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Product Review: MOM tends to Windows Servers' needs

Product Review: MOM tends to Windows Servers' needs

Testing management products like Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 is always a tricky process: Traditional performance isn't nearly as important as day-to-day management features and know-how.

Testing management products like Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 is always a tricky process: Traditional performance isn't nearly as important as day-to-day management features and know-how. So, to give this product a real-world run-through, I took MOM 2005 out of the lab and installed it at a willing client site running eight Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 servers and an AIX server. The results showed an obvious improvement over MOM 2000 and a clear spot for MOM in enterprises built on the Windows server platform.

Install Ups and Downs

The nine-server test site was a mite small compared to typical MOM enterprise deployments, but effective enough for evaluation purposes. Though MOM 2005 Deployment Guide has instructions for upgrading from MOM 2000, my installation was done from the ground up. Upgrading or not, administrators need to prepare for significant work during this initial install phase.

Installation involves the server/console, which carries the core MOM operations and reporting capabilities, additional monitoring consoles, and client-side installations. In ground-up installations like ours, you'll probably also need to install WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation)-enabling add-ons, available from Microsoft. These code snippets are required on an OS and application level to provide WMI data to management systems.

The console and workstation installations are straightforward enough, but it's the client installations that pull out MOM's real value. These client installations mostly involve MOM Management Packs, which are application specific, covering core server topics (typically bundled with your initial purchase of MOM), including Active Directory, DNS, IIS, and similar server applications.

Additional packs currently cover only Microsoft products, including SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and the like, but Microsoft promises management packs for third-party server software products in the near future. You can also write your own using MOM's Management Pack Developer's Guide.

Without a server-specific management pack, MOM provides only basic health-monitoring features, including on/off-line status and memory and disk usage. The Management Packs add all the real intelligence, including custom reporting, in-depth process monitoring specific to that server application, and customized process and data-gathering scripts.

This last feature represents the biggest hurdle to installing MOM 2005. Management Pack set-up requires installing the software and running a certain series of performance-monitoring scripts for 24 hours or more. This procedure gives MOM 2005 a baseline of performance data.

This initial baseline will reveal any outstanding problems with a server installation, but it needs to be run in strict accordance with the Deployment Guide to achieve a proper installation. Worse, each Management Pack has its own set of scripts that must be run this way.

These set-up circumstances are not a huge ding against the product, but they should ring as a loud warning to administrators that MOM 2005 will require significant attention to initial installation and user training. Even administrators familiar with MOM 2000 will find MOM 2005 different enough (especially from the Management Pack perspective) to require significant training.

The complexity is multiplied by the fact that ground-up installations, such as my test scenario, require familiarity not only with the MOM 2005 Deployment Guide, but with the MOM 2005 Security Guide as well -- especially for installations involving monitoring in remote locations. Bottom line: There's a lot to learn before taking MOM 2005's discs out of shrink wrap.

MOM 2005 sports an entirely new Operator Console and completely renovated Administrator and Reporting Console. The Operator Console in particular proves a real boon for everyday MOM 2005 users. It directly addresses access and data security issues and allows for granular staff assignments or global health monitoring, depending on the needs of the particular operator.

The Operator Console's only weakness is its lack of support for non-Windows server platforms. Microsoft provides a Unix-capable plug-in for managing Unix servers with MOM 2005, but it doesn't compare to the wealth of tools offered for Windows-centric servers. Administrators with many non-Windows servers will be better off using third-party EMS (enterprise management system) tools such as those from Computer Associates or IBM instead of -- or at least in addition to -- MOM 2005.

The DSI Effect

Another new development is MOM 2005's inclusion in Microsoft's infant DSI (Dynamic Systems Initiative). DSI is designed to more tightly fuse application development tools and systems management tools within the Microsoft product sphere. We're five to ten years out from total DSI fusion according to Microsoft, but it's important to get familiar with the concept today, as future iterations of most Microsoft management tools will have their roots in DSI.

One DSI side effect is that MOM 2005 needs additional software products to reach full functionality. A prime example of this is Microsoft Visio, which is required to access MOM's new graphical depictions of system health and monitoring data. Frankly, although I accessed these maps easily using an installed copy of Visio 2003, the straight log view provided in the core MOM offering proved more useful in day-to-day operations.

So far, the additional software features from apps outside MOM are nice to have, but the core MOM offering is still more than enough to manage most Windows enterprises.

Once the user gets familiar with the new consoles, MOM 2005 really starts to prove its worth. Problem resolution is far speedier than in MOM 2000, and it's easier to locate a problem and initiate resolutions. Assigning priorities or staff assignments is accomplished with a few mouse clicks.

Managers will be impressed with the new State view, which consolidates all outstanding events into a quick global snapshot so higher-up managers can make fast decisions on problem resolution and staff deployment.

New application support, reporting capabilities, and much tighter security features are other items on MOM 2005's new feature menu. The only thing that has really carried over from MOM 2000 is its fanatical devotion to all things Windows.

That means MOM is at best a fairly expensive add-on tool in enterprises with large numbers of heterogeneous servers. For Windows-centered infrastructures, however, MOM 2005 is a powerful management tool that caters as much to CIO-level management as it does to front-line systems management firemen. -- InfoWorld (US)

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