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This post was sponsored by SolarWinds.
If your experience as a Windows systems administrator is anything like mine, then the advent of server virtualization has meant that the number of servers you're responsible for has sprouted like a field of dandelions on a hot summer day.
How do you know at any moment how your server hardware is doing? What about the business-critical applications that run on your physical and virtual servers? If your IT department is bound by service-level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee availability for some or all of these servers, applications, and services, then you better get a handle on things quickly.
The super-intelligent people at SolarWinds have a suite of network, server, and application management products which run on a single platform (meaning, one console, database and the like) they call the Orion platform. In this blog post I'd like to review one product inthat suite - Server & Application Monitor, which most people in the know affectionately call SAM.
SAM provides you with full visibility into your critical applications and will monitor, alert, remediate and report on not only apps but their underlying server hardware. By the way, those apps can be running on physical or virtual servers.
SAM installation notes ^
Specifically, SAM is an ASP.NET Web application that uses a SQL Server Express back-end database for data storage and retrieval. Therefore, you should have .NET Framework 4.0 and the Internet Information Services (IIS) server role installed on your SAM management server. What's cool is that the SAM installer will seamlessly install both of those components for you in-line with the installation; this behavior is shown in the screenshot below.
The SAM installer will automatically resolve dependencies.
One thing: SAM will not install on a domain controller. This strikes me as a good idea on general principle.
SAM network discovery ^
After you complete the SAM installation, fire up a Web browser, log into the Web console, and you'll find the Network Sonar Wizard already in progress. This interface walks you through your server discovery parameters.
The Network Sonar Wizard walks you through node and application discovery.
SAM makes use of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), and other scripting technologies (including Windows PowerShell) to discover all of your server nodes and applications.
When I say "server nodes," I refer to both physical and virtual servers. The built-in templates support multiple hardware vendors, including Dell, HP, blade chassis and IBM System x. SAM's templates also detect and automatically manage over 150 common server applications. Finally, SAM includes built-in support for VMware and Hyper-V hosts and virtual machines (VMs).
You can always go back to the Web Console Settings area and manually re-run the Network, Virtualization, and Application Discovery modules as you add more hardware and software to your environment. Of course, you can also run the Discovery engines on a schedule.
Setting alerts ^
As I'm sure you already know, data aggregation is all well and good. However, it is what information and notifications we can glean from captured server data that makes the difference to us as working systems administrators.
To that end, SAM includes dozens of built-in "advanced alerts" that are automatically loaded depending upon the servers and applications detected during your discovery phase. You can manage the built-in advanced alerts by navigating to the Settings page in Web Console and clicking Manage Advanced Alerts.
To create new alerts, you use a separate, stand-alone application called the Orion Alert Manager. Here we can set trigger conditions, reset conditions, and associated actions for our new alert. You can see this interface in the next screenshot.
The Orion Alert Manager, included with SAM, gives you full control over server and application alerting.
Powerful reporting ^
As a SQL Server Express-driven ASP.NET Web application, we can and should expect rich reporting from the SolarWinds SAM tool. Believe me, this app does not disappoint in this regard.
Let's start with viewing alerts. From the Web Console we can navigate to Home > Alerts to quickly parse and acknowledge any currently triggered alerts.
The Home > Summary page is a real-time dashboard that gives us both high-level summary data as well as the ability to drill down to the process level.
SAM provides high-level rollup summaries as well as drill-down reporting.
Take a look at the lower-right corner of the interface. SAM not only is location-aware, but also enables administrators to logically group servers and applications (for instance, by category, department, or geographical region) so you can delegate monitoring responsibility to different teams of administrators. This is a godsend for large enterprise shops.
When we troubleshoot server or application problems, we need to go beyond symptoms and determine the root cause of the problem. To that end, SAM gives us deep insight into both physical and virtual servers and their applications.
For instance, notice in the next two screenshots how I can remotely access Performance Monitor counters, the Service Control Manager, and even Task Manager on my Windows Server 2012 domain controller named ROOTDC.
SAM gives you deep insight into the hardware and software performance of your servers.
Thanks to WMI, you can remotely view running processes from the SAM Web Console.
Note that because SAM's template library includes SNMP traps for most popular server hardware, we can keep an eye on important hardware metrics such as CPU temperature, fan speed, UPS status, and the like.
You can also see from the screencap above that you can end rouge processes in the same console. The latest release of SAM 5.5 provides for remediation capabilities to also start/stop services and reboot servers.
If you don’t see what you need in the template library, you can easily create a custom application template in minutes. Here is a video that shows how to do it.
Licensing model ^
The license cost for SolarWinds SAM starts at $2,995 USD, but SolarWinds encourages prospective customers to generate an online quote or to contact them directly for a personalized quote.
In a nutshell, the SAM licensing model is based upon the highest number of component monitors, nodes, or volumes in your environment. Price per monitor goes down with the more monitors you need.
In this context, a component monitor represents a specific tracked metric. Nodes refers to physical or virtual hosts. Volumes denote logical disks.
SolarWinds pricing is available on their website.
While learning to interpret the SAM interface and take control of alerts will require some time and study on your part, I believe that SolarWinds SAM overall is an easy-to-deploy solution for server hardware and application monitoring. To my mind, the more day-to-day server monitoring "scut work" we can delegate to an application and automate, the better!