be inline with the new NS7 schema. After the database has been upgraded, a query is made to the export file, and everything is moved back into the database.

Assuming everything is succesful, you now have a funcitonal NS7 server with the data from your existing NS6 server.

There are many more details about the upgrade. Stay tuned to Juice to read additional articles about this subject.

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Pascal KOTTE's picture

we got a newest version

~Pascal @ Kotte.net~ Do you speak French? Et utilisez Altiris: venez nous rejoindre sur le GUASF

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