Near Real-Time Business Platform and Application Health Monitoring with Windows Phone and the Cloud
Published: February 2012
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Microsoft Information Technology improved how IT administrators, managers, and executives monitor the health of business-critical platforms and applications by developing a Windows Phone app that receives data through the cloud in near real-time.
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As the group responsible for maintaining Microsoft's corporate network and infrastructure, Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) is tasked with monitoring all critical events in the company's production systems, including the Enterprise Commerce IT (ECIT) group's platforms and applications. This article describes Microsoft IT's development of a new system health monitoring solution that utilizes their existing Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 servers and incorporates a Windows Azure-based cloud layer to push data out to Windows Phones in near real-time.
Dealing with a Flood of Data
Microsoft IT had been using Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to monitor the Enterprise Commerce IT (ECIT) group's platforms and applications, but managers and executives were receiving all types of Operations Manager email alerts. Not only did this have the potential of flooding their mailboxes with unwanted data, but it was difficult for people to easily identify which email contained important information.
Microsoft IT realized they needed to develop a new solution that could convert the broad spectrum of Operations Manager data into actionable information. In particular, they needed an intuitive end user application that could filter the data and provide different screens that offered at-a-glance, business-process summary information to managers and executives, as well as drill-down details for IT administrators. Furthermore, if the monitoring application could be designed for Windows Phone, people could monitor system status and receive near real-time alerts while away from their desks.
Delivering Data to Windows Phones through the Cloud
Microsoft IT designed a new solution that could receive data from their existing Operations Manager 2007 R2 servers that were monitoring ECIT's business-critical processes. The new solution utilizes three main components:
Back end: Microsoft IT developed new SQL Server APIs that expose the data from their existing on-premises Operations Manager 2007 R2 environment. The APIs extract the data and push it into a cloud-based middle tier.
Middle tier: Microsoft IT designed a cloud-based middle-tier component that uses Windows Azure to receive the appropriate Operations Manager monitoring data and pushes it out to a Windows Phone app.
Windows Phone app: Microsoft IT developed a new Windows Phone app called ECIT Monitor that receives the Operations Manager system status information from the middle tier over a secure network connection and displays it in a set of intuitive screens. More details about ECIT Monitor are provided in the following section.
Providing an Intuitive End User Experience
The new ECIT Monitor Windows Phone app offers near real-time health monitoring for a number of ECIT business processes, including fulfillment, channel compensation, ordering, entitlements, and more. Figure 1 displays some of the app's screens, which administrators use to monitor server status, and management can view the overall business processes at a glance.
Figure 1. ECIT Monitor provides IT administrators and managers with at-a-glance actionable process and application health information.
The highlighted screens offer users the following information:
Biz Process: Displays an at-a-glance, overall status indicator for managers and executives to monitor entire business processes, such as Entitlements, Ordering, and Agreement. The colored indicator next to the business process name indicates whether the entire process is functioning properly (green), has a performance degradation (yellow), or has a server down or critical service outage (red). Managers can also monitor individual applications within a process; in this case, the Partner Portal application within the Entitlements process is flagged with a server down.
Applications: Displays application status. Yellow icons are used in clusters where a single node is down, but the cluster is still functioning. The Application page also provides a link to another screen where IT administrators can review the system (or cluster of systems) that host the application. In this case, the Partner Portal application has an issue as indicated by the yellow icon and flag. Clicking the cluster icon at the right of the Partner Portal entry navigates the user to the Infrastructure screen (see below).
Infrastructure: Lists all the servers involved in running an application. The green, yellow, and red icons help IT administrators quickly identify which server in a cluster is generating errors. In this case, the server XXX.w.006 shows a red "x" icon, indicating a problem. Clicking on the server icon navigates the user to the Error Detail screen (see below).
Error Detail: Displays server status details. In this case, server XXX.w006—a web server for the Partner Portal application—failed to send a heartbeat.
By developing a new Windows Phone app that receives Operations Manager 2007 R2 information from the cloud and displays it in an intuitive interface, Microsoft IT has significantly improved how IT administrators, managers, and executives in the Enterprise Commerce IT (ECIT) group monitor their business-critical systems.
ECIT Monitor's ability to receive data in near real-time and notify personnel even when they are away from their desks has improved Microsoft IT's average Time To Resolution, helping them to consistently meet their service level agreements. Moreover, this new system has enabled Microsoft IT to respond proactively to issues, thereby reducing the percentage of major incidents per number of monitored systems from 130 percent in fiscal year 2010 to a current rate of 21 percent.
ECIT Monitor has become a key tool that the leadership team uses to gain better visibility into the overall health of their business-critical systems. ECIT Monitor's ability to provide at-a-glance status information for an entire business process (such as fulfillment) has freed executives from wading through multiple emails that contain cryptic alert messages. As of February 2012, ECIT Monitor has been deployed to more than 120 IT administrators, managers, and executives worldwide. Microsoft IT expects to see continued worldwide adoption of ECIT Monitor, estimating the number of users to reach 300 by the end of 2012.
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