System Center Operations Manager: Microsoft’s Monitoring Solution, by Natascia Heil

System Center Operations Manager: Microsoft’s Monitoring Solution, by Natascia Heil

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Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2012 R2 will be released within the next months and can already be previewed. I thought it was time for me to do a general review of this product based on my experience. Please note that this is only my perspective as a customer and has no intention to give a complete overview of the functionality.

I’ve been doing server monitoring for 10 years now – initially with NetIQ AppManager – and since the end of 2009, with Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2. Now I’m using System Center Operations Manager 2012. I also checked other tools from HP, BMC, IBM before we moved to Operations Manager. So why did we select it?

First of all: It was cheaper than the solution we had and than the other tools we evaluated, with nearly the same functionality (there are always small differences). It had a centralized console and not that many components, and it was easy to administer. I especially liked the possibility to use PowerShell for administration and scripting. And we already used System Center Configuration Manager in our environment, so it was only a small step to extend the System Center suite here.

When we implemented System Center Operations Manager, it only supported a few other operating systems besides Microsoft Windows. This has changed within the last years. But the strength remains the same. In addition, the System Center product is now on the same launch cycle as Windows Server, and it looks like SQL Server will also be on the same schedule. So the integration and support with Microsoft enterprise software is very high.

One main difference compared to NetIQ AppManager was that you only needed to install one agent, and all other components got deployed through the management packs. So you did not (and still don’t) need to install agents for Active Directory, SQL Server or other products. That was always hard to maintain with NetIQ AppManager. And perhaps the biggest difference was and is—System Center Operations Manager is stable! That sounds weird but that fact broke the neck of AppManager in our environment. You need to trust your monitoring solution. If the trust is gone, then you do not need the tool anymore.

Another difference in Operations Manager was that creating custom monitoring with your own management packs was well documented and relatively easy to do directly within the console or in more details with the 2007 R2 Authoring Console or XML. That has changed in Operations Manager 2012; the Authoring Console is gone and replaced by Visual Studio. It was a pain at the beginning, but is getting better every month (with more options in Visual Studio and better documentation).

I also liked the great community on the Internet. It has a lot of very good information besides the official documentation and is growing every day. It is really hard to stay up to date with knowledge, especially when you see how often Microsoft now launches new versions or provides rollup updates.

Microsoft has implemented a lot of new functionality into Operations Manager within the last years. They focused on implementing .Net APM monitoring (bought from Avicode), restructuring and improving network monitoring, implementing the Global Services Monitor, Windows Azure and System Center Advisor. The downside is that network monitoring, in particular, brought up problems for existing customers who had used this functionality before because the management packs had to be rewritten. The documentation is this area still needs improvement.

Besides all this new functionality and implemented break fixes I – and definitely a lot of other customers – am still missing some basic updates, like for the Maintenance Mode. There is no integrated solution to set the maintenance mode directly from the agent or schedule it on a recurring basis. Yes, there are a lot of community options (see also my option) and there is a Reskit tool for it, but nothing in the standard product.

Operations Manager also has some other functionality I want to mention here. For example,  Agentless Exception Monitoring (AEM ) lets you centrally collect and monitor application exceptions. (AEM was formerly known as Dr. Watson alerts.) Another one is Audit Collection Services (ACS) for central log collection. We do not use these two features, and I think there are not a lot companies that utilize it, but I want to note that they are available and can be implemented.

The real power of System Center is the integration between the System Center components and all other Microsoft products. The Microsoft management packs for Operations Manager are free, and a lot of other vendors provide integration.

Microsoft and the Private Cloud

Microsoft is pushing the Private Cloud idea with System Center. I think System Center is a great toolset for this, with its integration between the components, and Private Cloud is a future-oriented vision. But most customers are not ready for it yet. We are still stuck in the old server-oriented administration and monitoring processes. It will take some more years to see this change in real life. Currently the Private Cloud functionality is mainly used by ISPs.

Microsoft provided the required basis for the Private Cloud with the change of the System Center licensing. When you start with System Center, you get the whole suite now and since you have the licenses for all products, why shouldn’t you start to try and test all products? It is as if you buy a car and get 5 more cars for free. Would you leave them unused only because you have to pay for the gas?

The review reflects my experience with System Center Operations Manager. I hope my views are helpful to other systems administrators.

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  • Nice review. Always like to hear positive feedback on SCOM.

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