The Accountants, sales guys and lawyers in your business don’t understand or care about how fast your hypervisor is or how many nodes there are in your cluster. What they care about is that the e-mail works the intranet is up and the business can trade with its customers. In short they care about applications, and they are paying you so they don’t have to worry too much about them.

Applications come in all shapes and sizes from a single install to the sort of server farm used by SharePoint, they can be written in house or bought in from  a vendor (ISV). So how is it possible to understand them all and keep them all running?

               
Let me answer this and the seemingly unrelated question: “Why are there so may tools in System Center?”

Are your applications working?

You could answer this by repeatedly trawling around all the event logs in your servers either manually or with the mother of all PowerShell scripts, but you need to know about problems, before your users do or at least as soon as they do.  A simpler black box approach would be to create a synthetic transaction against a key application e.g. to replicate a user logging into a site and opening a page, and then test how long this takes once every 15 minutes to check its working as planned.  This capability is built into System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) today and while it will tell you there’s a problem it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on under the covers unless there are good errors in the event log from the application. A new approach in SCOM 2012 is to peer inside the code and pickup issues coming from calls in the application code and show performance problems and errors in a simple interactive interface. This built in capability comes form an acquisition, AVIcode, so actually that’s one less tool you’ll need to stay on top of things.

Managing the application

It is important to understand the dependencies on an application e.g. database, web service and of course compute network & storage, especially if this is all running as virtual machines.  So in several of the System Center tools you can now diagram what these services look like in Virtual Machine Manager and in the new App Controller.  Templates in SCVMM let you scale these services or deploy more of them and a change to the template is automatically reflected in the instances created from it.

Moving the application

Application virtualisation , the business of separating the application from the operating system has been available for some time for desktop applications. However server applications are often multi-tier and also run as services, so delivering server application virtualisation is harder and is only now part of Virtual Machine Manager 2012. The clever bit about this is that you can deploy your non Microsoft developed app (e.g. java, PHP) onto a windows virtual machine that could be running on XEN Server, Vmware or even Hyper-V.

Joining the dots

The days of changing things at random in a data centre are largely gone, what is needed today is extreme automation and standardisation coupled with a set of standard operating procedures.  While PowerShell can certainly do this, interop with lots of disparate systems can be hard, event handling is rudimentary and the scripts can be hard to debug and maintain.  The processes are much better designed in Orchestrator as this has deep integration to the key vendors in systems management, it is very visual and easy to understand and it can be driven from or drive to your help desk, be that Service Manager, Remedy or similar.  This then ensures that all changes are properly tracked and all processes are consistent.

Back Up Plan

I often get told off  for not mentioning Data Protection Manager, not by the Microsoft sales team but by its loyal fans at events I go to. This is because it backs up all kinds of things in the data centre from VMs to databases, SharePoint sites and Exchange but intelligently so that it understands them and can restore individual documents, mails etc.

 

All of the System Center 2012 suite is still under development at the moment with most of it available as a public beta:

  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager RC
  • System Center Configuration Manager Beta
  • System Center Operations Manager Beta
  • System Center Orchestrator Beta
  • System Center Data Protection Manager Beta

and you can get all of these from the System Center Evaluation Center.  However if you want to see this stuff in action rather than install it yourself then there’s a System Center 2012 road show coming to a city near you..

READING

Microsoft TVP

16th November 2011

Register Here

MANCHESTER

Hilton Deansgate

6th December 2011

Register Here

LONDON

Imperial War Museum

14th December 2011

Register Here

BIRMINGHAM

Maple House

18th January 2012

Register Here