Talk: Why We Fail – An Architect’s Journey to the Private Cloud

I forgot how much I enjoyed this talk from MMS last year: “If you talk to senior management in IT organizations, it’s very rare to find one that doesn’t want cloud. I want some of that cloud stuff. What is that? I don’t know, but I want it. OK, here’s some crayons, there you go, draw a cloud.” -Alex Jauch

Alex Jauch’s Blog can be found here.

Ars Technica write up from the conference which mentions the talk.

Building Better Service Level Dashboards

Microsoft has added a lot of functionality into SCOM 2012 to make creating dashboards easy. The only problem is they have given you a blank canvas without much in the way of guidance. This can be great, but it can also be problematic. The fact that you can make a 9 cell grid layout filled with graphs and data doesn’t mean that you should.

What you should do, is strive to build effective dashboards.  What is an effective dashboard? There is no right answer– I am making up the phrase– though I would argue that effective dashboards are ones in which the dashboard is designed to give insight into a service with a specific audience in mind.

A dashboard that is useful for your engineers or sysadmins is going to–OR SHOULD–look very different from a dashboard for Tier I support. Much like a dashboard for Tier I should look different from a dashboard for non IT customers. I like to break down service level dashboards into specific sub categories based on audience.

For the sake of this post lets divide potential dashboards into three groups:

1. Dashboards for non technical internal clients often published on an internal sharepoint site.

2. Dashboards for Tier I Support and upper IT management published via limited rights login to SCOM web console.

3. Dashboards for Systems engineers and Sysadmins.

Obviously this is going to vary greatly depending on what business you are in, but you get the idea.

I think in general we tend to do a pretty good job with 1 and 3.  Service Level Dashboards for non technical internal clients just need to provide basic information: is the service up or down, and to the best of our monitoring ability how well are we meeting the SLA?

The out of box Service Level Dashboard in SCOM 2012 does this quite effectively:

I say to the best of our ability above, because even with synthetic transactions there is always the possibility that a complex service can be degraded or down in some respect without your monitors picking up on it. (Exchange servers are up and running perfectly, but your BES server for Blackberries is down.) Or alternatively, your monitoring picks up a problem, but isn’t smart enough to correlate it into a change in the dashboard.  At best service monitoring is an evolutionary process not one that you set up and leave alone. IT Managers may not want to hear it, but ultimately your ability to track  a service depends on the accuracy of your monitors, and building accurate monitors requires iteration and time.

Dashboards for engineers and sysadmins are often built with very specific requirements in mind, or are redundant and aren’t needed so they tend to not be a problem either.

Where I most see the most potential for people to get into trouble is in creating dashboards for their Tier I support, and also for senior IT management. The easy answer is to just have them use the simple up/down  service level dashboard. The problem is that while this is a perfectly acceptable level of transparency to provide to Non IT, it often isn’t enough info, especially for the occasional situation when your up/down dashboard says everything is fine, and users are calling in complaining with issues.

Below is an example of a dashboard I would create for an e-mail or messaging service  for Tier I operators and upper level IT management that seeks to find the middle ground:

– In the Upper left you have a state widget. It is pegged to a group which contains all servers related to e-mail service. It should be made up of not just exchange servers. Mine contains BES and ISA servers to provide a more complete picture of the health of all related parts. Some would say build a simple distributed app to do this, but this starts to get troublesome when dealing with load-balanced systems, or systems where a negative status of one system doesn’t need to roll up to the status of the entire app.

– Upper middle is a Service Level Widget which is tied to the Exchange 2010 Application from the Exchange 2010 MP. It’s not perfect, but it does a decent job of generally showing when core e-mail functionality is up or down.

– Upper right: An alerts widget which looks at anything related to the health of the servers in the group on the left.

– Middle: Graph of outlook latency. Honestly, it is unlikely that Tier I is going to gain useful info from this graphic. You can, and I have been able to see noticeable shifts if one member of a load balanced or clustered pair is down, but this falls into the category of behold the power of pretty graphs. Sometimes its nice for your Tier I and upper IT management to feel empowered, and for whatever reason I have found that pretty graphs can do that even if they may or may not know exactly what they are looking at.

– Bottom: Again empowerment via pretty graphs.

 

Talk: Randy Pausch – Time Management

Many people probably know Randy Pausch from his Last LectureHowever, the talk below given on November 2007 at the University of Virginia was truly his last lecture, and remains one of the most useful talks that I have ever seen. I am always surprised that while many have seen the first lecture, this talk remains relatively unknown.

I think for anyone, particularly those who work in IT this talk is worth taking the time to watch:

If you have a favorite talk, lecture, podcast, et cetera let me know with a comment. I would like to start posting a new one every Friday. I have quite a few of my own, but eventually I will run out.

System Center Operations Manager Blogs you should read:

Most of my neck of the woods is shut down and in snowday mode  so it seems like a good day to catch up on some of the OpsMgr blogs.

In no particular order:

01. TechNet – Kevin Holman’s Blog

02. Thoughts on OpsMgr and System Center 2012 – Marnix Wolf’s Blog

03. SCOM, SCCM, Powershell – Tao Yang’s Blog

04. Kevin Greene’s Blog

05. Cameron Fuller’s Blog

06. TechNet – Operations Manager Engineering Blog

07. Bob Cornelissen’s Blog

08. Everything System Center – Tim McFadden’s Blog

09. Matthew Long’s Blog

These are a few of my favorites, if you have any suggestions leave a comment and I will add them to the list.

UPDATE:

Rod Trent kindly pointed out that I had left out myITforum which while not dedicated to SCOM is certainly an excellent resource for all things Microsoft & System Center.

 

The contents of this site are provided “AS IS” with no warranties, or rights conferred. Example code could harm your environment, and is not intended for production use. Content represents point in time snapshots of information and may no longer be accurate. (I work @ MSFT. Thoughts and opinions are my own.)