Saturday, May 7, 2016

Monitoring Nutanix with SCOM

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to test drive the beta version of a new management pack about to hit the market from well known solution provider - Comtrade. This new management pack brings deep monitoring of Nutanix converged infrastructure environments into SCOM.

My initial thoughts when asked to take a look at this management pack were mainly based around the fact that I've not had any exposure to Nutanix over here in Ireland - nor have I met any customers or consultants here who have deployed their products and who ultimately, could give me some feedback on them. Sure, I've seen their booths at the various conferences I've attended over the years but I still didn't really have the full picture on what they offer.

I have however, worked with Comtrade on many SCOM engagements over the years and have demo'd and sold their solutions into a lot of happy customers here and across Europe. One such solution (and arguably, the one Comtrade is best known for) is the Citrix Management Pack suite that was recently acquired by Citrix themselves.

With this proven ability to author top quality management packs in the past, I was intrigued to see what they could do with this latest one.

So before I got hands-on with the management pack, I took some time to do a bit of research on Nutanix and get a better understanding of what they offer and who they're competing against.

Who are Nutanix and what do they do?
Listed as a leader alongside vendors like Cisco, EMC, NetApp and HP in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Hyper-Converged Integrated Systems,  Nutanix have a base of approximately 1400 customers spread across most of the major enterprise industry verticals.

Their specialty is integrating server and storage resources into smaller appliances that can then be deployed into your datacenter in a relatively short space of time. Each Nutanix enclosure is referred to as a 'block' and each block can contain between 1 and 4 nodes. As I work a lot with HP kit, I relate this to a similar concept to the HP Blade Systems - where you have a main chassis that can contain different combinations of self-contained blade servers and storage appliances.

Unlike the HP Blade Systems however, Nutanix claim they have a much easier and faster method for scaling up your infrastructure when adding more blocks - along with their own hypervisor (called Acropolis) and management software that adds tiered software defined storage logic to your resource-hungry applications.

Here's an image taken from their website that shows an example of how their software defined storage architecture is put together..

Targeted Workloads
With the tiered software defined storage architecture and application logic that Nutanix have in their appliances, customers running Citrix, SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business workloads seem to be ideal target markets for them.

Comtrade MP for Nutanix
Now that we have an overview of who Nutanix are and what they do, it's time to take a look at the management pack that Comtrade have put together to monitor those systems.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP focuses on the following key monitoring areas for Nutanix systems...

When we view the MP in the SCOM console, we can see Comtrade have stayed consistent with their authoring by giving us the massive number of monitoring views that we've come to expect with their management packs...

The alerts generated by the management pack return easy-to-understand information about the health of the Nutanix environment and the workloads that run on it...

There's also plenty of diagram views to choose from...

With some new dashboard widgets thrown in for good measure...

If the more traditional multi-widget dashboard view is what you're after, then the MP has these in abundance too...

Application Awareness Feature
The MP comes with an awesome new feature called Application Awareness. This feature automatically discovers any Citrix or Microsoft workloads inside the virtual machines running on the Nutanix environment, identifies the various roles those workloads use, then lights up performance and availability data within a dashboard similar to the one below.

This feature will work in conjunction with the rich information you already get from the Citrix and Microsoft management packs that were designed specifically to monitor those workloads. It's also handy to have those workloads automatically discovered and grouped into the same management pack that's monitoring the hardware they're deployed to.

MP Architecture
The management pack uses a data collector (which is deployed as a Windows service) to communicate with one or more Nutanix clusters using the Nutanix REST API. This communication takes place over TCP port 9440 by default.

Here's a high-level overview of the MP architecture:

Accounts and Permissions
The Nutanix devices are discovered in SCOM using SNMP v3 and as such, an SNMP v3 access account needs to be configured on the Nutanix devices to allow communication with your SCOM management servers.

A Run As account needs to be configured with an existing Nutanix Prism user account that has read-only permissions on the Nutanix environment and if you plan on using the Application Awareness feature, then you'll need an additional account with Local Administrator permissions on the virtual machines that host the applications.

One more account is required to use the Application Awareness feature with Citrix, and this account will need XenApp/XenDesktop administrator permissions.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP runs on SCOM 2012, 2012 SP1 and 2012 R2 (no SCOM 2007 R2 support) and the following table shows which Nutanix NOS versions are supported:

This table shows the supported Nutanix Software Editions:

Wish List
After good alert information and detailed dashboard views, I normally place reporting and custom tasks next on my wish list for a new management pack. At this time, the beta version of the Comtrade Nutanix MP that I've tested doesn't have any out-of-box reports or custom tasks available. I've given this feedback to Comtrade and they've confirmed that custom out-of-box reports are in their short-term roadmap and they are also exploring ideas on which tasks can add value in a later release.

Overall, I think this is a really solid management pack (particularly when they add out-of-box reports) and if you or your customers have deployed both Nutanix and SCOM into your environment, then I'd definitely recommend you try this out and see what it can do for you.
The beta program for this MP is now closed and Comtrade have confirmed that it will be Generally Available (GA) on May 10th. Pricing will be based on a per-core model and you can contact Comtrade directly to get a quote once it's available.

A free trial of the MP will be available from here when it GA's next week and it costs nothing to try it out and decide if it adds value to your organization.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New OMS and Azure Hybrid Worker PowerShell Module Available

Today Tao Yang (the scripting and toolkit ninja from down-under) has just released another free PowerShell module - this time for the OMS and Azure Automation Hybrid Worker role.

Combining ideas from recent blog posts by Pete Zerger and Kevin Holman with some added knowledge based on real-world experience thrown in for good measure, Tao's HybridWorkerToolkit contains the following three PowerShell functions:

  • Get-HybridWorkerConfiguration - used to get the Hybrid Worker and Microsoft Monitoring Agent configuration.
  • Get-HybridWorkerJobRuntimeInfo - retrieves the following information about the Azure Automation runbook and the job run time.
  • New-HybridWorkerRunbookLogEntry - used to log event log entries.

Check out Tao's blog post for detailed information on each of these functions and if you're using Hybrid Workers with either OMS or Azure Automation, then I'd strongly recommend you download this module and give it a test drive.

It's available for download on both Github and the PowerShell Gallery.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The New SCOM Partner Solutions Area is Now Live!

Late last year, Update Rollup 8 for SCOM 2012 R2 introduced a new Partner Solutions area into the Administration workspace (shown below).

This was the first step to delivering an integrated overview of Microsoft's preferred partner solutions directly within the SCOM console. However, clicking into this area would just return a message asking that you come back soon for more information.

In the past week, this feature has now gone live and when you click on it you'll notice a number of already well-known third-party vendors such as NiCE, Comtrade, OpsLogix and Silect.

For each partner, you can see a description of the solution they have on offer, along with the version, release date and a link to their website. Interestingly, all of the current solutions listed here are offered for free - though I would imagine paid-for solutions will creep in once the feature matures.

Either way, when you need to recommend third-party solutions to your customers (or boss), this area can serve as a useful vote of confidence to show that vendors listed here have been endorsed by Microsoft to run their products on SCOM.

Over the coming months, I expect this feature to become much more populated as additional preferred partners are brought on-board.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Upcoming Webinar: Log File Monitoring in SCOM Made Easy

Next Thursday (April 21st), I'll be taking part in a webinar with well-known MPx Alliance member NiCE IT Management Solutions.

Update: The full recording for this webinar is now available for viewing here.

What you'll learn..

In this webinar we'll show you how to drastically enhance your log file monitoring capabilities with SCOM using the free Log File MP from NiCE. If you haven't already deployed this management pack, then you're missing a trick and I'd suggest you download and start playing with it now.

The management pack takes the initial (and fairly basic) out-of-the-box idea Microsoft had for monitoring log files with SCOM and turbo-enhances it with some seriously cool features that delivers many more new and interesting monitoring scenarios for your SCOM environments.

Sounds great, what's the catch?

Thankfully, there's no catch. When I initially spoke with NiCE about collaborating on this with them, I was curious to know why they wanted to deliver a webinar based solely on a free product that people can download and fully deploy without any obligation (as opposed to running a webinar that promotes any of the awesome paid-for management packs they have in their portfolio).

Unsurprisingly (given how focused a company NiCE have always been with their free contributions to the SCOM ecosystem), they want this webinar to serve two main purposes:

  1. Spread the word to anyone who hasn't yet worked with their Log File MP and encourage them to deploy it.
  2. Educate people who have previously imported the MP on new scenario's and capabilities that they probably aren't aware it has.
The second point is where they've found the biggest challenge with this management pack as they have noted the majority of users working with it simply aren't leveraging it to the best of its abilities. I can personally testify to this point too as every time I work with this management pack on a customer site or in our own environment, I find something new that it can do - which is always an added bonus when working with free stuff!

Agenda and Takeaways

We'll have a number of different presenters during the webinar including NiCE Product Director (and all-round good guy) Christian Heitkamp, myself and also the guys from the Log File MP development team will be on hand to answer any real deep-dive log file monitoring questions that you might have.

Here's how things should pan out on the day:

  • Learn new best-practices on how to use the NiCE Log File MP
  • Popular use cases explained and demonstrated by MVP Kevin Greene
  • Sneak preview of upcoming new features and road-map
  • Download access to the free management pack along with some free examples after Webinar
  • Chance to ask NiCE experts all your questions

Date and Times

Date:         Thursday April 21st, 2016

Place:         Microsoft ‘Skype for Business’ – Online Webinar

Times: 16:00-16:45 – Central Europe Time Zone
                 10:00-10:45 – North American Eastern Time Zone
                 15:00-15:45 –  UTC/GMT

Register Today

If you're managing or deploying SCOM environments and this sounds like something you'd be interested in, then you can register for the webinar via the NiCE IT Management Solutions website here:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SCOM 2016 & 2012 R2 - New List of Supported Network Devices for Extended Monitoring

It's been a while since I've had a chance to put some blog posts together (mainly due to focusing all my extra time on a new book project that's soon to be released) and I thought it'd be good to kick off again with a quick post about SCOM network monitoring.

Since SCOM 2012, we've had some pretty cool network monitoring capabilities out-of-the-box where you can easily discover and monitor a wide range of vendor network devices. Basically, any type of network connected device that supports ICMP (Ping) or SNMP can be monitored. As ICMP is only a basic Up/Down identifier that any monitoring tool is capable of performing, we'll skip the discussion on this.

What types of network devices can you monitor?

Using SNMP with SCOM, you can think outside the box a little where, aside from the typical devices you'd associate with network monitoring (switches, routers, firewalls etc.), you can also monitor things like UPS devices, air conditioning units, door scanners, wireless access points, cash registers and even CCTV cameras! It's these extra non-typical devices that people often forget about when deploying a monitoring solution and they can make all the difference when you need to get the full 360 degree view when mapping out IT services as distributed applications.

These types of SNMP devices will be discovered in SCOM as Generic devices and you'll get some basic monitoring capabilities back for them - similar to the Generic SNMP device we're monitoring in this image...

Taking it to the Next Level with Extended Network Monitoring

Extended network monitoring is available for any devices that implement the SNMP management information base (MIB) RFC 2863 and MIB-II RFC 1213 standards. 

An extended network monitoring device will give you additional monitoring capabilities for things like Chassis, Processor and Memory components (as shown in the following screenshot):

If your devices support these standards, they will be discovered as Certified devices in SCOM and in the past few days, Microsoft has published an updated Excel spreadsheet containing a list of all network devices that are supported for this extended monitoring capability.

This spreadsheet is an update to one that was released a few years back for SCOM 2012 and it's the official list of network devices that are supported for extended monitoring in SCOM 2016. With nearly 850 different devices on the list, you get information about the Object ID (OID), device type, vendor, model name, and whether or not the processor and memory components get monitored as part of the extended monitoring function.

Here's a screenshot of some of the contents of the updated spreadsheet:

To download the updated SCOM 2016 Network Devices Supported for Monitoring spreadsheet, click the link here:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Free OMS E-Book - Inside the Microsoft Operations Management Suite

Earlier today the preview version of a new free e-book on Microsoft's Operations Management Suite (OMS) was released. This book was authored by four of the best OMS ninja's around (Tao Yang, Stanislav Zhelyazkov, Pete Zerger and Anders Bengtsson) and after having a quick scan through its contents myself, I can already tell it's much more than your average 'low-page count' freebie.

With over 400 pages of technical goodness, you should find everything you need to know about OMS from the 12 chapters listed below in the book:

Chapter 1: Introduction and Onboarding
Chapter 2: Searching and Presenting OMS Data
Chapter 3: Alert Management
Chapter 4: Configuration Assessment and Change Tracking
Chapter 5: Working with Performance Data
Chapter 6: Process Automation and Desired State Configuration
Chapter 7: Backup and Disaster Recovery
Chapter 8: Security Configuration and Event Analysis
Chapter 9: Analyzing Network Data
Chapter 10: Accessing OMS Data Programmatically
Chapter 11: Custom Management Pack Authoring
Chapter 12: Cross-Platform Management and Automation

Whether you're a seasoned OMS aficionado or just a little curious about the next stage of Microsoft's cloud and datacenter management offerings, this book is for you.

Download it (FOR FREE!) here and make sure to give it a 5 star rating on the TechNet Gallery.

Thanks to the authors for all the hard work they've put into this - looking forward to learning loads from it!

Monday, December 21, 2015

System Center Universe 2016 is Just Around the Corner!

At a time when the whole world is going crazy with inter-galactic theme tunes and costumes in anticipation for the new Star Wars movie, it's appropriate that the awesome System Center Universe (SCU) 2016 conference in Texas, USA is just around the corner.

Hosted by Catapult Systems, SCU is into its fifth year now and has grown significantly from the original one-off event that was hosted solely in the USA to becoming large multi-day events hosted in Europe (SCU Europe) and Asia (SCU APAC) too.

Have a read through Cameron Fuller's blog post here to get the low-down on the history of SCU along with some photo's from some of the previous events too.

With the long list of well known speakers at each event ensuring it takes its place as one of the best Microsoft-focused and community driven Cloud and Datacenter Management conferences out there, SCU is now always one of the first conferences that attendees want to pencil into their calendars each year to maximize the return on their company training budgets.

So what's in store for SCU 2016 you might ask?

Well, there's a live stream for anyone not able to jump on a plane and head over to Dallas with two separate tracks to choose from - Enterprise Client Management and Cloud and Datacenter Management. Each track has a who's-who of presenters including MVP's, Subject Matter Experts and Microsoft ninjas!. You can check out the full list of confirmed presenters here.

Here's a list of some of the technologies that will be presented throughout the event:

  • Azure Automation
  • Configuration Manager
  • EMS
  • Hyper-V and Failover Clustering
  • Intune
  • IoT
  • OMS
  • Operations Manager
  • Windows 10 Deployment
  • Windows Server 2016

If you run a local user group in your town, then you can sign up to host a free simulcast and join these other user groups around the world doing the same:

  • Austin, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Houston, TX
  • Omaha, NE
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Seattle, WA
  • Tampa, FL
  • Amsterdam
  • Germany
  • Vienna

For more information on SCU 2016, check out the official website here and join in the fun on Twitter by following @SCU2016 and using the hashtag #SCU2016.

Looking forward to seeing many of you online during the event on January 19th!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Presenting at Experts Live 2015 in The Netherlands

Tomorrow morning, I'll be heading back over to The Netherlands as part of a three-man Irish contingent to present at the annual Experts Live conference.

This one day event features eight different tracks being presented by over 50 well known speakers in the Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter space.

I'll be presenting one session as part of the Operations Management Suite (OMS) track titled 'Monitoring.....the Next Generation'. In the session, attendees will learn about the latest developments and features coming in SCOM 2016 and I'll dive into the new OMS platform to show some handy use-case scenarios too.

If you're attending, bring the coffee and stroopwafels and I'll see you there!

Friday, October 16, 2015

SCOM - New SQL 2012 & 2014 Management Packs with Bug Fixes Released

Yesterday I noticed that a new release (version of the SQL 2012 & 2014 management packs has just landed and there's a lot of people out there who've been waiting on them.

Important Update - 21st October 2015: There have been a few reports about a bug in this latest management pack - which seems to have also been present in the previous MP release - where the SQL database logs on your DW server can fill up in certain scenarios. For this reason, it's a good idea to hold off deploying these MP's into production until Microsoft release a fix for this (as far as I know, Microsoft are aware of the issue and are working on a solution).

The previous release (version brought a new dashboard template and visualizations....

Unfortunately, many people (myself included) that deployed this MP ran into problems when viewing the SQL Server Summary Dashboard. As you can see from the comments section at the end of this TechNet post - this was a widespread issue...

Thankfully, Microsoft have identified this as an issue and have listed this as a fix in the latest release of the MP:

I've deployed this updated MP into my lab and so far, it seems to have fixed the issue for me - although it took a few days to manifest itself in the last MP so let's see how this one goes!

There's also a few new visualization options that you can choose from as you can see from Microsoft's post on the new MP's here.

You can download the new SQL management packs using the SCOM MP Wiki or directly from here (SQL 2012) and here (SQL 2014).

Note: As of the time of writing this post, these updated MP's are not available through the built-in catalog option in SCOM but I'd expect them to light up there in the coming days too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

My System Center Universe Europe 2015 Presentation Video is Now Live!

A few months back, I had the pleasure of presenting a session with my good friend Damian Flynn at the System Center Universe Europe 2015 conference in Switzerland and today I've noticed that the video recording for our session has just gone live.

Our presentation was titled 'What's new in OpsMgr?' and included information on what's new with the current SCOM 2012 R2 build as well as everything that we know up to now for the upcoming SCOM 2016 build.

You can check out our presentation video here -

As a side note, if you're watching our presentation and you're wondering why Damian keeps referencing 'glow sticks', then take a read of my 'Looking Back at System Center Universe Europe 2015' post to bring you up to speed!

Not all of the other videos from the conference have been uploaded yet, but along with our one, there's another 20+ awesome presentations to choose from and you can check them all out from the link below:

That's my spare time in the coming weeks used up watching and learning from all these new videos!