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A failing hard disk can cause all kinds of issues. Physical hard disks can also fail in such a way that the resulting problems are not obvious. This can lead to many hours of frustrating troubleshooting that may lead an IT admin down many "rabbit holes" before zeroing in on a failing disk as the issue. What if you had a more precise tool that could help identify a failing system disk on your Windows Server?
With Windows Admin Center and the System Insights extension, IT admins can have predictive analytics at their fingertips to help discover hard-to-detect issues such as a failing system disk. Let's take a look at how to leverage anomaly detection for system disks in Windows 2019 along with Windows Admin Center.
What is Windows Admin Center System Insights? ^
Windows Admin Center is the new preferred way of managing your Windows Servers. It is a unique, very modern management tool that provides robust functionality. You can add to the features of Windows Admin Center by way of extensions. Most of the extensions are provided by Microsoft. However, there is a growing number of third-party extensions available for Windows Admin Center as well.
One built-in extension of note is the System Insights extension. With System Insights, IT admins have predictive analytics features at their disposal for Windows Server 2019. Software tools are increasingly using new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to ingest large amounts of data and make decisions based on the data. AI and ML are certainly paying dividends in areas such as cybersecurity, where anomalies can be much more easily discovered and understood by machine learning algorithms that can "connect the dots" of various anomalous behaviors much more quickly and efficiently than a human being.
Predictive analysis is another excellent application of AI and ML algorithms. Microsoft is leveraging machine learning (ML) with the System Insights module. It takes in a broad range of information from your Windows Server 2019 server and analyzes the data for anomalies. What kinds of data are analyzed? System Insights gathers data from various sources, including performance counters and events. It allows discovering issues proactively, instead of using a purely reactive approach.
Installing System Insights in Windows Admin Center ^
The System Insights option is an extension that comes preinstalled in recent versions of Windows Admin Center. If you do not see the System Insights module available, update your version of Windows Admin Center. Even though the extension is preinstalled, you have to activate it by clicking the Install button on the System Insights page.
Once activated, the System Insights tool will take some time to invoke the data pulls from the respective system elements and report the findings. You will see the report displayed for each area of system performance and capacity. Each of these is clickable so you can drill down for more detailed information.
The disk anomaly tools are not installed by default. You can install these by clicking the ellipsis in the System Insights menu bar and clicking Add or remove capabilities (Preview).
There are two physical disk anomaly tools available for installation in System Insights:
- Physical disk anomaly detection (IOPS)
- Physical disk anomaly detection (latency)
As described by Microsoft:
Disk anomaly detection is a new capability that highlights when disks are behaving differently than usual. While different isn't necessarily a bad thing, seeing these anomalous moments can be helpful when troubleshooting issues on your systems.
Again, machine learning can detect abnormal behavior that is out of the ordinary or different from regular disk activity, which can help pinpoint issues with the physical disk. To install the two physical disk add-ons for System Insights, click each one and click Install.
A note here. In experimenting with the two System Insights physical disk tools, I found that you need to enable disk metrics in the server's global overview settings. Otherwise, an error is presented when the physical disk checks are invoked.
There is a point worth noting here. When you enable the disk metrics in Windows Admin Center, you'll receive a warning. There is a significant performance impact for enabling disk metrics.
Navigate back to the System Insights dashboard and invoking the two new physical disk anomaly detection tools.
After invoking the new physical disk anomaly detection tools, you will need to wait for some time before enough data has been gathered to perform a predictive analysis on the physical disk.
Impressions and final thoughts ^
It is becoming more apparent that predictive analysis through new-age artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) opens the door for much more powerful troubleshooting. Microsoft is using ML in full force with Windows Admin Center and System Insights. The new physical disk anomaly detection is a great new addition to the capabilities of System Insights.
Physical disk problems can present all sorts of issues and can be difficult to pinpoint. Having the physical disk anomaly detection inside the System Insights tool in Windows Admin Center gives IT admins another tool that provides valuable insight into hardware health.
There are a couple of things to note here with physical disk anomaly detection. For one, the tool is still in Preview, so it is still a bit rough around the edges in terms of stability and capabilities. Also, enabling physical disk metrics comes with a significant performance impact. Is this worth the extra insights that you gain from the System Insights tool? It certainly may be for some environments. It is, however, an unfortunate drawback for the additional visibility.