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March, 2013

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  • Guest Post: 10 Top Tips to Make OpsMgr 2012 Rock!

    imageKevin Greene, (System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP), has been working in IT since 2000. He has held roles such as IT administrator, senior engineer and technical team lead and is now currently working for Ergo based in Ireland, as a Senior Consultant focusing on cloud and datacenter management technologies.

    Kevin is an active member of the online System Center community and is the user group lead for the System Center User Group in Ireland. He is also a co-author of the recent “Mastering System Center 2012 Operations Manager” book and lead co-author on the upcoming “Mastering Windows Server 2012” book.

    Introduction

    System Center 2012 - Operations Manager (OpsMgr) can be a pretty big and complex product to get your head around at the best of times but these 10 Top Tips will help you get the most out of your deployments. These tips are a mixture of recommended OpsMgr best practices and also some ‘notes from the field’ based on my experience as a System Center consultant and are listed below in no particular order of favouritism.

    Get the SQL Collation Right

    When installing OpsMgr, one of the prerequisites is to ensure that the SQL Collation setting of your SQL database instance is configured with the correct collation for your language. An incorrect SQL Collation setting can be the root cause of empty reports, missing alerts and random data insertion problems. Changing the SQL Collation setting of an already built SQL instance is a non-runner and you will have to build a new instance with the correct collation and then move your databases, so you can see why it’s important to get this right first time! If you’re deploying OpsMgr using the English language, then the correct SQL collation to use is: SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS. For more information on SQL Collation settings for OpsMgr and System Center 2012, check out this post.

    Upgrade to SP1

    Service Pack 1 (SP1) for OpsMgr brings with it a number of really cool enhancements such as Global Service Monitor, new dashboards and visualisations, support for IIS 8 and Application Performance Monitoring (APM) of SharePoint 2010 to name a few. If you haven’t upgraded yet to SP1, then check out the step-by-step process in this post to get you up and running in no time!

    Join the Community

    Apart from the vast amount of management packs available from Microsoft and other vendors, there’s a whole ecosystem of free management packs and tools to choose from that have been created and shared by the extended OpsMgr community. You can get access to these resources through sites such as SystemCenterCentral.com and MyITForum.com as well as from the many blogs and user group sites on the internet.

    Use Separate Management Packs for Overrides

    When carrying out alert tuning and modifying thresholds in your OpsMgr environment, its best practice to always save your customisations into separate unsealed management packs that are associated with each sealed management pack that the original alert was raised from. For example, if you’re making a change to an alert generated by the Windows Server Management Pack, then save it into an unsealed management pack named something like ‘Windows Server Management Pack Overrides’. If you stick to this methodology, then it will make it much easier to identify the location of and manage all your changes (modify/backup/delete etc.)

    Configure Anti-Virus Exclusions

    A key performance blocker of OpsMgr is when Anti-Virus applications are configured to run their on-access scanners without any exclusions in place for the OpsMgr program directories. Review and implement the list of anti-virus exclusions that Microsoft recommend for OpsMgr in this article and you will ensure that your management servers and agents perform optimally.

    Understand Maintenance Mode image

    Maintenance Mode is a feature in OpsMgr that doesn’t get used by administrators half as much as it definitely should. It enables you to place an object into maintenance mode which essentially disables monitoring of that object for a specified period of time. This can be particularly useful when you have planned downtime of your servers to facilitate updates and patching cycles. Apart from the fact that an object placed in Maintenance Mode doesn’t generate any noisy alerts about reboots or downtime during these periods, it will also go a long way to ensuring that your SLA’s are represented with real-life values and planned downtime has been taken into account. You can learn more about Maintenance Mode from the official TechNet link here. If you want to be able to place groups of objects into Maintenance Mode in OpsMgr 2012, then take a look at this excellent blog post from Pete Zerger on how to do it with PowerShell.

    Deploy Distributed Applications

    If you’re not using Distributed Application modelling inside OpsMgr then you’re definitely missing a trick. With Distributed Applications, you can group all of the components that make up your different IT services (Messaging, Active Directory, Networking, Virtualisation etc.) into a single entity that has its own health state (Green for Healthy, Yellow for Warning and Red for Critical) and ensure that you manage those services in the same way that your end-users consume them. Get started with and learn more about Distributed Applications from this link.

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    Download Boris and Daniel’s OpsMgr tools

    Every OpsMgr admin or consultant should be aware of the excellent MPViewer, OverrideExplorer and ProxySettings tools that Microsoft’s Boris Yanushpolsky originally created for OpsMgr 2007. Daniele Muscetta gave these tools a reboot to work with OpsMgr 2012 and has made them available for free to anyone who wants them! I use at least one of these tools every time I deliver an OpsMgr project and you can download them from this blog posting.

    Check out Kevin Holmans SQL Query Post

    It goes without saying that as OpsMgr is built on an SQL platform, you should have some SQL Kung-Fu in your repertoire. With the right SQL query, you can create your own custom dashboards, build new reports and reduce administration time. If creating your own SQL queries isn’t your cup of tea, then take a look at Kevin Holman’s excellent ‘Useful Operations Manager SQL Queries’ blog post here. This is probably one of the most popular OpsMgr blog posts on the web and is applicable to both OpsMgr 2007 and OpsMgr 2012. Once you’ve finished reading that post, take a look through the rest of his blog as it contains a wealth of information on OpsMgr.

    Read the Books, MP Guides and Technical Docs

    Microsoft don’t currently have any official books available on OpsMgr 2012 but there are two excellent books available to purchase that have been written by a number of System Center MVP’s that are a must-read to help you get the most out of your OpsMgr deployments. You can get more information on these books from here and here.

    Before you import a management pack (MP) into OpsMgr, make sure to download its associated guide and read it through from front to back! Every management pack comes with its own guide and the information inside contains essential information on how to fully deploy and maximise its monitoring potential.

    I’d also highly recommend that you download and review the official technical documentation for OpsMgr 2012 which can be accessed here as it contains a wealth of information that will prove invaluable to you when configuring or troubleshooting your deployments.

  • Guest Post: How to configure consistent and predictable applications in System Center 2012

    Author Bio: Angela Cataldo is a subject matter expert and Lead Instructor for SQL Server and System Center courses at Firebrand Training. For over 10 years Angela specialized in SQL Server, delivering training and consultancy services to a number of companies throughout the UK and Europe guiding and mentoring customers to follow Microsoft Best Practice and assist in their understanding and adoption of SQL innovative features.

    Microsoft System Center 2012 allows IT professionals to deliver IT as a “Service”; by providing Application Management, Self Service Delivery and Infrastructure Management. The concept of an application as a service is fundamental to understanding how to deploy an instance of a cloud-style application, along with all its associated configuration and virtual infrastructure.

    The diagram below shows how by using Microsoft System Centre 2012, we can provide IT as a service and deploy application services to the business.

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    Benefits of Service Delivery and Automation

    The concept of Services, and allowing IT Administrators to define them through Service Templates to deliver Applications, has many benefits:

    • A Service Template and the configured settings can be re-used across multiple tiers and are centrally configurable, making authoring easier and less prone to error for administrators.
    • Some information may not be available at the time of authoring. Service Templates provide the flexibility to defer a value assignment to deployment time, and as a result makes it possible to deploy multiple services with different settings from the same template. This allows users to provide and override values.

    In simple terms, a Service Template is a blueprint which is Reusable and Configurable.

    Prepare and initiate an application deployment

    Now I’ll demonstrate how to prepare an application deployment and then initiate the deployment:

    1. Create a virtual machine template, add an application to the template, and use the Service Designer tool.
    2. Initiate the deployment
    3. Use App Controller to deploy an application and stay within delegated resources.

    Step 1

    First we need to create a new virtual machine template, where we can specify roles and features that will be configured on deployment when the virtual machine template is part of a service.

    • In Virtual Machine Manager on the Home Tab, select Library and then Create VM Template

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    By using templates, we can specify Server App-V packages, MS Deploy or SQL DAC packages for ease of application deployment. These help speed-up and simplify the service deployments, by automating application installation as well as pre-install and post-install tasks.

    Step 2

    Using the Create VM Template Wizard we can next select the Source for our new Virtual Machine Template .

    • On the Select Source page click on Browse to view a list of virtual hard disks and existing VM templates

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    • A number of existing VM templates are shown for the organisation such as “Bare Metal- Large” and “CD-Web Tier” including some pre-configured Virtual Hard Disks. For this step I am going to Select Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Evaluation Edition VHD.

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    Once selected we will provide a Name and Description for the New Virtual Machine and continue through the Wizard to configure Hardware, Operating System, Application and any SQL Server requirements.

    • On the Configure Hardware page we can create a new hardware profile, or use an existing one to specify virtual machine settings.

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    • I can then select a Cloud Compatibility Profile having opted for Hyper-V but as you can see we can also enable profiles against both Hyper-V and VMware.

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    • I can also ensure that the virtual machine is Highly Available and Virtual Machine Manager will attempt to deploy a virtual machine to a host cluster by selecting under the Advanced options: Make this virtual machine highly available.

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    • Next I need to Configure Operating System, opting to either create a new profile or choose an existing one - enabling options such as Admin Password, Product key and configuring Roles and Features.

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    • You can select Roles and Features that will be automatically installed when a virtual machine is deployed using this template.

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    • Next, I can Configure Applications to deploy to the virtual machine. In this example I will add a Virtual Application to the template.

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    • I am opting to deploy a Virtual Application called CD Business Service v1, browsing to the location where the virtual application manifest file is located. You can also review the variables used in configuring the application

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    I can also choose to Configure SQL Server as part of the template, for this example I will not be configuring SQL Server.

    • Before you save the template you can preview the PowerShell script that will be executed. On the Summary page select View Script.

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    Step 3

    • Create a service template from the Virtual Machine Template I have just created by selecting from the Home Tab Create Service Template

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    • First we need to specify a Name and a Release number for the Service Template and select a Template Pattern. I have chosen a Three Tier Application deployment pattern.

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    • For this Customer Demographics template we have a First, Second and Third tier that I need to configure by Adding Applications. From the VM Templates pane I can Drag & Drop the correct template to the relevant tier.

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    • I have adding the following VM Templates to the relevant tiers:
      • CD-Web Tier to the First Tier
      • Customer Demographics 01 Business to the Second Tier
      • CD- SQL Tier to the Third Tier

    I can also select, on the relevant tier, to not scale out the tier by Deselecting the checkbox This computer tier can be scaled out. At the moment I am getting warnings relating to not being connected to any logical network and a valid domain which will be resolved in the next step.

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    • Next I need to drag the individual NIC Cells underneath each tier and then the Contoso Cell underneath the NIC cells to connect them to the tiers. Now each tier is connected to a valid Domain and Logical Network.

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    • I can next add a new machine tier by Selecting on the Home Tab the option to Add Machine Tier the Create Machine Template Wizard enables me to Select a source for the new tier template but browsing for an existing VM template or Customizing a copy of an existing one.

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    • I have selected an existing VM template called Order Processing Tier to add to the Service Template.

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    • Finally we Create and we have added a new tier to the Service Template. Save and Validate the template.

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    At this stage of the process I have shown a representative example of how using System Centre 2012 we can create a standardised approach to virtual machine and service deployments, making it possible to create and handle interdependencies across layers and application tiers.

    Step 4

    • Next I need to configure deployment by Selecting on the Home Tab Configure Deployment

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    • Select a Name for the deployment and a Destination for the new service. I have opted for the Contoso –Staging Cloud.

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    • Job status is showing as Completed for the Create Service Instance to the Contoso-Staging Cloud.

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    By using System Centre 2012 and Virtual Machine Manager we can use service templates to configure repeatable deployment applications that are consistent and robust.

    Step 5

    Using App Controller in System Centre 2012, you can tightly control resource delegation to application owners providing a convenient self-service model for deployments.

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    I am currently logged-on as a Cloud User and will in this example experience quote controls stopping me from deploying to the Customer Demographics Service Template previously created.

    • Select Services and select Deploy to create a new service deployment.

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    • Select Configure to configure the environment for deployment.

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    • Select a Cloud from the list to which I have been given access rights to. We can see the available quota of pooled resources that I have been delegated to for this environment. Notice the number of Virtual Machines is only one.

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    • The next step is to select a Service Template.

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    • I have selected the Customer Demographics Template and you can see an error is raised for Virtual Machines and Memory available after deployment. My access rights as Cloud User will not enable me to use this template.

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    • When selecting the Single Tier Staging Template no errors are shown.

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    • On the New Deployment diagram view I need to Select Configure for the Service

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    • On the Properties of Single Tier Staging Template service I need to configure a Service Name and Description. I can also assign it to a Cost centre.

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    • Next I need to Configure the Instance for the Machine Tier 1.

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    • On the Properties of new virtual machine a number of options can be configured such as Computer Name and Cost Centre.

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    • Select OK on completion

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    • Once completed Select Deploy to save New Deployment configuration and make available to the private cloud.

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    • Deployment is successful

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    • Once deployed I can then set properties such as sharing with other self-service users and roles. Select the Deployed Service PC101-CDS and Select Open Diagram.

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    • As the Owner of the Service I can choose to share this Service with other self-service users and roles by selecting Add and choosing Users or Groups from Active Directory. Select OK when completed.

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    • Select Close to complete changes made.

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    Using App Controller, it makes it simple and fast for Application owners and Cloud users to quickly deploy and update applications using the self-service model. IT Administrators can still have the control they need to ensure that applications operate robustly, securely and within a defined resource allocation.

    Microsoft clearly has provided a service-centric approach to help manage application components.

    What else do I need to know?

    If you configure System Centre 2012 on Datacentre edition; licensing covers unlimited virtual machines, which means you can continually increase your virtual machine density without any additional licensing costs. I wonder how this will impact on business decisions to opt for VMware Private Cloud over Microsoft Private Cloud solutions, only time will tell.

  • Guest Post: Controlling your code is the same as controlling anything, your success is in your approach!

    Simon SkinnerSimon Skinner has been a Microsoft MVP for 3 years as well as a speaker for several Microsoft shows in Europe, Singapore and the US. Training in most parts of Europe, India and Singapore Simon has proved his skills time over.

    Specialties: System Center, Hosted System Center, System Center Application Monitoring, Web Site and .Net services.

    Simon started as out as a VBA programmer. After a few years he jumped ship to System Administration working for Companies like GSK, Blackwell and Huntsworth.  Simon turned his focus to hosted solutions based on System Center and IIS web Servers a field which he has remained for the past 7 years and still continues to work in this space. Today Simon is the CTO and Founder for the startup Nubigenus where they have continued to work in the hosted System Center space, creating a multi-tenant solution for System Center Operations Manager.

    This post is for anyone to read however if you are a project manager in .Net working with people in different time zones then this may be for you, really I am sharing my findings!

    Let’s set the scene with a few bullet points;

    1. You can use any tool to write bad code.
    2. We rarely test our code the same day we wrote it.
    3. We need to understand where the stress points are likely  to be.
    4. Tracking code from its creation is vital.
    5. Tracking code in Production with good controls is less important (I will explain this further later in the last post).
    6. Monitoring Performance is vital to our clients experience.
    7. Control is paramount to the success of our project.

    With these 7 simple points we will succeed to create great applications.

    The chosen toolsets are;

    1. System Center Operations Manager 2012
    2. Team Foundation Server 2012 SP1
    3. SharePoint Server 2013
    4. Project Server 2013

    With the above toolsets I can achieve my goals, share the success and measure the performance of my Project.

    Below I have a snippet of code but in a typical project there is going to be 10,000’s even 100,000 or more lines of code like this.

    clip_image002

    Developers can comment their code as seen below, useful when you find the code however we are going to need a lot more than this.

    clip_image004

    I can easily add monitoring of my code with APM built inside Operations Manager where I can view issues that would normally be hard to track.

    As we can see below I can drill in the code when it creates an exception or performance event with pinpoint accuracy. 

    clip_image006

    The above is great, however this does not help me project manage my project, so lets look at how we can achieve this.

    Below we have a Work Flow, where events are transformed so you can collate them into Agile reporting.

    Events are created in our application, APM via the OpsMgr agent displays them in the Operations Manager Console, where with one single click they can be processed into Team Foundation Server (TFS). From here we can process the data further into SharePoint for some cool reporting and dashboards then finally into Project Server where we can see our Work Items and if we made them on time. I am sorry for this out burst but…that’s just awesome, really! When we fix bugs TFS will then tell OpsMgr and close the event in the console.

    clip_image008

    Now we are getting somewhere, from this one view I can see what work is in Progress, Unfinished as well as the build rate success.

    clip_image010

    In SharePoint I can also see the progress of the bugs in a high level view, whilst project managing these simple but really informative views helped be no end decide the quality of the code and measure the performance of the developers. 

    clip_image012

    Still in SharePoint I can see the Project Work Items, Builds and what has been checked in. The key thing to remember is that once set up it’s all automatic and dynamic.

    clip_image014

    To summarize in the first rather high level view we have taken code processed it in to TFS, where I the project manager can now start to do just that, manage the project. What is my advantage here? I am doing it based on fact, so when we run the code if it generates an event I will get to know about it here, in simple terms (which suites me). In my next instalment we will be going back to the start so we can learn the installation process. These finding are based on a real project which I am happy to share the quality control we put into the project to ensure the results meet the standards we expected.

  • Case Study: Unilever Transitions to Private Cloud, Expects to Double in Size without Increasing IT Costs

     

    Unilever has been hugely successful in selling personal care, homecare, and food products to billions of

    200010customers throughout the world—so successful that it expects to double in size in 10 years. To ensure that its IT organization could support this growth, Unilever worked with Avanade to migrate from VMware to Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 R2. It then used Hyper-V and Microsoft System Center 2012 to create a private cloud environment that contains 3,175 virtual machines. With its private cloud, Unilever will deliver IT services 40 percent faster and be more agile in the marketplace. It also expects to achieve its growth goals with no increase in IT costs. By eliminating hundreds of servers, Unilever realized significant savings and became a better environmental citizen. It is upgrading to Windows Server 2012 to gain even more IT efficiency.

     

    Situation
    On any given day, 2 billion people use Unilever products to look good, feel good, and get more out of life. Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, with more than 400 brands that include foods, soaps, shampoos, and household care products. Some of its well-known international brands include Lipton, Knorr, Dove, Lifebuoy, Hellmann’s, and Omo, alongside trusted local names such as Blue Band, Pureit, and Suave. Unilever was established in the 1890s, and today has 171,000 employees selling products in more than 190 countries.

    Unilever has enjoyed significant growth in recent years, with more than half of its revenues coming from emerging markets. Management intends to capitalize on the company’s success in these markets and set an ambitious goal to double the company’s size in a decade.

    Every business unit in the company has responded to the growth goal by fostering a culture of continuous improvement, driving for small changes every day to increase speed, improve quality, and reduce costs. The IT organization wanted to devise a way to support the company’s growth goal without doubling the company’s IT “footprint”—the cost of servers, data center power and cooling costs, and IT staff.

    Actually, long before the company announced this growth goal, Mike Royle, Director of Enterprise Computing at Unilever, had made good progress toward trimming server counts and costs. In 2008, Unilever had more than 5,000 servers in its global data centers and in hundreds of remote locations. Royle and his team began virtualizing servers by using VMware ESX software and reduced its physical servers by 65 percent. However, VMware was too expensive to proceed with.

    Meanwhile, Royle and Roland Meier, Strategy and Technology Director for Unilever, closely tracked the progress of Microsoft virtualization software, and in late 2009 engaged Avanade to create a proof of concept around migrating to the Hyper-V technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. The business case for moving to Hyper-V focused on increasing data center consolidation, extending virtualization to remote office locations, and reducing management costs. “By migrating our VMware estate to Hyper-V, we estimated a six-figure operational cost savings from lower licensing and support costs, power and cooling savings from fewer physical servers, and IT management savings,” Meier says.

    The proof of concept was a success, and between 2009 and 2011, Avanade used its Next Generation Datacenter model and Migration Factory methodology to migrate most Unilever VMware virtual machines to Hyper-V and converted hundreds of physical servers to Hyper-V virtual machines. In total, Avanade helped Unilever create 2,000 Hyper-V virtual machines.

    “Avanade’s people are first rate; they tell it how it is,” says Royle. “They listened and responded to our requirements with a strong balance of ‘skin in the game’ and empathy.”

    Even after reducing its physical server count by two-fifths, Unilever wanted to do more. IT costs were still higher than the company wanted and would only increase as the company grew. Additionally, while the IT staff had greatly reduced the time it took to deploy servers, there were still too many manual steps involved in reacting to business needs.

    In developing markets, in particular, where the company’s growth was focused, the IT staff wanted to meet business demands for IT services more efficiently. “Doing business in emerging markets requires customized approaches, more solution diversity, and often shorter lead times,” Meier says. “Virtualization helped to increase IT efficiency and reduce costs, which are critical to sustainability. But we needed to accelerate overall service provisioning times, which required new system management tools and a revamping of our operational processes.”

     To learn more about the products they used have a trial of:

    Find out how they managed to meet their requirements by viewing the case study here

     

  • An Introduction to Virtualisation and Microsoft’s Offering

    After my latest round of camps across the UK I noticed that a lot of you are new to System Center 2012 and given the great response to Hyper-V I thought a gentle introduction to the part of System Center that manages virtual machines (VMs), Virtual Machine Manager, (VMM) would be worth a read.

    Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) does what it says on the tin, it manages virtual machines and Hyper-V is the hypervisor that provides the server virtualisation capabilities in Windows Server.  As a bonus VMM 2012 SP1 has had significant changes which make the most of the new features in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, and has also been updated to manage Vmware VSphere 5.1 so if you are using both this can manage VMs across both of those and the rarer Citrix XenServer.

    Of course tools like Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 allow you to easily manage multiple servers in one go to a basic level, and if you have less than 70 VMs running only on Hyper-V you could probably stop reading this now and use that and PowerShell.  However if your working in a larger environment with multiple hypervisors please read on!

    The easiest way to manage large numbers of things is to group and catalogue them and in VMM VMs are grouped in two distinct but complimentary ways:

    Services: VMs belong to services that you deliver to the business e.g. applications. Generally applications have tiers of components for example web front ends, middle tiers and databases and to keep the service running you need to understand these dependencies especially if you are making the application highly available.  Some services can be scaled up and down e.g. those web front ends.  You may want to deploy copies of a service rather than just spinning up new VMs and gluing them together and this can be done from service templates which understand Web Deploy, SQL Server databases and can even virtualise a Windows Service in the same way that applications can be virtualised on a desktop using App-V

    here’s a service I prepared earlier..

    VMM Service

    note the scalability setting at the bottom where you can set how big and small each tier of the service can be.

    Clouds:

    The business are paying us to provide services for them and they own the data centre while we are the curators who look after it on their behalf.  The Projects , Divisions business units, call them what you will, then own parts of it but rather than put stickers marked finance on a rack of servers VMM allows your data centre  to be logically split up into clouds that can be owned by one of these business units/divisions etc.  So clouds comprise compute storage and networking but scattered across hypervisors, servers, SANs etc.  You would then delegate control of that cloud downwards to an IT guy how actually works for that business unit and you would offer them a list of service and virtual machine templates that they could use within that cloud, however they can’t go beyond the limits you set on the compute storage etc.

    VMM clouds

    it’s your cloud and you can specify how big it is

    Another key part of VMM is it’s library. This is simply a share where you can store and create all the objects you need to create VM. This might be nothing more than a standard blank hard disk and an iso with an OS on it. More advanced users will create VM and Service templates as I mentioned earlier, but one other thing you can do is to create profiles which are essentially templates which can be used in templates. For example a hardware profile gives you a place to store all the CPU, storage and network information that you use across all your templates and an OS profile details how you configure the OS. You can then mix and match the OS and hardware profiles to quickly create a set of templates you need without filling in all of the details every time you create a new template.  By the a way a top tip is to turn on deduplication in Windows Server 2012 for the Library volume you create it should save you about70% of the space it would otherwise occupy as you can see below..

    VMM dedup

     

    VMM also allows the VM administrator to maintain the hosts by allowing them to have a desired configuration  and to patch them by automatically sweeping VMs off and on them during the process and getting appropriate updates from your update server (WSUS). In a similar fashion you can manage your servers to save power by shunting VMs on to a smaller set of hosts allowing the rest to be shut down when not in use

     

    VMM also a deep understanding of your fabric for example :

    Storage. VMM understands Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) and classified based on performance which can then be apportioned to clouds. SAN copies can be initiated and offloaded from VMM via this as well.  Note most of the major storage players  (Dell, EMC, NetApp, Vmware, etc.) have signed up to SMI-S.

    Networking. If you are using Hyper-V you can see the virtual networking and extensible virtual switch exposed to allow virtual machines to belong to a network that moves around with them independently of the setting of the hosts, here I have shown the networking of a few of my hosts and VMs

    VMM is part of the System Center suite and really only works when it is crossed wired into the rest of the suite and you might start with:

    Orchestrator allows you to automate processes into VMM by using simple scripts. the process (runbook) can be initiated from other bits of System Center or from any of the leading management tools from third parties  BMC, etc.  Then you could create a self service system based on service requests to spin up services and VM as required, although this would be easier if you used System Center Service Manager as this integrates into both VMM and Orchestrator and there is a Cloud Service Process Pack to make this easier still.

    VMM oRCHESTRATOR INTEGRATION

    Orchestrator has extensive tools to automate process in VMM

     

    Operations Manager can not only peer into the health of VMs but the applications running on those VMs. If the application is not running as planned then an alert initiated here could then fire an orchestrator runbook to scale up a service on VMM. Operations Manager can also check the health of VMM and the hosts it is managing.

     

    So that’s a quick lap around VMM 2012 sp1.  However to really understand you are need to do three things

    1. Check Out the Microsoft Virtual Academy content on VMM

    2. Try it out in your sandbox. You can get System Center 2012 sp1 evaluation edition here

    3. Think about getting the MCSE Private Cloud certification. This is hard so you will need to study hard, but then the qualification is in demand so you  will stand out form the crowd

  • Competition: The TechEd Challenge 2013!

    static_mpu_300x250The TechNet team are running a competition from 22nd March to the 31st May this year to win a fully funded ticket to TechEd Europe.

    Trial one or all of the following products:

    • Windows Server 2012
    • Windows Azure
    • System Center 2012 SP1

     

    And write us a product review to be in with a chance of winning our top prize.

    TechEd Europe is the premier annual Microsoft event for IT professionals from the 25th to 28th June 2013. Winners will be able to improve their knowledge, talk to leading experts face to face and gain valuable information that’ll put them streets ahead of others in your area. Plus on top of all this they will do it in sunny Madrid!

    To find out more and enter, click here

  • From reports to insight: How Microsoft’s Finance team is benefiting from Microsoft business intelligence technology

    Business intelligence sounds like something every company would want, but what does it mean in practice? We spoke to Paul Marten, Senior Finance Controller for Microsoft’s UK Business and Support unit to find out how he is using Microsoft’s own BI software to transform the role of finance.

    Over the last eight years, finance’s role has changed from ‘process and control’ to ‘business partner’ . My team and I have been empowered by business intelligence technology to think more broadly, present information more effectively and provide more insight to our business partners.

    Making sense of the numbers

    As a finance team, one of our biggest challenges is turning all our data into valuable insights for the managers who run the different business units that make up Microsoft UK. Business intelligence allows us to standardise our reports and speed up their production. The technology works like an efficient filter:

    • The pockets of data come in through the SAP system into SQL Server 2012.
    • From that we can create data cubes that extract key data for reporting and use this information to generate standardised reports that cover (90-95% to 80-85%) of our needs
    • Our reports are delivered to SharePoint where business leaders can access them
    • We can also create reports using Excel and PowerView, which we can manipulate and interrogate interactively

    As a controller, it really helps to have everything in one place. SQL Server is doing all the heavy lifting so I can concentrate on analysing the figures and not get distracted by the chore of creating reports.

    Communicating what we know

    General managers have access to a dashboard in SharePoint or even through a regular daily mail that lands in their inboxes that shows them a daily revenue report, scorecards for individual business units and key performance indicators. They can use the standardised reports to compare their performance with other business units and spot cross-selling opportunities.

    We can also provide our business partners with real-time insights on budgets and expenses at a high level with the ability to drill down into details. In particular, managers were having trouble keeping track of travel and entertainment budgets, but now they can quickly assess individual requests in the context of previous spending and behaviour.

    PowerView is a particularly useful tool: it allows you to interact with the data without having to go back to the raw data or an Excel spreadsheet. Managers are able to understand more about certain aspects of reports simply by clicking, giving them the ability to do their own analysis and reporting.

    Making a tangible difference

    BI lets us close our books every month in just two and a half days. This gives the business timely, reliable information in a consistent format. We used to have 15 people running 15 different reports but no more.

    Having such powerful and interactive reporting technology also allowed us to do a paperless mid-year review this year for the first time. We presented using Microsoft OneNote, where 100 people could share a document as the presenter made live updates and added comments. It worked really, really well.

    Making more of my day

    Personally, I can log into SharePoint and see share price performance, revenue for the UK and comparable information about my peers in other parts of the world. It's my one pulse-check for what's going on. I can then spend more time talking about the business, which helps me stay ahead of the wave and stay conscious of what decisions are on the horizon.

    As a result of using Microsoft’s own Business Intelligence software, finance has become a more valuable part of the organisation that can make a real contribution to important business decisions. .

  • A SQL Server DBA walks into a Parallel Universe

    By Michael Sullivan,  SQL Product Manager, Microsoft UK

    We all know some pretty bad SQL jokes (the language that is). Well I do anyway. Like, a DBA walks up to two tables in a bar and says 'may I join you'? Enough. But imagine that same DBA walking into a restaurant and finding no tables or chairs! Only cloud tags, long arrays of text strings, angry looking web site logs, a zillion tweets munged together with neighbouring RFID tag streams, and a bunch of unemployed maps with geospatial attitude! His* mission?  To chat with all of them, and get them to yield business insights which us mere mortals can consume? Maybe that takes a rocket scientist. Or does it?

    Well a Microsoft DBA can approach it as follows.

    First, he* thinks parallel. That means he is enlisting his company's new Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) to solve the challenge. No need to try and invite all the data back to your place - even though you have incredibly efficient seating (in-memory column stores, for example) at your disposal. Nope. Leave those weird and wonderful data types where they are, on their comfortable HDFS sofas, and just get their phone numbers for now.

    OK, it's time to ask this universe of guests about their favourite 'data nibbles': in parallel. A Microsoft SQL Server DBA you can do that easily, avoiding getting bogged down in dietary requirements, long queues or complicated seating plans. How? With a new (not so) secret weapon called POLYBASE! Think of Polybase as an amazing 'data butler' that speaks your language (SQL) and your guests' language too (in this case MapReduce). In no time you have queried all this structured and un-structured data (your complete guest population). In tech-speak: you issued a standard T-SQL query that joins tables containing a relational source with tables in a Hadoop cluster without needing to learn MapReduce queries. And you got compliments back on your near-fluent Hadoopsch accent too.

    It's the next day (the day after the party). The Heads of Business Intelligence and Enterprise Applications in your company are very happy. And the CFO too. Using nothing more complicated than Microsoft Excel, she* has everything she needs on her laptop, at the board meeting, to show amazing insights into her customers, invoices, SKUs, cash on hand, days outstanding, the shelf-life of everything that left her factory last week, not to mention deep insight into customer sentiment about a product recall triggered by a quality audit last month. Wow!  And all because you are a SQL Server DBA.

    Book your ticket to a parallel universe of insights at the upcoming SQL Bits event, or by drop us a note: sqluk@microsoft.com to learn more.

    * my fictional DBA is a 'he' and my CFO is a 'she'.

  • Virtual Machine Manager Community Content

    Over the past couple weeks we’ve been talking Systems Center and this week we are focusing in on Virtual Machine Manager.  There have been a few articles that I thought would be worth sharing more broadly on this topic.

    Black Marble Articles on VMM

    Upgrading our TFS 2012 Lab Management to use SC-VMM 2012 SP1

    Richard Fennell runs through his experience of upgrading Black Marble’s TDL Lab Management System.  This article provides some great learning experiences from doing that and is a great real life example of upgrading to the latest version of System Center.

    Things to remember when building virtual machines for a lab manager environment

    Rick Hepworth takes us on his journey of building lab manager environments.  He shows the issues and solutions to the issues he faced when upgrading his environment.  If you have come across an issue then he’s probably go the solution right here for you, he even has a checklist to guide you through things.

    Useful Links

     

    If you have an article with top tips or how to’s on System Center Virtual Machine Manager remember to leave a link with the details of what is covered in the comments area for this blog post!

  • Event: Full Day Cloud Data Platform Immersion Day delivered by Conor Cunningham and the SQL CAT team at SQLBITS

    The Azure Customer Advisory Team and Product Group will deliver an intensive all day seminar at SQLBITS on Thursday May 2nd.  This is a deep dive technical event for experienced architects and developers who want to understand and learn from the people who build the platform and the largest systems that run on it.  

    Places are filling fast, you can find out more information and book your place here!