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Help Desk 6.x -> Service Desk -- Opinions?

Created: 04 Oct 2012 | 13 comments
dfrancis's picture

Hi everyone,

We're still rocking an old Help Desk 6.x server in our environment and it's still running like a champ.  With the product being EOL'd by Symantec, I feel like we're on borrowed time with it and will be behind the 8-ball if the server should ever go belly up.

Our clients are now on the SMP 7.1 platform and we've pretty much severed all ties between the Help Desk and the rest of Altiris (The old NS 6 is still up and running but nothing is reporting to it).  We're perfectly content with how Help Desk 6.x functions as a ticketing system and there's not too much additional functionality that we'd really need.  Our biggest challenge right now is that our users HATE using IE if at all possible, and with all of the ActiveX components, it's almost useless to do anything in there if you're not on IE.  Not to mention it looks like you're using a web site from the 90's. :)

I've heard consultants can be relatively expensive to properly implement Service Desk and that it's almost a necessity to have a consultant or trained professional do the implementation so you don't shoot yourself in the foot down the road.  For those who have done the upgrade themselves or with a consultant, what is your take on this?  Would you go into this upgrade/implementation yourself?  Any lessons learned?  Or would you say that it's just not worth the time/investment and we should just run Help Desk 6 until it dies then switch to an entirely different product altogether?  If anyone has any experience with the 7.5 beta as well, I'd love to hear info on that as we probably won't be doing this until early 2013 when 7.5 is already out.

As a background, we're a pretty small company (less than 500 employees) and everyone on our IT staff does a little bit of everything so while I do most of our Altiris stuff, I'm not doing Altiris 24/7 here, and I don't see us ever having someone that's 100% dedicated to Altiris and/or Service Desk, so we'd need something that pretty much takes care of itself.

Any success/horror stories would be great.  PM me if you don't want to throw anything out there to the public.


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andykn101's picture

Speaking as a "relatively expensive" consultant smiley I'll make a few observations.

Helpdesk 6 to ServiceDesk 7 is best not thought of as an "upgrade", it's a different product the same as Remedy or Heat is. You can migrate your closure codes but that's about it. ServiceDesk is built using Workflow Solution, this is it's biggest strength and weakness. You can customise it extensively, all the Workflow elements are exposed, but pretty much all of those customisations are lost with each update or Service Pack.

In 7.5 Symantec have decided to lock down the core processes so that updates and Service packs won't be so disruptive.

In terms of implementation complexity it's much like any other product, the more you want to customise it the more expertise you'll need. It should work pretty much "out of the box".

I'd wait until 7.5 ships (early Dec), download a trial version and play and plan until MP1/SP1 comes out.

Authorised Symantec Consultant (ASC) with Endpoint Management Limited, an Authorised Symantec Delivery Provider based in the UK.

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Arun_Singh's picture

@Andykn101 - That is a great response and covers all the right points.

@dfrancis - One of the biggest complaints I have encountered from customers who have gone from HD to SD is that SD is nothing like HD. Yes they filfull a similar purpose but their implementations and usability are completely different, especially the way licensing is handled. This catches a lot of people by surprise and can cause frustrations. I would strongly recommend getting a hold of SD (Speak with your account manager or sales representative about getting access to the SD 7.5 Beta) and installing it without any customzations and then compare the differences. This way you get a feel of the product and will have a understanding of what path is correct for you. SD (Especially Workflow, which can be used to build a variety of projects to automate nearly everything) is a great product, however you need to be mindful that it is not HelpDesk. 

Please feel free to ask questions etc on here. We have a great community who is always willing to help. 

toomas's picture

Make sure you pay attention to system requirements. Hardware requirements are fairly steep, just do not expect ServiceDesk to run on a small server where Helpdesk feels fine. Also, it will not run on the SMP itself.

dsmith1954's picture

If you like the look and feel of HelpDesk v6, don't move to ServiceDesk. I personally don't care for the layout and color scheme. I'm sure that's customizeable, but I don't have the time for that.

As toomas said, pay attention to system requirements. HelpDesk and SQL could run on the same server, even virtual, but ServiceDesk requires a minimum of two servers. One for SQL and one for Service Desk. ServiceDesk can't run on your SMP, so if you want to see tickets in your SMP, you'll need the connector.

I'm not a programmer, so when I installed ServiceDesk and tried to use it "out of the box" I was very disappointed. It does require a lot of customization, especially since it uses ITIL standard for most things, and we deviate from ITIL in a lot of areas. ITIL is a one-size fits all, and we all know that that doesn't work.

Anyway, get a copy, setup a couple servers so you can play with it and see if you like it.

Being our only Altiris Admin for over 1500 employees, I highly recommend getting a reputable consultant to do the install and customizations. There are a lot of gotchas in a default installation if you don't follow lockstep with ITIL.

Being only 500 employees, I'd backup my HelpDesk installation software and database, buy another server, install HelpDesk and put it in storage. Or, do a P2V into a VM and run it on a VM. If you do that, you'll always have HelpDesk v6 available. That's what we've done.

We gave up the migration to ServiceDesk. Workflow, while touted as being simple, is much too complicated, and in this economy there are not enough dollars available to hire consultants. I'm not a programmer and have no intention of becoming one, so we've decided to stay with HelpDesk for now.

dfrancis's picture

Our users are not too nostalgic for mid-90's styled web sites, so any change to the UI would probably be welcome here. :)  That's kind of stupid that you can't run Service Desk and SQL on the same box for smaller implementations like ours.  I can understand if you've got dozens or hundreds of technicians and are doing several hundred or thousands of tickets daily, but geez.

We've already P2V'd our Help Desk server over the weekend and it's surprisingly running better now than it did on physical hardware.  I guess that's what you get when you're running on 5 year old hardware vs. a new, untaxed ESX server.

I think we're going to ride out on Help Desk 6 until I can find a much better, cheaper ticketing system option.


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Nicolas Horchower's picture


we've got the same question 6 months ago.

The gap between the two products is really huge. We've installed SMP7.1 and workflow on tests servers.
First feedback : wait !!! There's so many thing no yet completed, it's amazing (this comment includes both SD and SMP).

Concerning deployment, we want to implement workflow, so in a few month will do the jump, but keep in mind that :
-it requires more horse power : workflow uses consuming processes (web services...) -> your servers must be strongly designed.
-licencing has changed. Previous version was invoiced per admin, now it is per technicians
-you loose mostly all your issues history (except if you create bridges)

7.5 should simplify the deployment (if you stay close to the standard).
We've asked an external consultant to make a quotation : he suggest a merge between SMP7.x and HD instead of switching to SD. (it seems to be pretty easy to make both the two running side by side).

As we wanted to implement our own workflows, and maybe add assets management to our solution, we're going to switch to SD, but we'll wait and cross fingers that 7.5 will solved most of the current issues.


Aryanos's picture

I've always thought of Service Desk as a consultant's wet dream and I'm not sure if Symantec built it this way on purpose but out of the box there is so many basic things missing in the 7.1 and even the 7.5 betas. With Altiris Helpdesk 6 you can usually install it and configure it by one person and the configuring/customizing it is very easy compared to SD.

I'm a WF developer so most the changes that our company needs to make I can do them but for companies that don't have one I can imagine all customizations that customers ask for and the consultants nodding their heads with $ signs in their eyes with all the work they'll be getting.

Even with looking at the SD 7.5 core workflows there are things that are still missing but for the most part they are trying to put most of the customizations in the portal which is a good sign but the rules are still not as robust as the ones in Helpdesk.

I like my beats fast and my bass down low

Jeanne's picture

Well we went ahead hired a consultant and made the switch to SD 7.1 sp2 and it was a bit of a nightmare. The consultants were great but you can't make a sow's ear into a silk purse. Some of the things we disliked The search feature is important in our environment and in 6.9 it is easy in 7.1 sp2 it is a difficult task. Once you find the report it does not give you exactly what you want it really leaves the technicians frustrated. Service Desk does not work well in IE you get strange anomalies sometimes you can't enter data into a ticket. It works fairly decent in Chrome. Don't even get me started on the reports it has a ton of canned reports but when you try to make your own reports with the data you have been collecting in 6.9 I just can't seem to get there without a lot of frustration. Performance issues the system is slow to start each time you log in the IIS service has to find the forms once located the second time you open a form it does generate more smoothly. The SLA's are very hard to work with we have several area's using the service desk and they need to be able to change due dates when priority is shifted, currently there is not a process to make different SLA's for different types of tickets easily (I'm sure you can modify a workflow but then you might get other things to happen you did not expect). All tickets are incidents in SD in 6.9 we had service requests and incidents we don't track SLA for a Service request but wanted to for an incident we had to just scrap the whole SLA thing for now. After 4 weeks of continuous frustrations we have reverted back to 6.9 to lick our wounds and decide what we can live with. I hope to move back to the service desk 7.1 sp2 software we do like some of the features like the ability to see what users tickets are opened, notification of tickets being worked so two technicians don't try to update the same ticket.  

dsmith1954's picture

SD 7.1 was a non-starter here. We won't even be looking at 7.5. We're moving to something else. SD is just way too complicated, expensive, and requires way too much hardware for our uses!

dfrancis's picture

I hear ya.  We just purchased a different solution and it looks like I can do a migration from Help Desk 6.5 to the new product fairly easily and still have it pull asset info from my 7.1 CMDB with no problems.


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jobby's picture

I see quite a few (as of December) switched to new products... wondering what and how its going for you?

My thoughts so far after being into 7.5.1, yet not having it production ready yet...

1) We've had to reinstall it twice due to a few prerequisites missing in the implementation guide.  We wouldn't have known about these except for having called support on other issues and them noticing it.

2) If you have users in your organization that do not have an e-mail address, it won't pull information for them from the CMDB unless you customize it through workflow (if it's even possible and not locked down).

3) The hardware requirements are ridiculous.  Performance wise, it is taking around a minute for the submit incident forms to load (first time or any time it is updated through workflow).  I haven't checked what all it is loading, but considering any other system I've used (including HD6) took maybe 5 seconds at most, this is not very productive.

4) The out of the box items are lacking.  These include no e-mail templates, (2) rulesets (which do very little).

5) If you know nothing about workflow, and don't have training planned, you're likely to get lost.  They may say that this release keeps you in ProcessManager more to set it up, but already, close to if not over half of my time has been spent in workflow.

6) There are a few bugs, a few known, a few unknown; a few with workarounds, a few with workarounds that they don't know what the upcoming MP1 update will do if you implement them, and a few without... what they all are, who knows since they're not all listed anywhere for known issues.

7) They claim that you can go through the implementation guide as a step by step... wrong!  If you do, you will find a few steps that should be in a different order.  If you make this claim, they claim that they did this because everyone's expectations/environment are different; however, some of the steps that were like this were base steps.

8) The interface is not very intuitive.  I have already been asked by my managers to make customization after customization (some of which can't be done because there are core features that are locked down) because of this; the out of the box set up is not very end user friendly.  Actually, I myself have found that sometimes I have to hunt my way to find settings that I previously accessed.

9) We had a few issues with the HelpDesk 6 involving rules, queues, and notifications being off.  I had never worked with that system before (I inherited it), yet was able to do in two days what it has taken more than a couple of weeks to do in SD.

Yes, the workflow can do a lot of things, but if there's no training provided, plan for a few weeks to play around with it. If you can, hire someone to set it up. 

dfrancis's picture

We're still going strong on a non-Symantec solution.  The rules in the solution were easy to set up but there wasn't as much robustness with the criteria you could key off of in HD6.

We also use Workflow for a variety of web forms so I can feel your pain there.  Even with a one-week online-based Workflow training that I attended about a year and a half ago, they don't even scratch the surface of everything the tool can do.


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reecardo's picture

Regarding your forms taking a long time to load... if you have no requirements to translate your forms, you can dump a translation plugin to make the forms load faster. The plugin is loaded at <install>/Shared/translation