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Managing your Microsoft World - Tech Focus November 2009 Part 1 

Posted By:  Alan Le Marquand 
Publish Date: 11/12/2009

The old adage “A watched pot never boils” could be applied to your servers. “A watched server never goes wrong”, that server always decides to doing something right before those critical moments, just as you are leaving for the day, just before the game starts, just as your food arrives, it never does it when you have the console open on the server. The answer to this is to use some form of “early warning system”, something that monitors what’s going on and lets you know when conditions you deem critical occur. So what “early warning systems” are there and when do you use them?

The one thing Microsoft Servers and the applications that run on them do well is that they expose a significant amount of information through event logs and performance logs. This is a double edged sword, while the information is detailed; it’s also isolated to that particular server. To get a full picture of what is going on across all your servers you have to be able to analyse all this information. So a basic “early warning system” can use this built in-functionality for Windows Server 2008 and above (this also includes Windows Vista and Windows 7 and while strictly not Data Center products it could be useful to know). The Event viewer in Windows Server 2008 has the ability to run a task when a specific event occurs, this task could be a script that addresses the event or informs you about the event. This is a simple solution for a small number of servers, and I do mean small number. Remember if you decide to change the task later, you have to modify every server it’s on. The next step up is to use the same task idea, but have it run on one machine only. What makes this machine special is that it is the target in an Event Subscription setup. Here, all the servers can be configured to send events to one machine; this machine in turn can monitor the events and alert you when specific events occur. This is a little more centralized than running tasks on each server.

The above is not really a system management solution; the purpose of the information is to highlight the basics of a system management solution. True solutions, like I’ll come onto next, process the information in the event logs and in performance counters in a way that makes it easy to digest from the outset and they also apply “knowledge” to issues to correct them for you. The “early warning system” should deliver a view of your servers and clients in one console and allow you to correct issues with a few clicks. So let’s look at the two System Center solutions you can use.

If your data center is up to around 30 servers – physical and/or virtual – you can use System Center Essentials 2007. Essentials 2007 is a mid-sized organization solution; it can work in a single Domain environment or a workgroup environment. It provides a single console view that allows you to manage your Windows-based servers, Windows-based clients, applications, services and SNMP-capable network devices.

What if your Data Center is beyond 30 servers? If you are then there is no reason you should expect a less experience than Essentials 2007 provides. You have much the same requirements as a mid-size organization, just bigger. For a job this big, then you need Essentials 2007’s bigger brother, System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2. There are a lot of features that both Essentials 2007 and SCOM 2007 R2 share to deliver a management experience and cost saving experience.

In both products you have a single console that is designed to deliver information clearly and quickly. When there is a problem, the console clearly identifies the issue and can suggest remediation actions. The way the system decides what actions can be take is based on information that is contained in Management Packs. These “packs” contain monitoring settings for applications and services. Once imported, Operations Manager or Essentials 2007 immediately begin to monitor objects based on default configurations and thresholds that are set in the management pack. What makes these powerful are the parts contained within the pack, for example, Packs can contain Tasks, which define activities that can be executed by either the agent or the console. (As a side note, there are over 50 management packs for various Microsoft products.)

Operations Manager 2007 R2 also allows you to track service levels, which is becoming increasingly important for IT Operations as they are pressured to provide the services they are providing are available and performing. This also leads to a need for reports; you can create custom reports with Operations Manager 2007 R2 to meet whatever reporting requirement you may need.

Operations Manager 2007 R2 is a power tool, some thought should be given into how exactly to deploy it. To help there is a Solution Accelerator called the Infrastructure Planning and Deployment (IPD) Guide, if the guide seems a bit much to start with, the is also a Deployment Webcast that can provide some useful insights into what worked, as well as what didn't, when deploying Operations Manager 2007 into different environments. Likewise if you are under the 30 server limit that allows you to use Essentials 2007, there is a Deployment Webcast that will walk you through the processes for deploying Essentials 2007 in different network environments.

In the next post I’ll cover how to specifically manage Hyper-V and your virtual machine infrastructure.