Spectre and Meltdown, and the newly coined category of speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities, have created new challenge for workspace administrators—namely, the challenge of being able to report on an enterprise scale, quantify performance impacts and mitigate negative effects. A colleague of mine wrote specifically about the performance challenges in “Meltdown and Spectre – Minimize impact and avoid performance problems.”
As the full details have emerged and early patches from Intel, Microsoft and others were released—and in some cases with mixed performance and usability results—the full extent of the work ahead is still difficult to get your arms around. Whether virtual or physical, Microsoft, VMware or Citrix based, desktop or server, the challenges associated with managing these vulnerabilities will be with us for some time.
In this post I’d like to share a few ways Liquidware is helping to move the ball in the right direction and highlight both new and ongoing features we are planning within our monitoring and diagnostics solution, Stratusphere UX. Broadly, these efforts will fall into three categories: Spectre and Meltdown reporting, user experience and performance monitoring, and Process Optimization.
Spectre and Meltdown Reporting
With the most recent update to Stratusphere UX (6.0.2), we’ve added a new Spectre Meltdown Patch Remediation Status for Windows 10 Machines—note that we’ll be adding support for previous versions of Windows as details become available from Microsoft and others. Reporting is the first phase in your approach; having dependable and actionable information is the best first-step you can take in your remediation efforts.
By default, this Stratusphere UX report provides detail on Machine Name, Operating System Name and Version, CID Key version, CPU information, and whether the relevant patches from Microsoft are currently applied. As with all reporting in Stratusphere UX, this report can be run on machine groups and is available as an Excel file and as a PDF, and can be scheduled to run automatically.
User Experience and Performance Monitoring
There has been much ado made about performance degradation in the context of Spectre and Meltdown patching. Our own tests show the number to vary based on several variables. Regardless, being able to quantify this degradation is important—both to limit ‘the-sky-is-falling’ user complaints and as a means to weigh the decision-making options surrounding patching, not patching, or perhaps replacing under-performing desktop hardware.
Stratusphere UX provides numerous visibility options to examine CPU performance; by machine, Windows version, user, by group, applications, etc. The solution offers the ability to visually compare before and after (patching) metrics and easily quantify both CPU characteristics and overall user experience.
Liquidware recently released a Process Optimization feature with Stratusphere UX, which intelligently optimizes CPU resources. In the context of Spectre/Meltdown, this feature lessens the negative performance effects of patching. Where appropriate, the feature is also able to increase the base priority of in-focus application to ensure they are given CPU preference.
Process elevation increases application user experience, which will also decrease help desk calls for slow and non-responding applications. Overall, this feature minimizes risk to user productivity and allows Spectre and Meltdown-affected systems to enjoy longevity and usefulness without immediate hardware and resource updates.
In the screen shot above, Stratusphere UX Process Optimization increases user experience by ensuring resources are available to “in focus” applications. Notice the base priority of Visio has been increased while other priorities have been adjusted from ‘Normal’ to ‘Low.’
Stratusphere UX continues the trend of lowering the barrier of entry for the monitoring, diagnostics, and optimization of end user computing environments and workspaces. And in the case of Spectre and Meltdown, we’ve provided you with some benefit in terms of managing the challenge of being able to report on an enterprise scale, quantify performance impacts and mitigate negative effects. We appreciate the challenges faced by all of you; and we continue to do our part to ensure you are able to deliver optimal end user experience. Please let us know how we’re doing. Give us a shout—we’d really love to hear about your challenges and uses for Stratusphere UX.