Tips for building a scalable enterprise deployment of Tableau (Tableau Conference 2018)

Here’s my talk from Tableau Conference 2018 in New Orleans.

Check out the presentation here

UBS | Tips for building a scalable enterprise deployment of Tableau

So, you’ve deployed Tableau and have 100 users? Are you ready for that 100 to become 1,000 users? What about 10,000? Tableau is a great tool and can spread like a virus. Join this session, led by Paul—who’s grown his Tableau Centre of Excellence from zero to 13,000 users, while maintaining a solid, affordable deployment with an engaged user base and dynamic community. Learn top tips for scaling your service, such as: scaling your infrastructure, monitoring performance, capacity, organizing your team and support, and more.

Speaker(s):
Paul Banoub, UBS
Content Type: Breakout Session
Level: Intermediate
Track: Enablement and Adoption
Advertisements

Our Tableau centre of excellence: Managing an Enterprise deployment of Tableau (Tableau Conference 2017)

Hi – been asked for this video a few times. It’s my talk from Tableau Conference 2017.

Check out the presentation here

UBS: Our Tableau centre of excellence: Managing an Enterprise deployment of Tableau

At UBS we run a global Tableau Centre of Excellence, supporting 10k users across the business and IT. Over the last 3 years we have built a reputation as one of the most dynamic, well-run and user-focused IT services in the firm. In this session you will learn how we:
– Implemented and rolled out the infrastructure & application
– Manage upgrades & demand
– Run multiple training programs for users & execs
– Monitor performance, availability & capacity
– Run a dynamic, fun community of Tableau enthusiasts
– Work with the vendor to contribute to product evolution

This session will provide you with many practical tips and tricks to take back to your own organisations to enhance your deployments of Tableau.

This is part of the financial services track.

Speaker:
Paul Banoub, UBS
Content Type: Breakout
Level: Intermediate
Track: Enablement & Adoption
Tags: Financial Services

How To Set Up Your Tableau Server Environments

Hi,

Guess what this post is about – yes TABLE CALCULATIONS…. haha. No chance. Talk to Jonathan Drummey about those. This is of course yet more info that I hope will help you guys set up a dream Enterprise Tableau deployment.

Today we are gonna talk about Environments – i.e. what Tableau environments should you create in your organisation to give your team the best chance of success and keep your lovely users happy?

As always, I’m not saying this is THE way to do it. There are tons of great setups out there. I’ll just tell you what we have. Feel free to suggest better methods in the comments.

 

Environments for your users

This section is concerned with environments that you will provide for your Tableau users to do their work. Typically this will follow the standard Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) environment definitions, but there are a few things you can do to add extra options for your users.

These are the environments our users have at their disposal:

  • Production – The main business & user facing environment. Content published here is authoritative, follows best practice (hopefully) and is actively supported.
  • Testing – aka UAT. Generally used for final testing of uploaded content
  • Development – The environment where content is first shared as part of the development process.
  • Scratch – An extra environment for content that doesn’t need environment management. E.g. User wants to temporarily share content with a couple of colleagues.

Providing these environments gives users crucial options and flexibility. Your Tableau service will most likely serve many different business areas and teams, each with different practices for content development and release management. Some teams will rigorously follow Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC) processes, creating content in development, promoting to User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and then eventually to Production. Other teams are totally happy to change content directly in Production, as and when they feel like it.

Crucially we don’t mandate what our users do, it’s a self-service model and so long as they follow their own due-diligence and governance procedures then that’s cool with me. The important thing is that we give them options to work with Tableau in the way that they want. If they break anything then they know it’s down to them.

The scratch environment is an interesting concept. It started with good intentions but realistically not many people are using it. So it looks like we might bin that.

Note that we use Tableau sites to segregate our environments.

 

Environments for your team

This is different from the above user-facing environments. These are the environments that your team uses for the service you provide. Obviously all this costs money in terms of hardware procurement and usage, depending on the spec you choose.

  • Production – Main environment that serves your users. In our environment this also includes the UAT, Development & Scratch sites for users – but we class it all as production. That might seem odd, but remember that many teams will be development teams, and to them the development site / area is their equivalent of production. So if the development site is down then they can’t work.
  • Disaster Recovery (DR) – For use in the event of a Production outage that can’t be easily restored. Exact same spec as Production. Totally identical, so that config can be restored and this server can be used as Production. You’ll need to make sure this environment gets the same upgrades as your Production environment.
  • UAT – This is UAT for my team. If we want to make a change to Production, it gets final testing here. This environment is also the exact same spec as Production to ensure an accurate test. If it fails here then it’s likely to fail in Production as well. We use UAT for testing maintenance releases, config changes and other potentially disruptive non-Tableau related changes to the server. Additionally, we make this environment available to users for a couple of weeks UAT prior to releasing new versions to production.
  • Engineering – Lower spec than prod & UAT. For testing the latest available release from Tableau. That is likely to be a higher version than production. Is useful for spotting bugs in new versions or confirming that bug-fixes work.
  • Beta Test – We are proud to be part of Tableau’s pre-release testing audience. We use this server to test releases in the Beta programme. Lower spec than engineering. To the point that the server only just meets the minimum requirements.
  • Alpha Test – We use this to test the alpha releases or any extra work we may be doing with developers at Tableau. We love to be involved in the genesis of new functionality.

So that’s what we are lucky enough to have. It’s not perfect but it allows us to give our users a ton of flexibility in how they use Tableau, and also my own team always has a place to test new releases, plan upgrades and help Tableau with their pre-release programmes.

Interested to see what the community has in terms of environments. Let me know in the comments. Remember there are a load of other posts on this blog about Enterprise Tableau considerations.

Cheers, Paul

How To Train Your Tableau Users

Hello there,

More tips coming to help you build that dream Tableau Server setup in your global Enterprise…. This time we focus on training.

Training is a critical subject. It won’t take long before someone asks you about your strategy or what you offer so you’ll need to ensure you have a professional sounding answer. Here’s what I offer my users. Hopefully some of this will be useful.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.46.07

Training gets pride of place on our community site

General Considerations

Before I get into the specific offerings there are a few things you need to consider.

 

Branding is Critical!

So before I describe what we offer, you’ll notice that we have snappy names for each of these offerings. It’s not just “Tableau Training”. Much of Tableau’s success is down to stellar marketing and branding – take “Tableau Dr.” for example.

So make sure you think about what you are offering, how it will be perceived and how you can maximise adoption. A memorable and consistent name is key here. Each offering also has a nice-looking one pager in our Sharepoint slide library and an appropriate user-facing page / description on our community site so that we can give people all the info at a moments notice. The more effort you put into branding the better things will be.

You’ll also find that any of these offerings are easily transferable to teams / services that may be related to your area so there are a ton of collaboration opportunities here.

 

Consider the Timezones

If you’re like me then you’ll have users all over the globe. That means timezone aggro. You’ll generally need to double up most of your offerings. We are based in London so we have an early session for Asia/Pacific and an afternoon session for Europe/Africa/USA. Users will really appreciate this extra effort.

 

Don’t Worry About Attendance

It’s important not to get fixated on how many people are attending your sessions. Sometimes we get 3 people, sometimes we get dozens. Don’t worry about it. Training 3 people is better than none. And often the smaller sessions have better engagement.

 

Manage the Schedule, Don’t Let it Manage You!

You’re gonna get a LOT of requests for training. Make sure you control the schedule. Don’t be scared to tell users when the next scheduled session is and that they can join it. Don’t be scheduling things on demand of users or you’ll lose control completely. If training is regular and consistent then users will settle into a pattern and you’ll be able to manage your team’s time much more efficiently.

 

Track your Results

Training gets a lot of focus with senior management. You (or your manager) will get asked plenty about how many people you’re training and from what business area / region they are.

As we are all data people it’s much better to SHOW the execs the data rather than tell them you’re just “doing loads of training”. We have several Tableau vizzes that track the attendance at each of our training offerings. We then blend that with staff / hierarchy data to allow detailed reporting on all of the modules. That makes a much better impression.

For example just checking our viz now I can see that my team has done 545 Tableau Dr. Sessions this year, covering 277 different individuals. That’s almost 550 man hours of training on Dr. Sessions alone. Right there, evidenced and visualised. That makes a much bigger impression with the folks at the top.

unnamed

Tracking our training…

Don’t Get Lazy!

All this training can be a real time-burner. I’m sure some of you are thinking why don’t you just record the sessions and chuck the video online. And we get asked that. But never under-estimate the value of Instructor-Led sessions over videos. Our sessions are interactive, dynamic, enjoyable and make the users feel valued. They can be funny, and go in different directions according to the particular vibe in play. So don’t cave in to laziness, make sure the sessions happen and that they have that human touch.

So those are the general things to be aware of. I’ll now describe the specific options we have for training at my organisation.

 

Specific Training Offerings

Tableau Self-Learning Pipeline

I love self learning. Getting stuck into a manual, book or video. Or just firing up Tableau and seeing where it takes me. And you’ll get a lot of users that are the same. It’s always great to allow the self-learners to flourish, and it has the added benefit of not using your team resources.

You’ll get asked these questions hundreds of times, so make sure that you have all the relevant materials easily accessible on your community page.

  • What is Tableau?
  • How do I get Tableau?
  • How much does Tableau cost?
  • How can I get started with Tableau?

Our 101 page is top of the Community site in a super easy-to-find location. We refer our users to

This is generally more than enough for your average self-learner to get stuck into.

 

Create a Training Hierarchy

Users operate at different levels of ability and interest. So it is important that your training caters for that. It also looks great if you can demonstrate an end to end understanding of training. In addition to the self-learning pipeline, we offer the following.

 

Tableau Desktop Training Syllabus

This is my main training programme for Tableau Desktop users. It consists of 7 modules, each conducted once a month, with a session in the morning to hit APAC users and one in the afternoon to cover EMEA/USA users.

  • Module 1 – Introduction to Tableau
  • Module 2 – Data Visualisation
  • Module 3 – Table Calculations
  • Module 4 – Blending & Joining
  • Module 5 – Creating Effective Dashboards
  • Module 6 – Performance & Troubleshooting
  • Module 7 – Using Tableau at THIS ORGANISATION
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.41.58

Our training syllabus

Content is self-explanatory from the headings, but module 7 may seem odd. This is actually a pretty important consideration in large organisations where no two Tableau deployments will be the same. There will be organisation-specific nuances or considerations in many aspects of using Tableau and our place is no different. Much of this focuses on purchasing / onboarding, getting started, and change / incident management procedures, often a source of confusion for users.

Tableau Dr. Sessions

images

The Doc is in!

Ok so you all know these. The famous one-on-one consultancy time that Tableau offer at conferences. That’s all this really is, but we find that our users love the dedicated time to discuss whatever Tableau related topics they want. Many often come back for repeated sessions and some are almost data hypochondriacs!

The Dr. Sessions have been a real success. People at high-pressure organisations like Investment Banks, especially senior folk, really understand and appreciate the importance of that dedicated, individual, focused consultancy time. Time is the most precious commodity in such an organisation and you’ll find that you get some serious kudos for these.

When you’re at conference and see people gagging for Tableau Dr. Sessions, imagine what that would be like at your own organisation. Super-cool aint it?

 

Tableau In Focus

This offering is really cool. These are monthly Webinar sessions, again one for APAC timezone and one for EMEA/USA timezone. They are conducted by experts from Tableau, tailored to UBS requirements.

Subjects have included

  • Five Ways to Improve Dashboard Performance
  • Data Blending & Joining
  • Table Calculations
  • Deep Dive into LOD Expressions
  • Advanced Mapping
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.43.15

Tableau In Focus

Again, the fact Tableau are prepared to conduct these for us not only gives us valuable extra learning offerings but makes my users feel even more special than I know they are! We get great feedback, with users thrilled that we have such a good relationship with Tableau. That all gives them confidence in our service, and that is critical.

 

Tableau Executive Track

OK so this is an interesting one. We get a lot of senior folk asking for Tableau training. That’s very encouraging, obviously, but your average MD isn’t gonna sit through an hour Webex on LOD calcs.

So – what we do is our “Tableau Executive Track”. That’s a 1hr session, ideally in person with my laptop where we plan to cover the following.

  • Overview of the Tableau Service
  • Introduction to the Tableau Server
  • Showcase of current use across the business
  • Demo of custom admin views & introspection
  • How to build basic views in Desktop

In reality we often don’t get 30 seconds into this agenda before it is taken somewhere else, at the subject’s discretion. That’s cool – it’s what senior folk do and you need to be prepared for it. But it’s also important to come armed with an agenda to show you have a plan. Don’t just rock up and say “whadda you wanna know?” – you’ll get eaten alive.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.43.24

Tableau Sr. Management Training

This is a really popular training offering, with many seniors having attended or planning to attend. It shows we are putting a great deal of thought into our training and that we are flexible enough to adapt to the variety of users we have.

 

Content Specific Training

Sometimes we get asked, “I’ve been sent this dashboard but I have no idea how to use it”. Well that’s NOT something we assist with. Our service is totally self-serve and it’s the responsibility of the dashboard author to

  • Ensure they have followed best practice
  • Include clear instructions for dashboard use or a link to a page that has such information
  • Ensure that their audience is briefed and aware of the dashboard usage

This is NOT down to us. We spend a lot of time policing content to make sure that authors are mindful of this as a dashboard that is hard to understand can adversely affect perception of the tool / service as a whole.

 

Wrap Up

So that’s what we offer. Aint it a lot? And boy is it important to the success of your service. Training can make or break a service and between you, me and the whole Internet – a lack of training can be used as an excuse for not engaging, or not performing. It’s rare but it happens.

Training your users should be enjoyable. If you find that it is becoming a pain then take a step back, consult some of your power users and modify your offerings.

In the time I was proof-reading this post the excellent Carl Allchin, who implemented much of our training when on site with us, posted some of his own thoughts on the Information Lab blog. Check them out. Also a big thanks to Andy Pick who has delivered dozens of sessions for our users.

As always I’m happy to jump on a call and discuss any of this. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a training session to deliver…

Cheers, Paul

How to PROPERLY Back Up Your Tableau Server

Hello there,

Whadda ya mean you didn't take a backup?

Whadda ya mean you didn’t take a backup?

Time for another post about Tableau Server and how to get the best out of it in a large-scale, enterprise deployment situation.

Today we are focusing on how to PROPERLY back up your Tableau Server installation.

Like many aspects of enterprise services, this is a simple concept, but one that if you get wrong, can spell disaster. It always amazes me how many people / organisations don’t do this properly or even at all.

You know how annoyed you get when your mum tells you she isn’t backing up all her family photos – well that’s what I get like when I see IT systems neglecting backups.

Note this post refers to a standalone Tableau installation with a manual failover to DR. We don’t yet have a clustered environment. I’ll update the post with considerations when we implement that.

 

What’s a backup?

Seems a simple question, and there are a number of different types of backups that you can take, each useful in different situations. Here’s what I’ve got in place:

 

 

Full System Backup

This is a complete dump of the server filesystems to disk (or tape – there’s still plenty of tape backup infra out there). Most likely it will be one of the big vendor products that look like the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Your full system backup should be set up by your server team when you get your machine. However, the principle of “trust no-one” applies here as always and it’s up to you to check the following:

  • Have the backups been set up at all?
  • Are they backing up all the filesystems? – Many times I’ve seen that only operating system partition backups have been set up, and I’ve had to request the application partitions be included.
  • Have the backups been succeeding? – Get your backup team to send you a report every month of backup completion. They don’t always succeed and you probably won’t be told that there has been a failure.
  • If you need to perform a restore, do you know the process and how long does it take?

If you get the okay on that then you’re good. But only as an insurance policy. Full system backups can take a long time to restore, and may only be weekly so you could end up losing data even if these are in place. It’s up to you to ensure you’re covered rather than rely on other teams doing things correctly.

 

 

Nightly Tableau Backup

There’s no excuse for not having this in place. It’s easy to set up and it is a case of when rather than if it saves your ass.

The tabadmin backup command gets Tableau Server to dump all content & configuration to a single .tsbak file. You don’t have to stop the server to do this and it doesn’t seem to impact performance too much while it is running so this should be the first backup you configure.

A simple script like this will do the job.

@echo OFF
set Binpath="D:\Program Files\Tableau\Tableau Server\9.0\bin"
set Backuppath="D:\Program Files\Tableau\Backups\nightly"
echo %date% %time%: *** Housekeeping started ***

tabadmin backup %Backuppath%\ts_backup_ -d
timeout 5

tabadmin cleanup

move "D:\Program Files\Tableau\Backups\nightly\*" \\\tableau_shr\backups\nightly\
echo %date% %time%: *** Housekeeping completed ***

The tabadmin backup command does the actual work here, dumping everything to a file. Always a good idea to run tabadmin cleanup afterwards to remove logs etc.

We run this script at a quiet time for the server (not that there is one in my global environment). We use the Windows Scheduler on the server but I’d recommend using a decent scheduler like Autosys or whatever your enterprise standard is as WTS is pretty poor.

IMPORTANT: You may have noticed the move command at the end there. That takes our newly created backup file and moves it OFF THE SERVER to a share drive accessible by my backup server. Why? Well what happens if you lose the server and your backup file is on it? You may as well have no backup. So move it somewhere else.

Update – this tip actually saved my ass this week when we lost our entire VM cluster (er.. hardware team – *cough* – what’s going on??) . We were able to failover to the backup server successfully. Going forward we will be soon implementing Tableau’s High Availability capability.

Do make sure you rotate your backup files with a script that deletes the old files or your share drive will fill up. I keep 4 days worth, just in case the current file is somehow corrupted – rare but can happen.

 

 

Weekly Restart

You may know I’m not a fan of running enterprise apps on Windows. I prefer Linux for a number of reasons that I’m not going to go into here. I know many users want Tableau Server on Linux, and the amazing Tamas Foldi has only gone and written it himself – so one day we may see it.

Anyway, with Windows apps I always build in a weekly application restart. In our case every Saturday morning. That involves a server reboot (to clean out any OS related temp stuff), application restart and a tabadmin cleanup. The tabadmin cleanup with the server stopped has the added bonus of clearing out the temp files (doesn’t happen when the server is running). These files can get pretty big so worth clearing out.

 

 

Virtual Machine Snapshots

If you’re running on a VM then you may be able to utilise the VM snapshot facility. Contact your VM admins for details. I’ve not needed to implement this but I know some that do. VM snapshots are super handy.

Do be aware that Tableau don’t seem to support this though..

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 19.11.48

 

 

Config File Backup

Sometimes it’s handy to just back up your Tableau Server config. I’ve got a script that grabs all the .yml and template files in my Server directory, zips them up and moves them off the server. Pretty useful to refer back to old config settings if you need to. Make sure you include workgroup.yml.

If you’re being really good then you’ll be checking your config files into a revision control repo like SVN.

 

Site Specific Backups

Tableau Server allows you to backup per site. This doesn’t give me much extra but I know in orgs that have lots of sites, or a site per team / business unit it can be very handy.

One thing that isn’t great about exporting a site is that the site is locked and inaccessible as the export is taking place. See Toby Erkson’s blog for more info on exporting a site.

 

 

Backup File Size & Duration

As your environment grows you’ll need to be mindful of the size of your backup file. Mine is around 16GB and takes well over an hour to write. Takes about 25 mins to restore. You’ll need to understand those numbers as your system matures.

unnamed

Backup files can get pretty big

Another variable that can affect backup time is the specification of your primary server. If your primary is low spec then you’re gonna get a longer time to write a backup. I don’t have any stats on that but I know it is true. Contact Jeff Mills of Tableau if you want more info on Weak Primaries & backup times.

 

 

Backup Your Logs

Less important this, but handy to do on a weekly basis is to zip up your logs. We have a much better solution for logfile management using Splunk – you’ll see a blog about that in the future.

 

 

The Most Important Bit – TEST YOUR BACKUPS

OK so you’re backing up like a man / woman possessed? Fine. You’re only as good as your last restore. So TEST your backups periodically. Files get corrupted and you don’t want to be discovering that your only backup is broken when you need it.

OK that’s it. Backups can save your life – don’t ignore them. Paranoia is king in IT!

Cheers, Paul

How to manage Tableau upgrades in an Enterprise environment

Hi,

Been a while since my last post. Been exceptionally busy at work due to widespread adoption of Tableau at my organisation. Usage has doubled in the last 3 months and we now have thousands of users to keep happy. That takes some doing, hence the blog hiatus.

Anyway, time to continue the series on Tableau as an IT Service, with a subject that I’m asked about a lot – just how do you manage your Tableau upgrades in an Enterprise environment?

This is actually a pretty big subject, especially in an Enterprise setup. There’s no perfect way to do it but hopefully some of these tips will be useful.

 

Section 1 – Pre-Upgrade Considerations

To upgrade or not? That is the question

Obviously you’ll need to make some sort of decision as to whether or not you actually need to upgrade. Each time you upgrade a production system you risk impacting stability, introducing bugs or human error. It also needs testing, planning and eats resources and time. So if there’s no good reason to upgrade, then don’t.

Tableau release new versions at a pretty impressive cadence, generally once a month for ‘maintenance’ releases. So for each newly advertised release, take note of the following in order to make your decision.

  • Compelling functionality –  New features are entering the product all the time. Determine what may be useful to your user base.
  • Key bug fixes – Each new version will squash a few bugs. If there’s one that is affecting your users then it may be prudent to upgrade and quieten the noise. Remember that your upgrade may introduce new issues. Take note of the known issues section in the release notes.

Both of these are fully documented in the Release Notes. Review them carefully each time Tableau announce a new version. There are occasions where bug fixes are not announced in the release notes but your account manager will make you aware of those.

Also be aware that new versions might also introduce new bugs / issues. We have had situations where we have been stable, decided to upgrade and then spent the next few months battling newly introduced issues to the point that we probably should have stayed on the older version.

Be aware of compatibility issues

I hear a lot of complaints about compatibility issues between Server and Desktop. So it’s important to be aware of the behaviour between versions. Get this wrong and you may be in a position where users have overwritten content originally created in an older version and don’t have a back up to roll back to. If you are crossing major versions (8 -> 9) for example, then you’ll certainly need to upgrade the Server and Desktops at the same time.

Top tip – it is possible to hack the xml of a workbook to change the version and rescue the situation, provided no edits have been made to the content. The ever-so-talented Jen Vaughan (@butterflystoryexplains all here.

For more details see this article.

Don’t upgrade to version zero

Most risk averse IT managers (like me) will resist the temptation to jump right into that new shiny Vx.0 release the day it comes out. Version zero releases of any software are notorious for bugs and issues, that’s just the nature of software development. So at my org we always let at least one maintenance release slide by and instead go to the Vx.0.1 or Vx.0.2 release.

It can be hard to resist temptation, especially when your users are clamouring for that shiny new version but if there are major bugs in that zero release, then best let someone else find out about them rather than you.

Caveat: This doesn’t always work of course. We waited for 9.0.2 and that ended up being one of the buggier releases. Oh the irony.

 

Understand the new version resource demands

This is important. You may be rocking away on your existing version, confident that your hardware can satisfy the software. But then you upgrade, and all of a sudden that new version eats up double the RAM or batters your CPU. You didn’t see that coming.

For version 9 Tableau released an updated scalability document. Annoyingly it was released quite a while after V9 went live. I was expecting a comfortable read but noticed phrases like the following, which were pretty alarming.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 23.03.31

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 23.05.20

Whaaaat?! That led to some discussions with Tableau tech folks (thanks Meredith!) and some fevered testing and all turned out to be ok. But those figures took us by surprise for sure. Don’t be in a position where you upgrade and then suddenly hit a capacity issue that your older version didn’t have.

 

Test it!

Let’s say you upgrade. And it goes wrong. One of the first questions you’ll get asked is “Did you test this?”. You really don’t want to be answering “no” to that question.

You should have at least one non-production environment that you can run tests on. Due to the complex nature of Tableau it is impossible to test every aspect of functionality but you should at least be able to cover a good number of scenarios. You may also not be able to simulate your production load on your test environment but it will be better than nothing. You may find the load testing utility tabjolt handy here. Check Russell Christopher’s guide to tabjolt.

I have the following environments to play with. This gives me a lot of options.

  • Production – Main user facing environment
  • BCP – Disaster recovery environment in case production fails
  • UAT – A mirror of production. Same spec
  • Engineering – Lower spec, used to test the latest version available from the vendor
  • Beta – Even lower spec, used for testing beta versions
  • Alpha – for testing the alpha versions

Ensure that the tests you conduct are consistent, repeatable and that the outcomes are recorded. We use a tool called Quality Centre and the tests are performed by my level 2 support folks. This gives consistency and frees time for my main analysts.

Verify your licence details

Double check your licence maintenance end date for both Server and Desktop. If you’re out of maintenance then you won’t be able to use the application after you upgrade. I’ve seen licence issues way too many times with many applications after an upgrade. You won’t want to be trying to contact your account manager on a weekend to sort out a licence issue.

Opinion – IMHO I would much prefer it if applications didn’t crap out due to licence expiration. In 99% of cases there’s some paperwork misunderstanding that is easily sorted by your account manager. By all means let the application hit you with some warnings and also alert the vendor, but it shouldn’t mean a loss of service.

 

Your upgrade process & strategy

I’m not going to go into it here as it’s a full on subject in itself but make sure you follow your organisation’s Change Management procedure to the letter. Failure to follow change processes is generally a dismissible offence in most Enterprises.

Make sure you advertise your strategy for upgrades and maintenance to your users. You’ll get asked, so ensure this is specified in your Service Document. You may even have standard maintenance windows (e.g. on a weekend) where you can reserve the right to take down the system. Again, make sure that is documented and your users are aware.

 

Section 2 – The Upgrade

Create a package

Most enterprises will use some form of package deployment tool / team to perform the actual deployment of new software. That’s pretty handy. I have over 500 installations of desktop to support and we need to ensure they all get upgraded at the same time. So I can create a software bundle, send to the packaging team and they will then schedule and deploy.

This gives you the chance to include those little extras in your package to give your users the best experience. Here’s what’s in our Tableau Desktop package.

  • The installer exe file
  • A sample “Getting Started” workbook with tips, best practices & help.
  • Preferences.tps file containing customised colour pallettes
  • Most used drivers (Oracle, MySQL etc)

I would love to be able to customise the “Discover” pane to point to some of my internal resources but it doesn’t seem to be possible. Boo.

We also supply custom instructions for the packaging team, such as running the installer with a flag / registry update to disable the auto-update feature that has been implemented in the upcoming 9.1 release. A really baaaaad idea for Enterprise deployments.

One thing to be aware of with packaging is that it can take a long time. From request to deployment, the typical time at my org is an insane 7 weeks! By which time another version is out. We are hoping to speed that up a bit obviously.

Communicate to the max

You can’t over communicate any potential disruption to your service. Make sure a broadcast message goes to your users via whatever system your firm uses. And it doesn’t hurt to follow-up with your power users / senior stakeholders with a personal reminder that work is planned.

Take a backup

Whadda ya mean you didn't take a backup?

Whadda ya mean you didn’t take a backup?

Tableau is one of the easiest applications to upgrade that I’ve worked with. A simple uninstall / reinstall does the trick. But don’t take that for granted – make sure you take a manual backup prior to your upgrade. If you’re not doing this as a matter of principle then you’ll be getting a visit from the boys. And they won’t have had their dinner.

Handily, the uninstall process takes a backup anyway but don’t rely on that, take your own.

You should also back up all your .yml configuration files and ensure you know what each setting is. Tableau should preserve these settings during the upgrade but just in case it doesn’t then it’s handy to have a copy to refer back to.

Server specific considerations

When you uninstall Tableau Server it backs up the content and the settings in the main yml configuration files. That’s cool, but do remember that if you’ve changed any of the other config files then they will be overwritten and you’ll have to make the changes again. For example we change the webserver timeout settings in the file “\Tableau\Tableau Server\data\tabsvc\config\httpd\httpd.conf.templ” – that gets blown away by an uninstall.

There may also be other settings in the Postgres db that you may have modified using tabadmin. Not all are retained from what I can see. Note I’m still researching this so not 100% sure of the behaviour.

Finally make sure you understand any changes to the Tableau Postgres DB schema in the new versions. It has generally remained pretty consistent but if any tables or fields are renamed then that may well break your Custom Admin Views.

Section 3 – Post upgrade

Test it! Again!

Not all issues come to light immediately. Perform testing, keep vigilant and liaise with your users closely in the next few days to understand if the application is behaving as it should be.

Ask for help!

Tableau Upgrade Assistance

Tableau Upgrade Assistance

If all this sounds a bit daunting and you’d like to get assistance then Tableau offer an “upgrade assistance” programme which might be worth looking at. Talk to your account manager for more information.

There are also other guides around. Have a look at this one from our good friends at Interworks.

That’s it for this post. As I said it’s a big subject so do post comments if you feel I’ve missed anything.

Happy upgrading! Cheers, Paul

How to Monitor Your Tableau Server – Part 2 – Tableau Server Application Monitoring

Hello there,

Following on from Part 1 of this series. Here’s part 2, how to monitor your Tableau Server application itself.

Now I don’t know server in as much detail as some of the Jedi-level experts out there so I’m totally open to different ways of doing things. My recommendations here are based as much on general IT service monitoring best practice as they are on Tableau specifics. If I’ve missed something then do point it out – hoping the community can help me expand this article. 

On that subject – I’m delighted to have been able to collaborate with Craig Bloodworth (@craigbloodworth), Mark Jackson (@ugamarkj) & Chris Schultz (@nalyticsatwork) on this. Thanks for your invaluable contributions guys.

Are we ok? That’s the ubiquitous question on an IT service manager’s mind. And it can be a real worry. But the fact is that there are a lot of tools and methods you can employ to cut down that worry and stress or even eliminate it.

 

Service Availability

Simply put, is your Tableau Server up or down? Tableau offer a “Server Status” view, but in my opinion that’s pretty useless as you’re never going to be staring at it for the whole day. I’m also not sure how quickly it updates or responds to the system activity. It never seems to change when I’m looking at it.

status

Tableau’s Default Server ‘Monitor’

So it’s clear you’ll need something else to give you that early warning of any issues.

xml

Tableau Server Monitor in xml

Btw you can also get this in xml output. Could be handy.

 

Process Monitoring (Enterprise Process)

procs

Main Tableau Server Processes (click to enlarge)

These are the key processes (running programs) that are required for Tableau Server to function. If one of these has crashed they you’ll likely have a problem.

So referring back to Part 1, I talked about enterprise monitoring tools used to monitor your Tableau infrastructure. Well you should be able to use these tools to set up application monitoring. That’s monitoring of your own application, that you define (and ideally configure) that produces alerts that come to you or your own support team (via the enterprise process).

You should set up monitoring rules to alert on zero instances of each of these processes. The alerts need to be classed as a “Critical” severity so that they hit the alert list of the Level 1 team (non-critical alerts may not be visible). Make sure the monitoring rules apply 24 x 7.

Important – Make sure that the Level 1 & 2 teams that will get these alerts know exactly what to do with them. These teams will probably have a document or Runbook that you’ll need to fill out which will give them instructions as to what the alert means and who they should call. This needs to be crystal clear as they’ll usually follow it to the letter.

Process Monitoring (Paranoid Android Process)

marvin_660

“I knew that alert would get lost. Don’t say I didn’t warn you..”

So even if you set up the above monitoring using the Enterprise Process, then you may have issues. That process can break, meaning that your alert may take up to 30 mins to get to you (or a lot longer!).

Therefore I always encourage being as paranoid as possible when it comes to monitoring.

Luckily there are a number of things you can do to add an extra level to your monitoring.

 

Use a Simple Script

miker

Monitor Tableau Server without the GUI

Mike Roberts of Interworks has written a simple guide to scripting up a basic process check based on the default Tableau Server monitor xml output mentioned above. You can run that script using Windows Task Scheduler and get an email if any of the processes are detected to be down.

 

 

I don’t use that one, but I do have a very basic Powershell script that I run using Task Scheduler every 5 mins. Does the same thing. It’s based on the following code.

powershell.exe -command "& {if (! (get-process -name postgres -erroraction SilentlyContinue)){Send-MailMessage -SmtpServer '' -from  -To  -Subject 'postgres.exe not running on PROD '}}"

All that does is execute in the background and if the process name (in this example postgres) is not detected by the get-process command then it sends an email to my team. Not foolproof but when combined with the enterprise process then it gives me a better level of protection.

Query the processes via URL

craig

Querying processes via URL

This is a new one on me. Apparently it is possible to query each process by http and get a message back to indicate if the process is ok. Opens up a lot of options for more scripting of remote checks or monitoring of the URLs via third party applications. All adds to the arsenal of monitoring available to the service owner. Many thanks to Craig Bloodworth (@craigbloodworth) of The Information Lab for this tip. You can find more details in this blog post.

The Windows Event Log

By default Windows will log any messages or errors to the Windows Event Log. This can include system and application alerts and is a great source of data regarding system health.

tableau_event_restartingdeadcomponent

Windows Event Log (click to enlarge)

Fire up the Event Viewer (somewhere in administrative tools menu usually) . You should see a number of categories of event on the left, from system stuff to specific application messages. Some will be informational, others downright confusing, but there will be some gold dust in there that you need to be mindful of.

For example – the image (right) shows that Tableau server has been restarting the backgrounder process due to a crash. That’s not critical to know about immediately but I’d sure be interested to understand if it is happening regularly.

There are ways you can export this data automatically and then create a Tableau datasource – we haven’t done that yet but are planning to.

Windows Performance Monitor

perfmon

Windows performance monitor data collector

You can also make use of the inbuilt Windows performance monitor to collect and export data regarding the performance of the Tableau processes on your server. We set up a collector and constructed a basic Server Health Dashboard.

 

 

 

server health

Server Health Dashboard based on Windows perf mon stats

It’s a good idea to subscribe to these dashboards to get them dropped in your inbox at the start and end of your production day.

The details for setting this up are on this Tableau KB article.

 

 

Tableau Log File Monitoring

To me the Tableau logs seem like a real mystery. There’s clearly a ton of information in there, but even the Tableau support folk don’t seem to know what’s important and what’s junk. There are also a lot of messages that seem like red-herrings and some that are just plain confusing.

It’s a shame that there isn’t more clarity on which strings and messages we should pay attention to, at the moment I’m just guessing.

In terms of alerting, the enterprise monitoring tool you use will have an equivalent log scraping functionality, just as it does for process monitoring. This will involve you telling the tool which text to alert on. Fairly simple. You can also write your own script in much the same way as the powershell process monitoring script mentioned earlier in this post.

I get really annoyed with the state of the Tableau Server logs. They’re a total mess. There are multiple locations, and there’s little consistency. I’ve not had time to analyse them properly but it seems like some entries contain either DEBUG / INFO / ERROR or FATAL which would give an indication of whether you should trigger an alert based on the occurrence. It doesn’t seem consistent though.

Ideally I’d like every log entry from every component to start with a timestamp, then either of these severity indicators. Would make it so easy.

 

Log analysis using Splunk

splunkIf you’ve not seen Splunk then you should take a look. It’s a great tool for aggregating and analysing masses of log file data and is in widespread use at many large enterprises. I don’t use it yet but it’s in the pipeline.

Another bit of collaboration – Chris Schultz has written a guide to using Splunk to analyse Tableau Server logs. It’s on his new blog here.

 

Monitoring Tableau Server Activity

Monthly Server Stats

A wealth of info is available from the Postgres DB

So you’ll probably know that Tableau has an internal Postgres database. You may not know that you can interrogate this database easily and pull out pure gold! It’s an absolute treasure trove of information about your server performance, usage and pretty much anything else.

I’m not going to elaborate on it here as my good friend Mark Jackson (@ugamarkj) has written a comprehensive guide on it here.

This is critical ammo to the Tableau Service manager and making these dashboards available to your user community will get you some serious brownie points, especially with senior management. Most applications don’t have the ability to provide this level of detail, Tableau does, and it’s a great feature.

Other Resources

As mentioned there are a ton of ways to do this and there are many more guides out there. Take a look at some of these links.

http://www.alansmitheepresents.org/2014/02/tableau-server-performance-monitoring.html
http://kb.tableausoftware.com/articles/knowledgebase/automation-checking-server-status
 

OK that’s it for this part. Hopefully that’s given you an idea of what is possible in terms of monitoring the Tableau Server application. Got any ideas or methods of your own, then do share!

Cheers, Paul