How to initiate IM / Skype / Chat / LastFM session from a Tableau dashboard

Top Tips

Hello everyone. Before I start this I have to admit I nicked the idea completely from Dave Hart of Interworks, who came up with it when he was working with us. But he doesn’t blog or tweet so that leaves me to claim all the glory… Actually I’m just passing on his superior knowledge..

Many of you probably use mailto: actions in your Tableau dashboards, to kick off a mail to someone that might be highlighted in a viz etc. And you might also have some sort of internal IM system like MS Lync or something like that.

Well you can just as easily initiate a chat session to one or multiple recipients using Tableau.

This uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to open the session in whatever IM client is in use. You just need to open Tableau Server like this

tabadmin set vizqlserver.url_scheme_whitelist sip
tabadmin set vizqlserver.url_scheme_whitelist im
tabadmin restart

sip: allows Lync to lookup people using their email address
im: tells Lync to open it as a group chat

This is an example of an URI Scheme. There are dozens of others, such as callto: which tells mobile phones to call as well as facetime: and of course mailto:. 

Once you’ve opened the server up you can then create a Tableau action to fire off the command. Note that if you try and IM yourself it will usually default to email.

im:<sip:kelly.smith@company.com>
im:<sip:kelly.smith@company.com><sip:james.anderson@company.com>
im:<sip:kelly.smith@company.com><sip:james.anderson@company.com><sip:rob.jones@company.com>

When it comes to the action Tableau won’t let you use multiple items without specifying a delimiter so what you do is use “><” as the delimiter and then put [url encoded] “<” and “>” around the data field.

Anyway I posted this on the Tableau Forum and there’s a workbook attached to that post so you should be able to download it and see how you get on. I reckon there’s some potentially way cool stuff possible using URI schemes. There’s also lastfm:, spotify: and skype: amongst them – so much fun to be had here I think.

Forum post: http://community.tableausoftware.com/thread/155429

Regards, Paul

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Talkin’ bout a Revolution…

Hello, I trust you’re all ok,

There’s something stressing me about Tableau. It might not be the most obvious but I’ll have a go at describing it anyway.

See I demo Tableau Server all the time. Like daily. To some pretty senior people that I really want to impress. These demos often involve clicking around the server views to show some of the user content. Trouble is some of my user content isn’t that great. It can be badly designed and slow to load – that’s a separate issue that my team is working on.

So I click on the view and then, there it is…..

30x30REV

Spin, spin, spin. Will it be 2 seconds or 20? Will it even load at all? The room falls quiet as all eyes settle on the spinning circle. The audience is almost hypnotised. The tension grows, until the view pops into life (or occasionally doesn’t). It’s the moment I dread as I know everyone is staring at the circle, waiting. Seems like it makes 5 seconds feel like 50.

So here are my issues with this.

  • Positioning – The spinner is bang in the middle of the screen, you can’t avoid it. It grabs your attention and also the attention of the room. Everyone starts watching it whether they want to or not.
  • Information – The spinner doesn’t give any indication of the progress of the operation. I’m not sure how it can, given the nature of the underlying queries but it’s still a problem.
  • Inconsistency – Often the spin rate slows slightly just prior to completion. But sometimes it speeds up again. So I think it’s about to complete, then it carries on. I know it’s just an animated gif but it still seems to occur occasionally.
  • Errors – I’ve had occasions when the connection is lost with the server for whatever reason, but the circle keeps going. That’s very misleading.

I think everyone accepts that applications which perform loading operations will generally have some sort of indicator. But I think the spinning circle can be improved.

facebook_standard_loading_animation

Users blamed the system

facebook_custom_loading_animation

Users blamed the app

The psychology of waiting is certainly an interesting subject. This post refers to a study conducted by Facebook that seems to suggest the type of indicator used can affect how the user perceives the problem. Admittedly the post doesn’t provide an accurate source for this but I thought it interesting nonetheless.

.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 22.57.05

There are many recommendations to making the waiting game feel less of a drag

There’s plenty of chat on how to make that waiting game feel less of a drag to users. This post from UXMovement.com has a number of suggestions such as

  • Use backwards moving ribbings
  • Increase number of pulsations
  • Accelerate progress, avoid pauses

Also take a look at this article by Chris Harrison. The associated video shows the theory in action and there’s a detailed study of the theories available.

.

I wonder how much thought Tableau have given the format and positioning of the spinning circle as well as the science of perceived performance as opposed to actual performance. I think the consensus is that a progress bar is the best option but I know that won’t happen as Tableau can’t easily know the duration of a query. However, there are plenty of recommendations out there that may be worth considering. Why not make use of every trick in the book to make users feel they’re getting a faster experience?

There has been some chat on the Tableau forums about this (thanks @johncmunoz). It seems such an insignificant component but why not add as much polish to the tool as possible? Anyway, I’m no expert on this so maybe someone who knows the subject can supply more info.

Until then I’ll just think of appropriate 90’s synth-pop as the circle spins.

Regards, Paul

2 minutes with… Dan Montgomery of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

Hello everyone.

Really pleased to have Dan on this month’s show. Without further ado…

VN: Thrilled to speak to you, how are you doing?

259065_10100567987350728_5848874_oThank you very much! I’m doing well. It’s a sunny day in San Francisco, California. So after this interview and some additional Tableau presentation prep-work for Slalom and the San Francisco Bay Area Tableau User Group, I’ll probably go for a run.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

I am Dan Montgomery, aka @danrmonty, an Information Management & Analytics Consultant for Slalom Consulting, Tableau’s North American Partner of the Year for 2013. I’m part of Slalom’s group that works to help organizations leverage the power of data to provide insight and awareness to problems they are experiencing or don’t even know are problems yet. Any time I get to use Tableau on those projects, I get really excited because it is probably my favorite data analysis tool, but my work history comes from an SAP BW and Microsoft BI stack background, so I’m pretty proficient in those tools as well.

VN: How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

A few years ago, I don’t remember how long, my boss told me to look into this tool he had heard about called Tableau. I didn’t have any training or preparation, so it was a very slow pickup initially, but pretty soon I was showing off different ways to look at and ‘play’ with data that tools we currently had on our team couldn’t do.

When I joined Slalom in 2012 in Chicago, where I’m originally from, I was only one of a handful of people that used Tableau and started to evangelize its use in that office, while also connecting with our other office that were using Tableau more prominently.

These days, I am using Tableau in my client work and my personal work. I’ll create PoC’s using Tableau to show clients the potential of Tableau on their own data, as well as lead server architecture and dashboard development for clients. Tableau is a great partnership for Slalom; clients really appreciate the quick turnaround time from design to execution, access their information from multiple devices, and being able to quickly share findings with anyone else.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

Slalom’s business model offers both technology and business consulting, one of the big reasons I wanted to work there. This means that we can start working with a client to help a specific need, but as time goes on and needs change, Slalom usually has a service that can support the changing environment. Tableau plays an integral role on both sides of that equation. Sometimes our IM&A group is brought in to do data analysis in Tableau, which results in the need for business process improvements or more organizational effectiveness, which are services we offer.

Other times, it happens in reverse: we can be doing program management work or infrastructure analysis and then Tableau can help take the results and present it fun and interactive way to our clients, which may lead to more IM&A work or selling Tableau software to the client. Tableau not only makes a great tool to have in our IM&A arsenal, but also becomes a way to compliment and transition the services we sell.

VN: How have you seen Tableau make an impact on businesses?

Tableau has a way of making people excited or engaged in data in ways that were never possible before. Hands off mangers can have content delivered to them in a number of flexible ways (email, mobile, web) and the dashboards can be designed to highlight a couple of key metrics or run the gambit of KPI’s. Hands on managers who used to have a series of analysts produce a series of reports and spreadsheets are now able to connect and drive the analysis themselves. Lastly, developers have a means to quickly respond to requests from said managers, while also share data sources they create with other developers to help manage a single source of truth.

We’re currently living in a data revolution and tools like Tableau are allowing people to stay up to speed.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

Oh my, so much. I really was living in a bubble for years when it came to Tableau development. Because I was one of the few people in my work circles that knew it, I was essentially a big fish in a small pond. Nelson Davis, an incredible Tableau developer and friend of mine, basically schooled me one day last fall, and from that moment on I’ve opened my eyes to the Tableau community and what people are able to do with the software.

There are too many to list, but these are my favorite developers to follow

  • Anya A’hern – Put simply, she makes Tableau art.
  • Kelly Martin – Never a lesson in simplicity that I can’t learn from Kelly.
  • Ramon Martinez – He takes incredibly complicated ideas and makes them digestible.
  • Mark Jackson – He is always pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Tableau and data visualization
  • Ben Jones, Matt Francis, Ryan Sleeper, Allen Walker, Paul Banoub, Jewel Loree,
  • Andy Kriebel – Continuing to put great content into the community and actively supporting others on twitter
  • John Mathis, Peter Gilks, Nelson Davis, Steven Carter – My Slalom partners in crime who regularly challenge and inspire me.
  • Karunaker Molugu – On the rise, just got his first VOTD and represents Chicago, my home town.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

Respect for data and governance of data is the area I see as being a huge area that will be impactful in the near future. For years, data was ‘guarded’ simply by the fact that if it was in a database, only SQL developers knew how to access to it. Reporting tools like Tableau make data easier to access and interact with, and data storage platforms are making data available closer and closer to real time while also storing larger and larger datasets. ‘Turning everyone loose’ on data will not lead to more insight, and in fact may drive everyone further away from the truth.

Data isn’t just the numbers and text, it also includes data standards for how to represent information. This includes color schemes (what colors indicates good vs bad, progress vs decline, is this a gradient or is it stepped color), images (what are the accepted logos for different business units or vendors), fonts, and so many more areas that, as Tableau developers know, really become the measure of consistency and usability. Managing proper data definitions, hierarchies, calculated measures, etc. becomes more difficult and demands more attention, but the result is an empowered workforce that removes single points of failure and ensures consistent messages, regardless of the audience.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

1175648_10102743701092948_1357087646_nI never understood running when I lived in Chicago. Even though Chicago has an incredible running community, there’s only about 3-4 months out of the year where the weather isn’t trying to freeze you to death or melt you into a puddle. Now that I’m in California, where it’s between 50 and 65 F every day, I find I’ve really enjoyed getting into running. I’m actually running in a 191 mile relay the weekend of my birthday (May 2nd Slalom teams running to support organ donation. You can learn more and donate here if you would like. On top of that, I play competitive flag football to live a piece of my dream to play for the Chicago Bears.

VN: Thanks for your time Dan, see you soon.

Thank you for having me, Paul. I appreciate the support you’ve given me since becoming a part of the Tableau community and this was a great honor. Take care.

Awesome stuff. Tune in next time for more insight into the minds of the great and the good of data viz.

Cheers, Paul

2 minutes with… Ryan Sleeper of Evolytics

2 mins with title2

Greetings Viz fans!

Now this is an exciting one for me. Been trying to get Ryan on board for ages. Anyway, after weeks of ever-increasing bribes he has finally cracked and gets the 2 minutes with treatment.. Enjoy.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

profile-picRS: Hi Paul – it was so great to meet you in person in Seattle! Thank you for having me on.I’m Ryan Sleeper, Director of Data Visualization & Analysis at Evolytics.

VN: Tell me about your org

RS: Evolytics is a full-service digital analytics consultancy in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Our team does anything and everything related to digital analytics including measurement planning, web analytics implementation, testing, and optimization. I come in at the end and help the team and clients understand the data, primarily by using Tableau to help illustrate the stories in the data.

VN: How do you personally use Tableau?

RS: At work, a typical project begins with me using Tableau to do ‘discovery’ analytics. This is the phase where I don’t necessarily know what I am looking for and I am just digging in the data looking for insights related to a client’s business question. Most of this will not be seen by anybody but me. Once I have found the insights / indicators that can be used to measure the success of a client’s objective, the project moves to more of a ‘descriptive’ analytics task, where I create dashboards that help monitor our progress to goals. Occasionally, I also get the opportunity to create self-serve reporting for clients. These are essentially apps that end users can interact with to find their own stories in the data. This is more in-depth than a dashboard, but does not require the client to build anything themselves. I enjoy the challenge of designing these interactive reports with user experience in mind.

In my personal life, I enjoy trying to answer sports questions that I am curious about and sharing the results using Tableau Public.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

RS: As a full-service analytics company, we’ve always offered reporting and analysis services, but before Tableau, they were more of an included, ‘value-add’ service. Tableau adds so much value to our reporting and analysis to the point where we can now have engagements specifically for Tableau, whether it be training or reporting via Tableau Server.

Tableau has also helped us provide better insights for our clients by reducing the time it takes us to find them.

VN: You have been an outspoken proponent of Tableau Public – what do you like most about it?

RS: I simply would not be as far along as I am without Tableau Public. Much fewer community connections, no Iron Viz, no guest posts at Tableau, probably no Kansas City Tableau User Group, and the list goes on. Tableau Public is my sandbox for developing new Tableau skills that I may not necessarily have the time to risk trying at work. Tableau Public also has a built in community that is there to provide feedback, help answer questions, and encourage you to keep working at it.

VN: What does the Tableau community mean to you and who do you learn from?

RS: I am constantly amazed by the Tableau community’s willingness to help each other. The Tableau community has played a huge role in my personal Tableau development, and not only have they taught me a great deal, but they’ve inspired me to pay it forward whenever I have the chance.

There are too many in the community to name, but I am inspired every single day by the effort, art, and selflessness that the community puts out. I look at nearly every single Viz of the Day and keep up with several blogs, including this one. Chances are if you’ve had a Viz of the Day or been on 2 Minutes, I have learned something from you.

If I had to pick one viz ‘mentor’, it would be Ben Jones of Tableau and dataremixed.com. Ben really pushed me to share my content and keep innovating when I was just getting started on Tableau Public. I also feel like I grew up in my Tableau life with Anya A’Hearn, Kelly Martin, and Ramon Martinez, all of whom I co-presented with during my first Tableau Conference presentation in 2013 and whose work I have studied for a long time.

VN: You’re a fellow TUG leader. Have you got any tips for running a successful TUG?

RS: The KC TUG is relatively new, just now closing in our one-year anniversary, but I have learned a few things so far. My biggest tip is to keep the content non-intimidating for beginners. I have found that at least half of our attendees are just getting started with Tableau and even just evaluating whether or not they want to use Tableau. I recommend including at least one lesson at each of your meetings that your entire audience can feel like they can begin using on their own as soon as they get back to the office.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

RS: My wife and I really prioritize travel / experiencing different cultures in our lives, and while I am mainly an American football / basketball / baseball guy, I collect soccer (football) scarves from each country I visit. So this year’s Tableau Conference speaker gift, a #Data14 scarf in Seattle’s trademark navy and green, literally could not have been better for me. Some of my favorite scarves include FC Barcelona, Wellington Phoenix, and Morocco’s national team – who I saw at the 1994 World Cup as a boy in 1994. I’ll also be in your neck of the woods in May to pick up my first Premier League scarf.

Awesome stuff thanks a lot Ryan. Don’t forget to give me a shout when you’re over in May – I’ll round up some London data folks and we can show you around.

Until next time… 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

How to Monitor Your Tableau Server – Part 1 – Infrastructure Monitoring

Hello there,

I hope you are all well and recovered from #data14. What a great event that was.

I’m gonna get a bit serious on yo now. It’s time to talk monitoring.

For a Tableau service manager (or any IT service for that matter), the worst situation that can possibly occur is getting a phone call from your users to tell you that your service is down. At best you’ll look stupid, at worst it will cost you credibility and is a sure-fire way to destroy user confidence in your service.

So how do you avoid this? You could not have any outages – well you can forget that, it aint gonna happen. You’ll get issues so get ready for them. What you can do is monitor your service big time. That way you’ll get the heads up and you can answer that phone call with a “yep we know, we’ve just raised an incident ticket and we are on it” – or better still, get to the incident and fix it before users even notice! Remember that effective incident management can actually gain you plus points from your user base, and senior management.

The problem with monitoring is that it’s BORING. I should know I did it for 12 years! But it’s also essential! Get it right and you’ll be making your life a lot easier. It also traditionally doesn’t get a whole lot of investment thrown its way as there’s no immediate tangible business benefit.

Monitoring falls into these categories. This is likely to take me more than one post to explain and it’s a big subject so I’ll doubtless miss some bits out. As always, I’m happy to connect offline and explain.

  • Infrastructure monitoring
  • Application monitoring
  • Performance monitoring
  • Capacity monitoring
  • User experience monitoring

Infrastructure Monitoring

As the name suggests this is all about monitoring of your infrastructure. That’s your hardware and network, peripherals and components of the platform your Tableau Server application is running on.

Chances are the infrastructure will be owned by an IT team. You’ll need a great relationship with these folks so if you haven’t then start buying them some doughnuts now. From what I can see Tableau is often brought into organisations by business users and that then antagonizes IT, meaning this relationship isn’t always the best. That’s a separate conversation however.

 

How does infrastructure monitoring work?

Chances are your monitoring team will have decided on an enterprise monitoring tool for the whole organisation. It will probably take the form of a central server, receiving alerts from an agent that is deployed as standard on each server in the estate.

NagiosSome examples of commonly used monitoring tools include the following. I’ve got a fondness for ITRS Geneos myself but am not going to go into the relative merits of each tool. You won’t have a choice what tool is used in your org anyway.

So what happens? Well the agent will have a set of monitoring “rules” that it adheres to. These will take the form of something like “check the disk space on partition X, every Y minutes and trigger an alert if greater than Z percentage full”. That’s all the agent does. Polls the server for process availability, disk space, memory usage etc on a scheduled frequency and triggers an alert to the central server if the condition is breached. Those parameters should be fully configurable.

consoleThe central server will then display the alert on an event console such as this one (pictured). Alerts will be given a criticality such as minor, major or critical. The alert console will be viewed by a support team, usually an offshore Level 1 team that provides an initial triage of the alert. They may then pass it onto a Level 2 team for potential remediation, or they may also pass it on to Level 3 – the main support team. That’s the usual process in a big organisation.

So what’s the issue with that? Well there’s the time factor for one. It can sometimes take 20 – 30 mins for an alert to get to the person that matters. That’s obviously not great. Also there’s the sheer volume of alerts, a big organisation can be dealing with tens of thousands of active alerts a week, many of them junk. That increases the risk of your alert being missed. There are also a lot of break points in the process, and sometimes alerts just go missing due to lost packets, network issues etc. It happens. On the whole the process works though.

 

Who’s responsible and what for?

Your infra teams are 100% responsible for the monitoring of these components. This encompasses

  • Server availability (ICMP ping)
  • CPU usage
  • Memory usage
  • Disk space (operating system partitions only)
  • Network throughput / availability

trustnooneThey’ll tell you not to worry about this. They’ll tell you that any alerts will go to their support teams and they’ll be on it should they detect an issue. My advice – don’t trust anyone. There have been many times where I’ve had an issue and lo and behold the monitoring hasn’t been configured properly, or hasn’t even been set up at all. Or there’s been a bad break in the process somewhere. That aint cool.

 

So what should I do?

Take these steps to keep your infra teams on their toes. They’re providing you a platform, you are entitled to ask. They might not like it, but stick to your guns – you’ll be the one who gets it in the neck if your Tableau Server goes down.

  • Ask for a breakdown of the infra monitoring thresholds – What’s the polling cycle for alerts? What thresholds are being monitored? Who decided them and why?
  • Ask for a process flow – What happens when an alert is generated? Where does it go? How long does it take for someone to get on it? How is root cause followed up?
  • Ask to have visibility of the infra changes – If there are changes going on to the environment that might affect your server, make sure you get notified. Make sure you attend the appropriate change management meetings so you know what’s going on.
  • Ask for a regular report on server performance – There will probably be a tool on the server that logs time series data on server performance. That should be accessible to you as well as them. Chuck the data into Tableau and make it available to your users.
  • Understand the infra team SLA – It’s important to realise that you are a customer of the infra teams. Ask them for a Service Catalogue document for the service that they are providing. Understand the SLA that they’re operating to. Don’t be out-of-order, but if you find they’re not giving you good service then don’t be scared to wave the SLA.
  • Ask for a report of successful backups – Just as important as monitoring
  • Ask for the ICMP ping stats – How many packets get lost in communications with your Tableau server? How many times does it drop off the network?
  • Be nice – The infra teams in big orgs have a tough job. They’ll have no money and little resource. Cut them some slack and don’t be a prat if they let you down occasionally. It happens.

Start with that lot. Your users will also love it if you can make this information available to them. Again, it inspires confidence that you know what you’re doing.

OK that’s it for infrastructure monitoring. Next up I’ll dive into how you monitor your Tableau Server application.

Cheers, Paul

 

2 minutes with… Matt Lutton of Goodwill Education Initiatives

2 mins with title2

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

mattName is Matt Lutton – I am located in Indianapolis, IN, and am working as a BI Analyst with Goodwill Education Initiatives and INIschools. I use Tableau in some shape or form, on a daily basis.

VN: Tell me about your organization

ML: Goodwill Education Initiatives is a not-for-profit organization formed by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc. The Indiana Network of Independent Schools is a service that operates under the nonprofit designation of Goodwill Education Initiatives. The purpose of INIschools is to offer its partner or network schools a host of high-quality services that enable school administrators to improve cost efficiency and student achievement. This, in turn, helps its network schools achieve sustainability and improve academic performance.

I build and publish Tableau Desktop dashboards for a number of K-12 schools, utilizing Tableau Server for distribution.

VN: How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

ML: I was a Computer/Technology teacher in the Indianapolis area, and also worked in IT support in my previous positions as an educator. GEI had an opportunity for a BI Analyst utilizing Tableau Software, and I applied, interviewed, got the job and BAM — I needed to learn a new tool, very quickly. That is how I got started.

Today, I am using Tableau Desktop to generate more complex dashboards, often using multiple data sources, to tell stories, discover interesting finds in the data I work with, and offer dashboards that communicate data clearly to our users. The type of data we are working with includes many of the things you’d find in a typical SIS (Student Information System): Attendance Records, Gradebooks, Credits Earned, Graduates, Enrollments, Demographics, Term Reviews, Weekly Student and Teacher Productivity, etc. Our work focuses on three main levels of dashboard access: Teachers, Guidance Counselors, and Administrators.

In my spare time, I use Tableau to help others learn about the tool, by participating heavily on the Tableau Forums. I hope to spend more time over the next year creating more interesting visualizations to share with the Tableau community at large.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

ML: Everyone and anyone who participates! I’ve learned a great deal by following the work (and blog posts) of awesome folks like Jonathan Drummey, Noah Salvaterra, Joe Mako, Andy Kriebel, Joshua Milligan, and I love your IT take on things as well.

hansI learn regularly from many other folks on the Tableau Forums, as well, including (but not limited to) Shawn Wallwork, Ville Tyrväinen, Jim Wahl, Toby Erkson, Patrick Van Der Hyde, Russell Christopher, and many, many more I am sure I am forgetting. I’d love to thank the entire generous community of Tableau users now: thank you all!

VN: You do tons of work on the Tableau forums. What makes you so keen to help others?

ML: I guess this goes back to what I set out to do when I was a undergrad – teach. Regardless of what I am doing, I want teaching and learning to be a large part of my life. But to be completely honest, the Forums really have helped fulfill two main purposes for me: helping others is one; but learning from others is equally important to me. The other part of using the Forums is it can be a lot of fun, and it allows you to get outside of yourself and put yourself in someone else’s shoes – I like that, and I have often said that it is a welcome distraction for me, at times.

VN: You’ve only recently entrenched yourself Tableau community, particularly outside the Forums. What are your early impressions?

ML: Looking back, I joined the Tableau Forums on May 21, 2013 – and have been active within that small subset of the Tableau Community ever since. I quickly found that there were VERY knowledgeable members that were not only extremely bright and adept with Tableau, but also extremely generous and gracious with their time and expertise. My early impressions have been solidified as I have continued to learn and grow – the Tableau Community is amazing, and I have never experienced a user-community quite like it.

TC14 really opened my eyes to the larger community around Tableau. I hope to connect with more users, and share what I can – and continue to learn from folks inside and outside the Forums.

VN: You got the honour of being named a Zen Master this year. What does that mean to you?

ML: It means a lot to me, personally, and it has helped push me toward continuing to learn and teach others in the community. Tableau says a Zen Master must demonstrate three competencies: Master, Teacher, and Collaborator. I believe my involvement on the Tableau Community Forums was likely the most important factor in being part of this year’s group

I certainly feel I have a lot to learn before I can really call myself a “master” of Tableau. The title has pushed me to try and live up to the example set by others. I am looking for more opportunities to collaborate with other users in the community, and certainly hope to continue learning new ways to teach concepts within Tableau to others.

Aside from all that, being named a Zen Master means that Tableau sees value in what I have done with their products, and their confidence in me has helped boost my own confidence in myself. Thank you, Tableau!

The one thing being a ZM does NOT signify is expertise across the entire product line. No one ZM knows everything about Tableau, although there are several who I feel are pretty close… but I think we all agree as a group that the largest myth around being a ZM is that you are suddenly an expert on everything Tableau. We all have various skill sets, and utilize them in different ways. Some of us use Tableau Server, and some do not. Some of us write SQL daily, and others do not. So, if you’re reading this, just be aware that we do not know everything – and I certainly feel as if I have a lot of catching up to do, particularly in terms of choosing a proper path to a solution in Tableau.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

guitarML: I love guitars. I have a small, but interesting, repertoire of gear.

 

 

 

That’s awesome, thanks Matt. Took way longer than 2 minutes but that’s a good thing!

See you soon for more 2 (ish) minutes with…

Paul