Monitoring web sites with System Center Global Service Monitor

SCOM is indeed a great product with regards to monitoring but sometime we require external monitoring for products like web applications. If you are familiar with solutions like site24x7 then you know how much you have to pay for those applications just to monitor your website up and and running. If you already have a SCOM deployment in your organization, you don’t need to go for such solutions. We have System Center Global Service Monitor which provides the same services and many more.

GSM is basically a cloud service which utilizes Microsoft Azure points of presence all over the world to give you end user experience of your web applications. This means the monitoring you get is how it would look like to a user in a remote location. This is a huge advantage as for application owners can get more insights regardless of external factors such as network latency, service outages etc… The beauty of this service is it focuses on the application itself not the network health or connectivity. GSM is capable of Web Application Availability monitoring (single URLs) and Visual Studio Web Tests monitoring which can be run from 15 external locations.

Let’s see how we can address the availability monitoring for a URL with GSM scenario.

Prerequisites

You should have either a trial  or paid GSM subscription integrated with your SCOM 2012 installation. For that you need to install and import GSM Management Pack to your SCOM Management server/s. You can refer here if you want to learn how to achieve that.

Configuring availability tests for URLs

  1. Open Operations Manager Console. Navigate to Administration > Global Service Monitor, and then select Configure Web Application Availability Tests.
  2. In the next screen provide name and a description for your testing scenario. Also as usual create a custom management pack to store this custom test. If you already have created one you can select it as well.General
  3. Enter the URLs that you need monitoring in the next screen. Even you can also paste URLs from CSV file which contains the format of “Name, URL”. Make sure to include the correct protocol (http:// or https://) depending on the URL. Click Add to import names and URLs from another source.What to Monitor
  4. In the  Where to Monitor From dialog, you can select the locations from where you want the URLs to be monitored. This includes both external and internal locations. External locations include 15 locations from below countries and regions. Australia (Sydney), Brazil (Sao Paulo) , Europe (Amsterdam, London, Paris, Stockholm, Zurich), Russia (Moscow), Singapore, Taipei, United States (Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, San Antonio)Where to Monitor FromSelect external locations
  5. As for Internal location you can add from the servers in your environment from which the URLs going to be monitored. Of course these should be internet facing if your URLs are externally hosted.Select internal locations
  6. The next dialog box allows you to view your tests (internal or external) and validate the configuration of only internal tests. To do so select the test you want run and click Run Test. To change the default settings for the tests for internal or externals tests that you created, click Change ConfigurationView and Validate Tests page by using internal and external locations
  7. Once you click Change configuration you can customize the test frequency, alerts, response times etc… For the time being you can leave them as defaults. Once you are done click Apply > then OKChange Configuration 1 Change Configuration 2
  8. If you run a test you will see a test result window that will verify whether your test  was a success or points out for any configuration error if there are any. Go through the details and once you confirm that the test is properly finished click close to return to Step 6Test Results page for internal tests
  9. The next screen provides a summary of your new URL monitor with GSM. Click Create to create the monitor. You can create a dashboard view for this monitor later on for an easier visual representation. Summary

Now you are all set to monitor your websites with GSM integrated to SCOM. Let’s talk about SCOM dashboards in a later post. If you are using a third party solution for website monitoring still now it’s time to go with GSM.

System Center 2012 R2 Update Rollup 3 | New Features

Two weeks ago, Microsoft has released UR3 for System Center 2012 R2. This was a much awaited update as it fixed number of issues with related to system center products. Update Rollups are set of cumulative fixes targeted at specific product which fix the bugs and add new features/functionality to the products. Lets see what are the new features that came up with UR3.

Brand new Office 365 Management Pack

This is  a life saver. Previously admins had to log in to Office 365 management portal to view the tenant health, any ongoing issues or service outages. With the release of Office 365 Management pack they can leverage SCOM to do the monitoring on behalf of the Office 365 tenant. Individual services like Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online can be thoroughly monitored with any active incidents occurred on same. Also you can view details related to service health, service interruption corresponding to the Office 365 services along with important service messages from Microsoft. In simple words, your Office 365 dashboard can now reside in SCOM. We are going to discuss how we can import and configure this MP in a later post.

Office 365 MP Dashboard in SCOM 2012 R2

Resource Visualization dashboards for VMM

We have two new dashboards that can display resource utilization of your Virtualization Hosts & VMs . You can view the health of the list of Hosts and their performance counters. This can also provide overall health status of a VM (Red, Green, Amber colour code). We will discuss how to install and configure the Resource Visualization Pack for VMM in a later post.

VMM Resource Visualization Dashboard
VM health view

Resources

  1. Office 365 Management Pack for SCOM 2012
  2. VMM Resource Visualization Pack

Analyze your SCOM data with Microsoft System Center Advisor

Those who have used SCOM for monitoring know what it takes to filter out the unnecessary monitoring information from all those alerts, monitors and logs. If your SCOM setup is just click click install kind of setup then you probably have more unwanted monitoring scenarios configured by default. Sometimes your boss needs to look at the big picture of monitoring once in a while, present it to the management at a meeting. How do you achieve these challenges? You can fine tune your SCOM installation, override unnecessary MPs, create reports, dashboards etc… But guess what, you don’t have to be that thorough anymore if you are using Microsoft System Center Advisor integrated with you SCOM environment.

System Center Advisor is a free (selected countries) online service which lets you to analyze your SCOM data or individual Microsoft Workloads to provide different insights on your data center health. Currently it is in Limited Public preview, so you can grab your Microsoft Account or Corporate Account to sign up for a preview. The beauty of this product is you can use it even without System Center Installation by installing Advisor agent on individual servers that you want to monitor and let the online service to worry about the rest. Below are some features that Advisor is capable of.

Log Management

System Center Advisor can collect, combine, correlate and visualize all your machine data. That is it can separate required monitoring history from the noise. It is also capable of searching through multiple systems in your data center to identify root cause for any issues.

Capacity Planning

With advisor you can be proactive not reactive. Advisor enables you to see what capacity shortages such as storage, Allocation bottlenecks such as CPU, Memory & Network and it even let you to plan capacity for future workloads

Configuration Assessment

You can avoid configuration issues with Advisor as it proactive assess the best practices that you define in your data center. This feature doesn’t require SCOM installation and can be separately configured.

Update Assessment

Advisor is capable of keeping track of your system patches. Be it on-premise or cloud, Advisor sees through the data center for any non-compliant servers and reports back for remediation.

Threat Assessment

As you have probably guessed by now, Advisor is also capable of monitoring your environment for viruses & malware. It can report which of your servers have security threats and any actions to rectify same.

Now let’s see how we setup Advisor in your SCOM environment. Though there are some per-requisites for this.

  • You should be running either System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 or System Center 2012 R2
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 should be installed
  • Windows Server 2008 upwards
How does System Center Advisor Works?

Supported technologies for analysis

Advisor analyzes the following workloads.

  • Windows Server 2012/2012R2/2008/2008 R2 (Active Directory, Hyper-V Host, General operating system)
  • Hyper-V Server 2012/2012R2
  • SQL Server 2008 and later (SQL Engine)
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
  • Microsoft Lync Server 2010
  • Microsoft Lync Server 2013 (new in October 2013)
  • System Center 2012 SP1 – Virtual Machine Manager

Setting up Advisor with SCOM

  1. Sign in to the Advisor Limited Public Preview through here. You may have to sign up if you already don’t have an account (requires Microsoft Account or Corporate Account).
  2. Open Operations Manager Console and navigate to Administration
  3. Select System Center Advisor, and then select Advisor Connection.
  4. Click Register to Advisor Service.
  5. Sign in with your Microsoft or Organizational accounts in step 1.
  6. Create a new Advisor account or choose an existing Advisor account associated with your Microsoft/Corporate account.
  7. Save the changes.
  8. Select Actions, click Add a Computer/Group.
  9. Under Options, select Windows Server or All Instance Groups, and then add servers that you want data to be collected from.

Below are some useful references that you can use to learn more about System Center Advisor.

Monitoring Linux Servers with SCOM 2012 R2

The world is heterogeneous. All though Windows Server is running on 75% of data centers, organizations use various Linux distributions to run enterprise applications. If you are in to middleware you know for a fact how critical these applications are and the need to monitor same very closely to avoid service interruption.

Let’s have a quick look on how to setup a monitoring solutions for your Linux servers with SCOM. I’m going describe the process in a high level.

  1. Set up the environment for monitoring
  2. Install & import the SCOM Management Pack for Linux/Unix Monitoring in the SCOM management server
  3. Install the Operations Manager agent in the server to be monitored.
  4. Define monitors, rules and tasks an necessary

Step 1 | Setup the environment

Below are a list of prerequisites that you need to configure prior setting up the monitoring.

  1. SSH should be up and running on the destination server. It’s how SCOM talks to the agent.
  2. Port 22 (for SSH) & Port 1270 (for SCOM Agent) should be opened on both sides.
  3. OpenSSL should be up and running to for certificate signing. This is vital if you have couple of SCOM management servers and wish to use a SSH key for authentication
  4. Configure resource pool & Run As accounts for Linux servers. If you’re not sure about this I’ve provided some great articles in the end to refer courtesy of TechNet

Step 2 | Installing the MP for Linux/Unix

Now you already know that a management pack contains the parameters & functions that are require to monitor a specific application, be it an OS or just an application. So in our scenario we will have to install the latest MP for Linux/Unix monitoring installed and imported to SCOM in order to setup basic health monitoring for Linux. You can download these through here.

Step 3 | Agent installation and Discovery

Now for those who wish to automatically discover the Linux resources can run an Discovery Wizard in SCOM. But remember the linux user assigned for the Run As account should have enough privileges (best if that user is in the sudoers list) for the agent installation.  If you want to do a manual agent installation all you have to to is to install the System Center SCX agent which comes as an rpm file in the SCOM installation directory in the Linux server using rpm command. Once you run the discovery against the server it will automatically identify that a proper agent is already in place.

Step 4 | Define your own monitoring criteria

Now that you have installed the agent after a short while you may notice the basic system health data is being reported to SCOM. You can start creating your own custom MP to store overrides for existing monitors or create new ones. What I recommend is to leave the system for couple of hours to get settled in and the to start defining the monitoring subjects.

Below are some great resources that I’ve come across when I setup monitoring for Linux. Hope you will find same useful .

Installing & Configuring Azure PowerShell

Do you know that Microsoft Azure offers a flexible management options rather than the Azure Portal? With Windows PowerShell you can perform most of the routine tasks that you do in your cloud tenants, from creating VMs to scaling your applications. This comes pretty much handy if you have scheduled or predefined cloud workloads that you need to perform on Azure. Lets take a look on how to install and configure Azure PowerSehll for your cloud tenant.

Prerequisites

  1. An Azure Subscription
  2. A computer that is either running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 upwards.

Installing Azure PowerShell

Azure PowerShell comes as a redistributable running in Microsoft Web Platform installer. You can download the setup from here. When prompted, select Azure PowerShell in the feature selection stage. You’ll notice that  the new Azure PowerShell when you do a search or in Al  Programs in your computer.

Connecting to your subscription

In order to manage a tenant first the Azure PowerShell needs to be connected to an active subscription. There are two methods for this. Using a downloaded management certificate which include the subscription information, or by logging into Microsoft Azure using your Microsoft Account associated to that subscription. Note that the  Azure AD will perform the credential authentication in the latter method.

OK I’m all set. Now what can I do with Azure PowerShell?

Azure PowerShell provides a large number of cmdlets that can be used to provision, deploy, manage & maintain Azure services. These includes creating, modifying & deleting of VMs, VM networks, cloud services, storage, web sites etc… Much like in Windows PowerShell there is a comprehensive help content of each and every one of these cmdlets.

I’ve included some articles that I found on how to use Azure PowerShell. Also you can create PowerShell scripts and locally run them in your on premise infrastructure to manage your cloud tenant. The power is up-to you to automate.

Resources

  1. Configuring Azure PowerShell
  2. Provisioning VMs with Azure cmdlets

TUX in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure supports a number of guest operating systems including most of the major Linux distributions. Now in this blog post I’m going to give you an overview about running Linux VMs in your cloud and what capabilities you can have with these guest VMs.

Officially Microsoft Azure supports below Linux distributions.  Now although CentOS is listed as a officially supported OS, I wonder whether there will be support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux as it is the commercial version of CentOS & Fedora in future.

Distribution Version Drivers Kernel Compatibility Patch Agent
Canonical UBUNTU Ubuntu 12.04.1, 12.10, and 13.04 In Kernel Required for 12.04 or 12.04.01 only Package: In package repo under walinuxagent
Source: GitHub
CentOS by Open Logic CentOS 6.3+ CentOS 6.3: LIS drivers; CentOS 6.4+ drivers: in Kernel Required for 6.3 only Package:In Open Logic package repo under walinuxagent
Source: GitHub
Oracle Linux 6.4+ In Kernel N/A Package: In repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source: GitHub
SUSE Linux Enterprise SLES 11 SP3+ In Kernel N/A Package: In Cloud:Tools repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source Code: GitHub
openSUSE OpenSUSE 13.1+ In Kernel N/A Package: In Cloud:Tools repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source Code: GitHub

Provisioning a Linux VM in Azure in pretty straight forward. But keep in mind you can use your favorite SSH client like PuTTY to log in to your Linux VM without any exception.

There are series of KB articles in Microsoft Azure Documentation that will guide you to manage your Open Source VMs in cloud. You can find them in below links.

Also there is a new VM Agent introduced as an optional extension to Virtual Machines on Azure. This is a lightweight extension that can be installed on Windows or Linux VMs. A VM Agent can be used to install and manage extensions, and can extend the functionality of a VM as software modules. Microsoft will deliver number of VM agents on different platforms in near future so you can install optionally and can be used to manage your VMs

You can find more about VM Agents & Extensions in Azure from below links.

Introducing Automation | Microsoft Azure

It’s been a long time from my last post and I sincerely apologize for that. I was busy with an Office 365 migration project last month and had all my eyes and ears focused to it. Today I’m going to explain how you can automate your cloud workflows with Azure Automation.

Azure Automation is a preview feature (upcoming GA) that allows us to automate creation, deployment, monitoring, and maintenance of Azure resources. It allows you to create Runbooks to orchestrate time consuming and repetitive workloads that you have in you cloud tenant. These Runbooks are indeed powered by Windows PowerShell workflows.

Currently Azure automation supports the automation of following services.

  • Web Sites (management)
  • Cloud Services (management)
  • Virtual Machines (management and WinRM support)
  • Storage (management)
  • SQL Server (management and SQL support)

Now if you know your way around PowerShell, Automation saves you a great time of time and labour. Imagine that you’ve been assigned to create 100 VMs in the cloud with exact same properties. Rather than writing a standard PowerShell script you can play with a PowerShell workflow that triggers an Azure Automation Job.

When we look at the pricing factor, as of right now this feature is still in preview stage. So you won’t be charged up to 20 Runbooks in the Free tier.

Here are some great resources that you can learn more about Azure Automation.

  1. Creating a sample Runbook in Azure
  2. Getting started with Azure Automation by Keith Mayer
  3. Automation Library

 

 

Server Core & MinShell in Windows Server 2012 R2

Some of us are just used to one way of managing a server. Be it a Linux or Windows we still prefer the old command line to save time and effort (number of clicks) in a away. Microsoft has introduced Server Core and MinShell features for those who prefer having some transparency with command line while keeping GUIs at hand’s distance.

Server Core

This feature offers a command line management console like MS-DOS. It is ideal when you want reduce the resource consumption of your server. If you don’t use full GUI that means there are lesser number of patches that you need to worry about.

You can turn on/off Server Core at any time as well as switch back to Full GUI. Only thing that you need to have to do is install/uninstall a feature called “User Interfaces and Infrastructure” that provide the underlying GUI for windows server. You can do it via server manager or PowerShell the choice is up to you.

A complete guide can be found here from howtogeek.com

Keep in mind you’ll need a restart every time you switch back from either of these modes.

MinShell (Part GUI)

This one is same like server core but you can launch your favorite MMC snap-ins from command line. But there are some notable limitations on this one.

  • Common Dialog box is functional (except networking)
  • Any UI with dependencies on items implemented as Shell Namespace Extensions will fail
    • Certain CPLs are namespace extensions, e.g. Networking
  • Internet Explorer is not available when Server Graphical Shell is uninstalled.
    • Links in UI won’t work.
    • Help isn’t available – calls
  • Some file associations and protocol handlers broken
    • http://
    • file://
    • *.chm
  • Some DLL files not installed
    • Check for dependencies or delay loads might fail!
    • DUMPBIN (Windows SDK)
    • Dependency Walker (http://www.dependencywalker.com, freeware)
    • Test your applications on the Minimal Server Interface!
    • to HTML Help API will return NULL!

All you have to do is uninstall Server Graphical Shell sub feature from User Interfaces and Infrastructure feature. Just use below PowerShell cmdlet to do so.

Uninstall-Windowsfeature -name Server-GUI-Shell -Restart

If you want you can completely remove the binary installation files for above features as well. If you do so you’ll need acess to an installation media the next time you want to enable it. To completely remove a role or feature, use –Remove with the Uninstall-WindowsFeature cmdlet of Windows PowerShell.

It’s not rocket science but it is indeed worth having a look at.

Updates are on the way | Windows Phone 8.1

Couple days back at Build 2014 conference Microsoft has unveiled the newest update to it’s mobile OS Windows Phone 8.1. The beauty is everybody who owns a Nokia Lumia with Windows Phone 8 gets the new update (even poor people like me) with many cool new features. Lets take a look on what’s on the table with Windows Phone 8.1

Modern UI Experience

Windows Phone 8.1 offers more sexy start screen with additional columns for live tiles. This means it will look exactly the same as your desktop plus you can choose a custom background for your start screen. Shipped with a ton of new apps it offers Bing Health and Fitness app which will let you track your health through your smartphone.

Word Flow keyboard

Although Windows 8.1 borrowed many of its new features from other platforms,I think this one seems little more unique. This is a gesture based wipe keyboard which allows much more faster typing. Though still there are no third party keyboard apps are allowed in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Cortana | your own Digital Assistant

If you have ever played Halo you know who Cortana is. It is the female looking AI that support you through the game. Cortana in your phone makes your life easier. Unlike Apple’s Siri, Cortana is a digital assistant which adapts to the user overtime. It’s a hybrid of Google Now’s functionality and Siri’s personality. You can speak to her or type in what you need if you are in a meeting. She respects your schedule and reply with text output. Cortana can remind you to tell someone something when you are contacting him/her the next time. Doesn’t matter it’s an e-mail/call or text message it displays a reminder of what you have told her to mention.

We will be getting this update in a couple months’ time depending on our cellular carriers but developers will have a bite on this later April.

Here is the unveiling video by Joe Belfiore from Build 2014.

End of an era | Windows XP & Office 2003

Today I bring you some sad news. Windows XP & Office 2003 are no longer supported by Microsoft starting from April 8th 2014. I still remember the day that I made the transition from Windows 98 to XP 13 years back. I was in 7th grade back then and it was the first time that I ever installed an OS without the help of anyone and it was a life changing event for me as kid.

As IT PROs we all will have go through some dilemma in after 8th for planning the change from Windows XP. Let’s see what are the options that Microsoft has offered us for a smoother transition.

Roll-out a newer OS

As you all now Microsoft strongly recommend you to migrate from Windows XP to at least Windows 7. Now in this case someone might raise a concern “What about our existing hardware?”. Well if you are running on a grandpa system you’ll have to replace the hardware eventually. (the obvious fact)

Migrating from Windows XP is not a night mare and there are couple of good options available.

  1. System Center Configuration Manager 2012 R2 – If your organisation uses SCCM for Enterprise client management you can easily create a Windows 7 deployment task sequence with all the necessary drivers and applications per-installed. You can even migrate your user data with User State Migration Tool. (But remember everything should be under My Documents). A comprehensive Technet article is available here on how to leverage SCCM for OS deployment.
  2. Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) – This is a free tool from Microsoft which automates server and desktop OS deployment. Only catch is it doesn’t provide central management capability like SCCM. I found a very good article on this one too.
  3. Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor – You can perform a in place upgrade with this tool. Basically it assess the feasibility for a Windows 7 deployment and lets you to decide whether or not you should replace the entire system. Microsoft has provided a good reference on this as well.

Backup Your data

No more security updates means that your system is highly vulnerable to virus attacks. Most of you might feel that you should buy a brand new system with Windows 8.1 and migrate your data. If you are a home user it’s best for you to backup your important data using User State Migration Tool over the network or copying into a backup media but the choice is up-to you. Most importantly I would recommend to perform a backup immediately as you may never know when you are vulnerable.

Migrate your Legacy applications

If you are still using Office 2003, 2007 etc.. now is the best time to take an action. Microsoft provides much richer user experience with the new version of Microsoft Office. For any other commercial application designed for XP, most of the software publishers have already update their product road map with Windows 8.1 but if you are a software development company that still depends on XP your luck is running out. With  Office 365 in place you no longer have to spend your money on retail version, instead you can buy the subscription version of Microsoft Office with additional benefits like free OneDrive Storage.

So take an action today while you still can and embrace the change.

Thank you & Happy Retirement! Windows XP + Office 2003