Zachary Loeber

I eat complexity and am never without a meal.

Powershell: System Report Script Design

In this post I go back and explain some of my reasoning behind decisions I made in the design of an already released script, Get-AssetReport. This was written over a year ago and forgotten about as one of the many unpublished drafts on my blog. The code behind the script I discuss has been upgraded and used in several of my more popular scripts (AD Asset Report, F5 LTM Report, and Lync 2013 Status Report). Some of this content is slightly dated as I’ve since changed some of the coding but the core concepts are the same. Those digging through my crazy work or learning powershell may get some value from this content so I tidied it up a bit and here it is. Cheers!


I finally updated one of my first powershell script releases, the venerable html system report. My updated version is a total rewrite of the first script with several additional benefits such as; multi-runspace asset gathering capabilities, a more modular and extendable design, and new output formatting options (including a responsive design grid layout and export to excel). If I were to summarize this script I’d term it as; “A powershell driven, mostly multi-threaded, system report gathering and rendering script with a high level of customization and beautiful output.”

This set of scripts and functions are still not perfect, but I have at least tried to set the stage for further expansion and development. In fact, this initial release is considered alpha because it is the raw format I tend to start with in my scripts before adding more refined features and better variable handling. The final steps (if I get that far) are to overlay everything with a GUI and I’m very far from that stage of this personal project. But the results have turned out so well thus far that I have decided to release what has already been done up to this point. That is why this is “Part 1”, I intend for this to be just the start of a well rounded systems reporting script to meet several needs.

Design Decisions

I initially looked at the report output from my original script (which was just a re-hacked up report of another author) and was going to re-use a good part of the CSS and code as a baseline to start this new script. But I eventually scrapped just about everything and started rewriting essential portions one at a time. I created a multi-threaded system asset gathering function to pull only the essential WMI information from a remote system. I then did the same for a remote registry gathering function. I took the html driven bar graph portion of the prior code, cleaned it up, made it highly portable, and released it as well.

I then started looking into how I wanted the report to look when completed. I really like this new responsive design fad that is going on (trying to design one web site which dynamically adapts to many devices and screen sizes). And I really think grids are slick. So I found a really good responsive design based grid template with as little reliance on javascript as possible and based the initial report output upon its CSS magic.

Part of the reason I used this particular author’s template is the extremely intuitive manner which he uses DIVs to layout the pages. Essentially you have a container with any number of elements within it to make up the columns. These columns are aptly given class names such as 2_of_3 or 1_of_2 (two thirds of the screen used and 1 half of the screen used respectively). This makes parsing the sections fairly easy so I can dynamically create new containers on the fly. What I do is create a hash with the type of divs which may be used in the report. (I’ve pruned out just the CSS elements for providing 1, 2, and 3 column output even though the template supports many more).

Ok, so now that I know which css template I’m going to use, what other report output formatting might I desire to see? While the fancy responsive design template I’ll be using looks great in a web browser it tends to look sparse and visually unappealing in an outlook email. This is largely because Outlook will render html the same way that Word does, like crap. I mean, it only understands very basic CSS at best. So for every HTML section I’d like to be able to define multiple definitions based on how I decide to render the report output. I again lean on hash tables to make this easier to reference in the code later on:

If I’m rendering the header I would then simply use a single global variable to change how the entire report gets rendered like so:

What else might I like to see in an all purpose html system report generation tool? As I was thinking about this I realized that there are very valid times when you want a report element to either be vertical or horizontal. For instance, a detailed system report might contain 20 properties in the summary which you don’t want spanning across the screen. In these cases I’d like the output to be in a horizontal table. I also may just want a threshold of properties to be reached before the report element automatically converts to a vertical format. So I accounted for the following three states.

  • horizontal = Labels are in the first row
  • vertical = Labels are in the first column
  • dynamic = Report will be horizontal until it reaches a predefined threshold of properties, at which point it will transform and become vertical.

I also may create vastly different reports based on the same data. An example would be a daily troubleshooting report which contains a subset of system information you may want to have in a portal (or sent to your inbox) for daily examination. But I still want to easily create a full documentation report on a whim with the same information in a less filtered state. In order to accomplish this flexibility I accounted for different report types and properties. The resulting hash table looks a bit like this example for the summary portion of a report:

With a structure like this I then can take the same section and re-purpose the data to suit several different reports pretty easily. This also provides a very fast way to change a property name in the report output, add a property to any report, or remove them as well. You simply need a section name to reference as well as your report type.

As long as I load the data to a holding area first I can easily process each property of the data on the fly with this structure like so (note that $AvailableReports is my “holding area”, it contains yet another hash called ‘AllData’ where all the asset data is referenced by asset names as the hash key)

The whole script in all its horrible glory can be found in one huge ps1 file at the technet gallery. While there is still a ways to go towards getting this to a state I’m happy with I’d say it is a good start.