FAQ: Microsoft adds new Windows 10 data collection setting for enterprise only

The new Enhanced (Limited) setting is designed for customers using the Windows Analytics service to plan for Microsoft's semi-annual feature upgrades, deal with monthly upgrades and check Windows 10.

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Microsoft has added a new telemetry setting to the latest upgrade of Windows 10 Enterprise, giving IT staffs another option in deciding what data is sent to Microsoft's servers.

The new setting - Microsoft calls it "Enhanced (Limited)" - is aimed at enterprise customers using the Windows Analytics service to plan for the twice-yearly feature upgrades, monthly security and hotfix updates, and to diagnose Windows 10 device health.

"We're also providing a new setting that limits diagnostic data to the minimum required for Windows Analytics," said Marisa Rogers, the privacy officer in Microsoft's Windows and Devices group, in a post to a company blog back in September.

"You can now set the Windows 10 telemetry data collection level to Enhanced (Limited). This setting enables you to gain actionable insight about devices in your environment without devices reporting all of the data in the Enhanced telemetry level with Windows 10 version 1709 or later," added Yvette O'Meally, a senior program manager, in an Oct. 30 post about System Center Configuration Manager's latest preview build.

We rooted through Microsoft's documentation basement to dig up the goods on this new data-zipped-to-Redmond setting.

What's Windows Analytics? The moniker is a catch-all for, at the moment, three different services: Upgrade Readiness, Update Compliance (in preview) and Device Heath (in preview).

Windows Analytics runs under the Operations Management Suite (OMS) umbrella. OMS, a cloud-based collection of enterprise management tools and services that, at its most expensive, costs $35 per month per node, or device.

The Windows Analytics services, however, are free, because they're considered a benefit of Windows Enterprise licensing. Customers must register for an Azure subscription - even though there will not be charges - and to establish identity, must also provide a credit card. (That last has been a stumbling block for some organizations, such as K-12 schools.)

What kind of insights does Analytics offer? For now, three.

Upgrade Readiness: Just as the title implies, this data-driven service is designed to identify the PCs running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 that are most likely to take a Windows 10 upgrade without big problems. It can also be used to pinpoint those Windows 10 systems that will have the best chance of upgrading to the next feature update, like 1709.

Update Compliance: This gives IT professionals detailed information on the status of Windows 10 PCs regarding all updates, including the security patches Microsoft delivers monthly. Microsoft promoted Update Compliance from beta to what it calls "general availability," aka production-quality, just over two weeks ago when it launched Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, otherwise known as version 1709.

Device Health: Monitors and reports on some of the common problems on the organization's devices, giving IT a chance to take action - even if users aren't logging support calls. It also left beta and shifted to general availability on Oct. 17.

Note: This trio won't be the end of Windows Analytics. Microsoft has already said that it has another pair in the planning stage: "App Reliability" (which pinpoints application failures in an attempt to reduce them) and "Login Health" (to identity sign-in errors).

How is Windows 10's telemetry connected to Analytics? All three of the services provided so far by Analytics are driven by data acquired from the customer's personal computers, which regularly transmit diagnostic and other informational data to Microsoft's servers. Microsoft analyzes the data - it's been mum on exactly how - and returns the results to the customer in the form of a dashboard display.

Remember this, because it's key: Without telemetry, there is no Windows Analytics.

How did Microsoft come up with the new telemetry setting? Good question.

Prior to 1709's release, Windows 10 Enterprise had four telemetry settings: Security, Basic, Enhanced and Full. Documentation for Upgrade Readiness and Update Compliance asserted that devices must have "at least the basic level of telemetry enabled." The newest Analytics module, Device Health, requires Enhanced telemetry at the minimum.

Microsoft essentially split the difference to create something between Basic and Enhanced. The setting was likely created using Basic as the foundation, then added some - but not all - of Enhanced to the pot.

By the way, Microsoft also slaps a much longer name tag on this setting - "Limit Enhanced diagnostic data to the minimum required by Windows Analytics" - so if you come across that, translate it to the shorter "Enhanced (Limited)."

What does the new telemetry level - Enhanced (Limited) - include? Another excellent question; you're really working it!

Windows 10 1709, as O'Meally said, lets IT limit data collection to the minimum required for Analytics.

Microsoft extracts the information listed in this support document, and nothing more, for the new setting. "When enabled, this feature limits the operating system telemetry events included in the Enhanced level to only those described below," the document said.

The 15 general telemetric events Enhanced (Limited) collects include scores of separate informational "fields," ranging from the audio playback duration by an app to login errors made as users try to access a device. Many are meant to give Microsoft "insights into application reliability," a concept key to all three of Windows Analytics offers, but particularly crucial to Update Compliance.

The new setting also collects and transmits crash dumps - one of the things that Device Health clearly requires, since among its tasks, Device Health is supposed to identify "devices that crash frequently, and therefore might need to be rebuilt or replaced." Microsoft said that the collected crash reports are "limited" in the "Windows 10, version 1709 enhanced telemetry events and fields used by Windows Analytics" support document, but did not define the scope of the reports further.

Where can I get more information about Windows Analytics? The best place to start is this portal page.

More information - and less marketing - can be found on Microsoft's TechNet site, beginning with this opening page.

For explanations of Windows 10's telemetry settings, as well as ways individuals and an IT staff can change those settings, start here.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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