Tuesday, May 20, 2014

XenCenter Usability Enhancements [feedly]

XenCenter Usability Enhancements
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XenCenter, the Windows management console for XenServer, needs no introduction. From XenCenter server administrators can perform common operations such as starting, stopping and migrating VMs, managing the XenServer resource pool which hosts those VMs, as well as obtaining an overview of their system and monitoring its overall health status.

Being an intuitive graphical user interface, XenCenter is expected to offer a seamless experience, allowing users to navigate effortlessly through the resources of their system and access vital information easily and in time. Is this always the case though?

How user-friendly is XenCenter?

The XenCenter team contacted a user experience survey among a number of XenDesktop development and test engineers using XenCenter on a daily basis to carry out typical tasks such as creating and configuring VMs, taking VM snapshots and monitoring or troubleshooting VMs. While there were many positive comments, the survey also revealed certain usability problems:

  • The functionality to obtain alternative views of the managed resources is under the drop-down menu above the main tree-view, where many users had not found it.
  • Similarly, the options to perform complex searches on these resources are hidden under a drop-down menu at the top of the Search tab.
  • System notifications are accessible by clicking the button at the top right of the application window and launching the System Alerts dialog, whereas errors generated when XenCenter attempted to carry out a task are in a separate place, on the Logs tab of each resource.
  • It is difficult to obtain an overview of running events and monitoring their status, because it requires iterating through all the managed resources and examining the Logs tab of each one of them.


So, what has changed?

The XenCenter team invested in redesigning the XenCenter interface to address the issues described above and enhance its usability.

The first obvious change is the implementation of the Outlook-style navigation buttons at the left of the application window. The top four buttons, Infrastructure, Objects, Organization Views and Saved Searches, replace the old drop-down menu at the top of the tree-view, offering one-click access to the different views of managed resources and a consistent way of browsing these resources by location, type, attribute or a pre-saved custom filter respectively.


Similarly, working with complex searches on the system resources has been simplified by redesigning the controls of the Search tab, thus increasing the visibility of its different functions and improving the workflow for creation and modification of complex search queries.


Notifications, the last of the new Outlook-style buttons, provides access to a central location where the administrator can obtain an overview of all messages generated by the system and address them in a consistent fashion, while still being able to differentiate between the different type of notifications.

The first of the notification views, Alerts, replaces the old System Alerts dialog and is a powerful interface with capabilities of filtering alerts by severity, date or location, collectively exporting or dismissing alerts, as well as addressing them individually by means of the new action buttons at the right of the list.


It should be noted that notifications on software updates are no longer included in the system alerts, but are now more noticeable by being displayed separately on the second of the notification views, Updates, which replaces the old Check for Updates dialog. In consistence with the alerts view, the new pane offers capabilities of filtering the updates by location or date, as well as one-click initialization of the download and installation process via the new action buttons.


The last of the notifications views, Events, which replaces the Logs tab, is the one-stop pane for viewing and monitoring the status of all the events taking place in the system, regardless of the object selected on one of the other navigation views. The events can be filtered by progress status, location or date, while the convenient action buttons allow among others cancellation of a process in progress and single-click navigation back to the relevant object on the Infrastructure view.


Even if the user is not currently viewing one of the Alerts, Updates or Events panes, new notifications requiring attention are still noticeable thanks to the red blob on the Notifications button, which reports the total number of alerts, updates and error events occurring in the system.

The new interface is great, I want it now!

The redesigned XenCenter is code complete and available within the XenServer Creedence Alpha release.


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